For excellence in internationalisation, Palacký University received the prestigious 2019 EAIE Institutional Award, granted by the European Association for International Education. The award was received at the conference in Helsinki by Rector Jaroslav Miller and Vice-Rector Martin Kudláček.
“It has been the teamwork of all our colleagues at the university for the past five years. I thank everyone for their work. The award is proof that our efforts are deeply meaningful,” said Rector Jaroslav Miller.
The European Association for International Education (EAIE) selects the university with the best internationalisation strategy and results once a year. The prize can be awarded to any European university.
“The award celebrates higher education institutions that have shown excellent results in internationalisation. The association acknowledges successfully developed and implemented internationalisation strategies and activities that include, reflect, or promote three or more EAIE values. These include collaboration, inspiration, inclusiveness, and excellence. As the prize is awarded once a year, we can say that we are the best in Europe in 2019,” said Martin Kudláček, Vice-Rector for International Relations, who received the prize together with Palacký University Rector Jaroslav Miller last week at Europe’s largest international higher education conference in Helsinki.
In recent years, the prize has gone to Ghent University, Belgium; the University of Porto, Portugal; Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany; Coventry University, UK; the University of Helsinki, Finland; and Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.
The European Association for International Education is an organisation aimed at developing internationalisation in the environment of European higher education. It is the European leader in the internationalisation of university education.
A fast, gentle, and simple method for assessing the phenotype of plants, i.e. their properties and characteristics in relation to the environment, has been developed by scientists from the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH). Using this method, scientists can map more effectively than ever how the plant is able to cope with stress, such as drought. The method can be useful for breeders and researchers, but also in the agrochemical industry for the development of anti-stress agents.
“We were looking for an effective tool for the comprehensive analysis of a larger number of genetically modified barley lines and for the assessment of their properties, including drought tolerance. It would take a very long time if we had to use the classical methods. Therefore, we tried to elaborate a new method, and we have managed to do so after a year of work,” said Cintia F. Marchetti from the UP Department of Molecular Biology, one of the authors of the study recently published by Frontiers in Plant Science.
Automated plant phenotyping systems allow rapid and non-invasive evaluation of plant properties. They can be used to select varieties with the best resistance to stress conditions. However, these methods are often based on an analysis of the growth of plants grown in individual pots, so the results are difficult to transfer into practice. The newly developed procedure by Olomouc researchers is different.
“Field plants do not grow in isolation, but in communities, they interact and affect one another. Our method therefore seeks to approach the real conditions more closely. It analyses not individual plants but whole populations of plants growing together in a small area. This allows us to test a large number of lines at once. This approach is very simple; as a matter of fact, it is based on analysing photographs over time,” said another author, Nuria De Diego, of the Department of Chemical Biology and Genetics. According to her, similar methods are used in field conditions, but with many limitations. Up to now, they have never been used by researchers under controlled conditions.
The method combines elements of mass screening, image analysis, and simple metabolite determination. The main monitored aspect is the height of the vegetation, which varies depending on stress and the adaptation of the plant to it. “This characteristic is also closely related to the content of some biologically active substances in plants, especially certain polyamines, which then serve as markers of stress response. This can be used both in research to compare large numbers of transgenic lines and in breeding when stress-resistant lines need to be selected quickly,” added Marchetti.
The method is the result of cooperation between several departments of the Centre of the Region Haná. “It is a follow-up to our previous work and an effort to use phenotyping not only in controlled conditions on the model plant Arabidopsis but also in field conditions. That should have bigger implications in practice,” said another co-author, Lukáš Spíchal. The research was part of the Science, Research and Education operational programme entitled “Plants as a Means of Sustainable Global Development”, which succeeded in the grant competition Excellence in Research. Scientists have verified the method on barley, but it can also be applied to other cash crops.
CRH associates research teams of the UP Faculty of Science and two Olomouc workplaces: the Institute of Experimental Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Crop Research Institute.
A discovery made by a team of scientists from the UP Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Veterinary Hygiene and Ecology at the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Brno (UVPS) could significantly contribute in the future to early warning of the population in locations with an increased risk of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. They have proved a link between the intensity of incidence of these dangerous infectious diseases and the overpopulation of voles.
