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The Amazon and Everest in Wellington

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/11/2016

Environmental extremes from Amazonian humidity to the altitude at Everest Base Camp will be able to be reproduced in Wellington for researchers to explore complex health issues.

A new airtight room at Otago University's campus in the capital is designed to simulate some of the world's more inhospitable conditions, biomedical research facility manager Terry O'Donnell says.

Using the room - named Genesis (Global Energetics and Environmental Simulation Suite) - researchers can control temperatures from 50C to minus-10C.

They can produce relative humidity of between 15 per cent and 95 per cent and recreate conditions experienced at an altitude of 5400 metres.

Mr O'Donnell says the suite can be employed by different groups for different purposes.

It can measure energy expenditure during extended 48-hour stays, commonly used for obesity studies, or help athletes wanting the benefits of altitude and heat training.

Mr O'Donnell is using Genesis to investigate how different temperatures influence the amount of energy that people expend.

"By getting a better understanding of the physiological responses, we may be able to develop more targeted obesity prevention and treatment programmes in the future," he said.

"Obesity is caused by an imbalance between our food intake and the energy we use each day. Some environmental conditions may cause us to burn less energy and could be contributing to rising obesity rates."

Mr O'Donnell said this might be particularly the case in offices, where people not only do sedentary work and have access to high calorie foods, but also experience high stable temperatures because of technology and building design.

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