Rodents are the main hosts of the larvae and nymphs of ticks which then attack larger mammals, including humans. An article describing the research results was published in the prestigious international journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The risk of tick-borne diseases in Europe can be predicted from the number of these small rodents one year in advance. “In this work, we show that the years with increased risk of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis can be easily predicted from the population of the common vole in the previous year. With the help of data on the population numbers of the common vole in the Czech Republic, we have successfully predicted the occurrence of diseases not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Germany, Austria, and Slovenia,” said Emil Tkadlec, Head of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the UP Faculty of Science, when commenting upon the results of the three-year research.
The researchers observed the population numbers of the most abundant rodent in Czechia, the common vole (Microtus arvalis), which regularly overpopulates in two- to four-year intervals. For example, this year the vole has overpopulated in Moravia. “By the method of time series analysis, we have shown that the fluctuations in the incidence of both tick-borne diseases are strongly dependent on the cyclical fluctuations in the population numbers of the common vole. The forecast was further improved by the addition of climatic effects,” said Tomáš Václavík from the Department of Ecology and the Environmental Sciences of the same faculty.
Scientists are thus positive that the high numbers of field voles and other rodent populations result in better survival of larvae as well as in a higher number of infectious tick nymphs in the following year. “In the outbreak, the greater number of nymphs will then infect more people than usual,” Tkadlec pointed out.
Models based on the correlations between vole and tick populations that predict the risk of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis are very simple. The necessary data can be easily retrieved from public databases. “This model can therefore be applied immediately. This opens up the possibility of a general prediction of the risk of infection with other tick-borne diseases which have serious impacts not only on human health, but also on animal health,” said Pavel Široký from UVPS Brno.
Predicting the risk of tick-borne diseases has become an important research subject worldwide. Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis are among the most frequent tick diseases. While Lyme disease affects people in North America, Europe, and Asia, tick-borne encephalitis is a disease that is widespread in Central Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic rates high in the incidence of both dangerous diseases. “The tick-borne encephalitis virus was first isolated in the former Czechoslovakia in 1948,” noted Tkadlec.
The incidence of both diseases in different years varies considerably, and scientists around the world have been striving for decades to find the cause of this year-by-year variability. Researchers have therefore focussed on the ecology of the major vector of the disease, the castor bean tick, which is the carrier of these pathogens.
An American group led by Prof Richard Ostfeld has made the greatest progress in Lyme disease research. They have shown that the causal chain begins with a year rich in seeds yield, which in the following year leads to an increase in the population of small rodents who are the main hosts of the larval stages of the tick. The subsequent year, due to their better survival, there is an increase in the number of infected nymphs that attack medium-sized mammals including humans. “Small rodents are the key hosts for tick larvae; at the same time, they are reservoir animals that store both Lyme disease spirochetes and the tick-borne encephalitis virus in natural outbreaks,” concluded Široký.
Olomouc, September 23, 2019. Researchers from the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM), Palacký University Olomouc, in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), shed light on the potential negative impact of carbon nanomaterials on the microorganisms present in aqueous environments. They confirmed that in certain conditions, chemically modified graphene can change into “nano-blades” which harm algae in water. However, it was found that these unicellular organisms can build, over time, an effective defence against such mechanical attacks, making them capable of dealing with them. The results of the study were published in the journal Carbon.1
Chemically oxidized graphene (a single atomic layer of graphite whose rediscovery was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) is one the most widely studied two-dimensional materials to date. “Unlike graphene, oxidized graphene (graphene oxide) disperses well in water, thus offering broad application potential, e.g. in biomedicine in targeted drug transport, in new technologies for energy storage, and in a number of environmental technologies. Graphene oxide has been proven to work in desalination and in the removal of radionuclides and other pollutants from water. In this regard, the scientific community has been investigating whether oxidized graphene can negatively impact the microorganisms living in surface waters. The aim of our research was to identify the mechanism of interaction between these carbon 2D materials and algae and cyanobacteria, which form a fundamental part of the food chain in water ecosystems”, said the main author of the study, Tomáš Malina, RCPTM.
The researchers prepared three chemical forms of nanomaterials having different levels of oxidation. This proved to be essential. “The graphene that had the lowest number of functional groups on its surface was able to physically damage microorganisms. It acted like a fairly large but very thin blade of a knife or razor, disrupting cell membranes. By contrast, graphene materials with a higher number of bounded functional groups did not possess this ability. These findings are novel. The complex mechanism of the behaviour of oxidized graphene in contact with these simple organisms, and mainly the impact of its surface chemistry on the overall ecotoxicity of these materials, has not been described previously”, added Malina, who conducted the research as part of his PhD studies.
An important finding is that micro-organisms can develop defensive mechanisms against such 2D nano-blades. “With the example of algae, we demonstrated that the most devastating impact of these microorganisms occurred only in the first hours of the interaction, but then the algae were able to effectively confront the danger. They began to produce proteins and hydrocarbons so that they managed to coat the graphene oxide with these molecules, thus averting the danger. Therefore, the environmental risk of graphene materials has been proven significantly lower than was suggested. In the long term, even very simple organisms are able to defend themselves. Nature can handle nanomaterials,” said Blahoslav Maršálek from RCPTM and the Institute of Botany of the CAS, where the experiments with algae and cyanobacteria were performed.
The work follows long-term research done by RCPTM regarding the interactions of nanomaterials with biosystems and microorganisms. “Previously, we found a method for, e.g. overcoming bacterial resistance against nanosilver,2 measuring temperatures in living cells using carbon nanoparticles,3 and diagnosing significant biomolecules using magnetic nanomaterials,”4 concluded the corresponding author of the work, Radek Zbořil.
1. T. Malina, E. Maršálková, K. Holá, J. Tuček, M. Scheibe, R. Zbořil, B. Maršálek, Toxicity of graphene oxide against algae and cyanobacteria: Nanoblade-morphology-induced mechanical injury and self-protection mechanism, Carbon 155 (2019), 386-396
2. A. Panáček, L. Kvítek, M. Smékalová, R. Večeřová, M. Kolář, M. Röderová, F. Dyčka, M. Šebela, R. Prucek, O. Tomanec, Bacterial resistance to silver nanoparticles and how to overcome it, Nat. Nanotechnol. 13 (2018), 65-71
3. S. Kalytchuk, K. Poláková, Y. Wang, J. P. Froning, K. Čepe, A. L. Rogach, R. Zbořil, Carbon Dot Nanothermometry: Intracellular Photoluminescence Lifetime Thermal Sensing, ACS Nano 11(2) (2017), 1432-1442
4. V. Ranc, Z. Markova, M. Hajduch, R. Prucek, L. Kvítek, J. Kašlík, K. Šafářová, R. Zbořil, Magnetically Assisted Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering Selective Determination of Dopamine in an Artificial Cerebrospinal Fluid and a Mouse Striatum Using Fe3O4/Ag Nanocomposite, Anal. Chem. 86(6) (2014), 2939-2946
Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci | RCPTM
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Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci | RCPTM
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Palacký University has confirmed its position in the international Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Similarly to the two previous years, it has placed together with Masaryk University in Brno in the category between 601st and 800th positions this ear. Only Charles University in Prague had a better score among Czech universities (401st to 500th positions).
The rankings, one of the three most reputable rankings in the world, evaluated 1800 universities, out of which 1396 from 92 countries have been listed. The Czech Republic is represented by 17 universities, three more than a year ago; the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, the University of Hradec Králové, and Mendel University in Brno are those who extended Czech representation. The first one thousand universities include 5 Czech institutions.
“In the 2020 Times Higher Education rankings, Palacký University again ranks among the three elite universities in the Czech Republic and ten best universities in Central Europe. It is clear proof of the fact that a close elite of research institutes is being gradually formed in Czechia. In addition, Olomouc’s university is one of the few Czech universities that have defended their place from previous years, which seems like a very good result in the light of the rapidly growing competition from Asian universities. The placements of our university in such rankings has a tremendous impact on the university’s reputation as well as international partnerships in science, research, and excellence. We have managed to get so far in the last few years, so let me thank the whole academic community, because this is always a collective work and a joint success,” said UP Rector Jaroslav Miller.
University leaped 244 places in Research
The rankings, published since 2010 by the UK journal Times Higher Education, evaluate universities according to five main performance indicators: Teaching, Research, Citations, Industry Income, and International Outlook.
“One piece of pleasant news is that we have achieved improvement in partial parameters, mainly in Research, where we made a significant shift from 925th position to 681st. We have improved in two out of three indicators: in research productivity, and science and research income. A positive score was also achieved by our academic workers (from 42.5 to 46.9), which may be, despite all the reservations to measuring scientific performance this way, considered proof that UP is truly creative and that our work has received great acclaim on the international level,” said Hana Marešová, Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning and Quality at UP. In Citations, the only Czech university that had a better score than UP was Charles University, which however has been worse off compared to the previous year (this year 53 points, last year 55.9).
Better teaching, too
Vice-Rector Marešová sees a positive signal also in the improved parameters in the area of teaching. UP has improved in four indicators, including teaching reputation. UP currently holds 872nd position, but it was 905th last year. “This is a sign that the university strives to find balance between its two main activities,” added Marešová.
UP’s best score was achieved in International Outlook, where it placed at 424th position.
First place in the global rankings is once again held by the University of Oxford. The California Institute of Technology, number 5 in the previous year, holds second place this year, pushing the University of Cambridge into third place. More detailed information is available here.
Most plants live in symbiosis with soil fungi, which provide them with water and mineral nutrients. An international team with Czech participation examined the mechanisms by which plants control such a coexistence so that the fungus does not become a parasite instead of an ally. Scientists have found the genes involved in this process and discovered that they acted through plant hormones called strigolactones. An article with the results of this research has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Plants.
Arbuscular mycorrhiza is what occurs in many plant species. It is a symbiosis with some fungal species in which the fungal fibres penetrate the cells in the root. This co-existence is beneficial for the plant because the fungus supplies it with water and minerals that the roots would not otherwise reach. But there is price for the plant – in return, it provides the fungus with sugars and other organic nutrients. It must therefore keep its partner at bay, in other words, to check whether the fungal fibres do not grow more than necessary in the root. Otherwise, this coexistence would rather harm the plant.
A team of scientists from the USA, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic decided to shed light on the molecular mechanisms by which the plant inhibits the development of mycorrhiza under certain conditions. In addition to regulatory proteins and genes, researchers have also focussed on plant hormones from the strigolactone family. These are secreted from the roots and stimulate the growth of mycorrhizal fungi.
“Our work has shown that strigolactones are important for the fine-tuning of relationships between the plant and the mycorrhizal fungi. They help ensure that the symbiosis is beneficial for both partners,” said Kristýna Floková, who is employed in the Olomouc’s Laboratory of Growth Regulators, which is a joint workplace of the Institute of Experimental Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences and Palacký University. Concurrently, the laboratory is part of the Centre of the Region Haná for the Agricultural and Biotechnological Research. She conducted the strigolactone analyses in the research together with her Dutch colleague, Prof H.J. Bouwmeester, and his Plant Hormone Biology research group at the University of Amsterdam.
The research team chose as its main experimental plant Medicago truncatula, closely related to alfalfa. The researchers examined how the intensity of mycorrhiza changes depending on the phosphorus level or previous fungal root colonisation. By the use of molecular-biological methods and strigolactone analysis, they have been able to identify genes that respond to the investigated stimuli and, if necessary, suppress the development of mycorrhiza. They act by means of the strigolactones – they decrease their concentration in the roots, which suppresses the growth of fungal fibres.
“Strigolactones were first described as plant hormones only in 2008, and since then it has been gradually revealed what functions they affect in plants,” said the scientist who has been working with the University of Amsterdam for three years, while the Olomouc workplace provides her with top-notch facilities for chemical analysis. “In addition, strigolactones have the potential for practical use, for example in agriculture, to combat parasitic weeds that attack economically important crops and cause huge yield losses, particularly in Central Africa, Southern, and Eastern Europe,” added Floková.
The UP Faculty of Science celebrated a silver graduation. After twenty-five years, more than sixty alumni have retaken their academic pledge, repeating the ceremonial act they first attended when graduating in 1994.
The invited graduates radiated smiles and a good mood. One of them was Lenka Orságová, who came from Bruntál for the ceremony. “I like to reminisce about my school days, it was a very beautiful five years. It’s nice that the faculty still thinks about us and that we can repeat the academic pledge after twenty-five years. The first time we met with the girls was after thirteen long years. Now we see each other every three or four years in the autumn. We meet, we chat, have a ladies’ night, and return home,” said Orságová, a Mathematics – Descriptive Geometry graduate.
The ceremony, during which the graduates received honorary diplomas, was performed by Vice-Rector Pavel Banáš and Vice-Deans Karel Lemr and Karel Hron. “The silver graduation, organised by the Faculty of Science for years, is a wonderful tradition, which enables alumni to meet after all these years, stay together and reminisce about their studies. I wish them only the best in the upcoming years,” said Vice-Rector Pavel Banáš, on behalf of the university rector.
After the ceremonial pledge in the auditorium, group photos, a toast, and lunch, the silver graduates shared their impressions. “It was an incredible and dignified experience. It all came back to me, how it was those 25 years ago. The only difference was that for the first graduation ceremonies, we wore gowns,” added Alma Ciprysová, a Mathematics – Descriptive Geometry graduate, who came from Tvrdonice in South Moravia.
The silver graduation ceremonies, during which graduates renew their university pledge after a quarter of a century, have been held at the faculty since 2009. Alumni celebrating their 50th and 60th graduation anniversaries will attend gold and diamond graduation ceremonies on Friday, November 8.
Scientists from the Olomouc laboratory of the Institute of Experimental Botany (IEB) at the Czech Academy of Sciences, which is part of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH), have achieved another success. They were part of an international team that has sequenced the common pea genome after six years. The findings have been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Genetics.
Sequencing the pea genome, which is one-third larger than the human genome, will contribute to breeding new varieties of this important crop. As a result, peas could be a cash crop in the Czech Republic once more.
“It opens up a whole new path to pea breeding because it will be possible to apply the latest methods of molecular biology and biotechnology. Personally, I see a certain symbolism in this work, in relation to the legacy of the founder of genetics, J.G. Mendel, who studied in Olomouc and who discovered the laws of inheritance in Brno thanks to studying peas. I have no doubt that he would be very pleased with our work, and I hope that we have helped to make the pea a widespread crop again,” said Jaroslav Doležel, the head of the laboratory and Scientific Director of CRH.
Scientists have revealed what the ancestor of the pea looked like
It took six years to decode the pea genome, and it required the collaboration of laboratories from all over the world, associated in the International Pea Genome Consortium. The project was coordinated by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Dijon, led by Judith Burstin. Olomouc scientists participated in the research in two ways. By means of using unique technologies of genome optical mapping and chromosome sorting, they contributed significantly to improving the assembled text of hereditary information. The method of chromosome sorting was developed by the IEB laboratory in Olomouc, which is still the only workplace in the world that uses this method routinely. The same technology was used by experts to investigate the differences between the structure of hereditary information in cultivated peas and its wild relatives. The outcome of the project is fascinating. They have been able to reveal how the evolutionary information of the pea evolved during the evolution from their common ancestor existing 50 million years ago to today. The detailed knowledge of hereditary information will make it easier for breeders to produce new pea cultivars resistant to fungal and viral diseases and having better nutritional quality.
Superfood of our ancestors
Although peas are traditionally grown legumes, it is a slightly overlooked crop in the Czech Republic; it is grown only on less than 75,000 acres. This is because the current varieties of peas are somewhat problematic for farmers, so it is economically more advantageous for them to grow other crops.
The pea is an important source of plant proteins. Its cultivation does not burden the environment as much as livestock breeding, from which we obtain animal proteins. A big advantage of the pea, as well as other plants of the bean family, is that it is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen and improve soil quality. And last but not least, peas are also a great, healthy, and ecological alternative to soy, which is imported to the Czech Republic in large quantities.
Together with Fort Science, the Faculty of Science will participate in the European Heritage Days, a traditional annual event, during which the doors of the most interesting monuments, buildings, properties and premises, including those that are otherwise partially or completely inaccessible, are opened to the public. On Saturday, September 7, people can visit newly refurbished laboratories of the Department of Optics and the Department of Experimental Physics, explore the main building of the Faculty of Science and discover the colourful world of fungi in the interactive science museum.
“During the European Heritage Days we have prepared tours of our laboratories that boast exacting parameters in terms of microclimates, which provides us with completely new, unique conditions for carrying out the most demanding experiments. We will try to show the visitors what we are doing here,” said Jaromír Fiurášek, head of the Department of Optics. The Faculty of Science will also make accessible its main building, including a terrace with a view of the historical Olomouc town centre.
The popular science centre Fort Science also encourages people to visit, and offers a peek into the world of fungi. “In the Fort we want to unveil the microscopic structures of fungi to the visitors, familiarise them with the broad spectrum of fungi’s effects and help people understand how and why fungi cause plant diseases,” said Barbora Mieslerová, from the Department of Botany. The lecturers will also focus on the phenomenon of country cottages, the subject of psychedelia, and fungal diseases of the human body, including a Sunday mycological identification centre with Prof Vítězslav Bičík. Those who are interested can bring mushrooms that they do not know, or are not sure about their edibility. “The programme will also include an unusual exhibition called ‘Mykokosmos’ and a lecture by mycologist Jiří Polčák entitled ‘Fungi wherever you look’. Film lovers certainly should not miss the screening of the short film ‘Who’s Who in Mycology’. This film, by Marie Dvořáková, was awarded a student Oscar in 2017,” Martina Vysloužilová, said, inviting all to the programme.
The European Heritage Days are a Europe-wide learning and social activity aimed at protecting cultural heritage. In Olomouc they are associated with a rich cultural programme. The Czech Republic joined the European Heritage Days in 1991 and the event is held under the auspices of the Association of Historical Settlements in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.
Palacký University has achieved the best positions in its history in the prestigious ARWU Academic Ranking of World Universities, the Shanghai Rankings. Among the one thousand evaluated universities, UP placed between the 501st and 600th positions, improving its score by one hundred places compared to the previous year. In the country, UP is second best after Charles University in Prague, but it has surpassed Masaryk University in Brno. The best scores were achieved by UP in Natural and Medical Sciences.
The Shanghai Rankings is together with the QS World University Rankings and the THE World University Rankings one of the three most prestigious international rankings. The ARWU ranking is focussed mainly on the academic and research activities of the universities, using six indicators, including the number of articles published in the journals Nature and Science, the number of cited researchers in the Highly Cited Researchers database, and the number of Nobel prize-winners affiliated with a given institution. Palacký University was first listed in the rankings three years ago (601st–700th) and defended that placing two years ago. UP has however significantly improved its score in the last edition of the rankings.
Academic ranking of world universities 2019total score
“The placement of Palacký University on the verge of top 500 universities in the world is a sign that we have come a long way in the last few years. My thanks go to all employees, because this success stems from collective efforts. I consider the results of one of the most prestigious global rankings as a confirmation of our great work, and being second best in the country makes us obligated. It has turned out that we are capable of entering the club of top global universities for good, however, we need to keep up the hard work,” said UP Rector Jaroslav Miller.
The Czech Republic is represented in the rankings by seven universities. Olomouc’s university has bettered its standings in one half of monitored indicators: in the number of highly cited researchers according to Clarivate Analytics, the number of publications in Nature and Science, and its academic performance.
“To succeed and significantly improve one’s score within a few years in these prestigious rankings, dominated by the U.S. universities and often criticised for its criteria letting the financially secure institutions prevail, is proof that the quality of a university’s work does not rely exclusively on the amount of financial means at hand. This result is a positive stimulus as well as an obligation for the future years to maintain these positions,” said Hana Marešová, Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning and Quality.
The Shanghai rankings also rank universities in individual disciplines within the natural sciences, medical sciences, technical sciences, life sciences, and social sciences. Palacký University has placed in seven areas; the only Czech universities that have placed more often were Charles University (30) and Masaryk University (13). The oldest Moravian university has placed highest in agricultural science, placing globally in that category between the 151st and 200th positions, and domestically tied for first in the country, together with Charles University and the Czech University of Agriculture Prague. In physics, UP occupies the 301st–400th positions (no. 3 in the country after Charles University and Czech Technical University). Its first ever ranking in chemistry, biological sciences, pharmacy, and ecology and public health has resulted in placement between 401st–500th positions. The rankings are available HERE.
The ARWU ranking was originally produced by Shanghai University and since 2009 it has been published by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy company. The dominance of American universities in the top fifteen is broken only by British universities: the University of Cambridge in third place, the University of Oxford in 7th place, and University College London in 15th place.
Advanced driving assistance systems are no guarantee of traffic safety. This has been proved by an investigation by experts from Palacký University and the Czech Academy of Sciences, who have created a new instructional system for drivers, driving schools, and automobile dealers.
In the project “Adaptation of people to advanced assistance systems for drivers of motor vehicles”, experts from the UP Faculty of Arts and the Institute of Information Theory and Automation, Czech Academy of Sciences, mapped what positive and negative impact driving assistance systems have on traffic safety. These include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning systems, blind spot monitors, driver drowsiness detection, parking sensors, and automobile navigation systems.
“We determined that the newly-developed intelligent systems do not necessarily increase traffic safety. The theory of risk compensation of states that drivers count on a certain level of risk while driving. If there are safety systems in use, it can happen that drivers unconsciously behave in a more dangerous manner. A typical example of this is ABS,” said Matúš Šucha, Head of the Department of Psychology at the UP Faculty of Arts and the project leader. According to Šucha, too much information from intelligent systems can significantly influence the driver’s attention and his or her immediate reactions.
The goal of the extensive research project by UP and CAS experts was to develop instructional materials for drivers and thus improve traffic culture in the country.
“And we did. The result of our work is an effective knowledge foundation which can be used for information campaigns by state institutions, driving schools, and automobile manufacturers. These campaigns ought to accompany the introduction of advanced driving assistance systems in automobiles. We are making available to their creators – and everyone else – unique interactive educational software, educational videos, handbooks for driving schools, and lots of information for automobile dealers,” the UP transport psychologist added.
The project was created in cooperation with the Department of Psychology, UP Faculty of Arts, and the Czech Academy of Sciences. The research, in which 526 people in various age groups took part, was funded by the Czech Technology Agency. More information is available here (in Czech).
Palacký University has improved its position in the international Nature Index ranking of universities and research institutions, which evaluates their publication outputs in the area of natural sciences. Thanks to its results last year, it advanced 6.3% and moved from the 251st to the 237th position in Europe. In terms of numbers of articles, it is in 189th place; its highest number of publications are in the physical sciences.
The rankings are made by the Springer Nature publishing house on the basis of the 82 most prestigious journals according to the Web of Science database. This is a small but highly cited subset of the total number of publications in natural sciences. The Nature Index ranks according to four scientific disciplines: life sciences, chemistry, the physical sciences, and Earth and environmental sciences. Outputs are not standardized according to the size of institutions.
“Palacký University today is one of the five most important research institutions in the country. In supporting science and research, with an emphasis on quality and massive internationalisation, we are rising not only in global rankings, but we are also fulfilling a basic strategic goal which university leadership has established – to secure UP a place in the elite club of research universities. This is why I am pleased that our results in the recently published Nature Index show the quality of our publication outputs and prove our position among the best research institutions in the country,” Rector Jaroslav Miller said, commenting on the results. He also emphasised that this ranking only takes into account a selection of the best outputs, which means roughly one percent of all natural science journals contained in the Web of Science – all of which have gone through the most demanding peer review processes.
UP scientists in the physical sciences boast the greatest output of highly cited papers published in prestigious journals in the past year (62). These were followed by papers in chemistry (16), life sciences (10), and Earth and environmental sciences (4).
The Nature Index ranked 4,800 institutions. The Czech Republic was in the same place as last year, in 26th place (15th in Europe), but as opposed to last year however it dropped 3.6 percent. Czech institutions in the Top 500 were the Czech Academy of Sciences and Charles University Prague. Masaryk University in Brno also bettered UP in the ranking. For more information, click here.
Czech scientists have joined their international colleagues in calling on the European Parliament and the European Commission to change legislation regarding the use of modern methods of plant genome editing, which will free them to carry out research to benefit agriculture, the economy, and society as a whole. They published their Open Statement exactly one year after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that plants bred by these methods fall into the category of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Ivo Frébort, Director of UP’s Centre for the Region Haná (CRH), and Jaroslav Doležel, CRH’s scientific director, both joined the appeal.
According to the signatories, the ECJ decision means that crops with slightly improved genomes, which can also occur spontaneously in nature, fall under restrictive European regulations which forbid these improvements in practice. Leading biologists and scientists disagree with this ruling and voiced their opposition to the possible negative impacts of it one year ago. The text of their statement is available here.
Representatives of the leadership at CHR, which unites teams of the UP Faculty of Science, the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the Crop Research Institute, have joined in. In reaction to the decision by the European Court of Justice, they called last December on the Czech prime minister and other politicians to push through changes in EU legislation in this area.
According to professors Frébort and Doležel, there are fears that the existing situation could permanently damage EU countries: “While throughout the world there are more and more countries allowing this modern technology, Europe remains rigid. Each month the gap between EU countries and progressive countries widens, which can have very negative impacts on European agriculture, production, food quality, and also on the environment.”
EU Legal regulations on GMOs do not reflect the current state of scientific knowledge, according to the experts. Plants which have undergone simple and targeted genome improvements through the help of precise CRISPR breeding and which do not contain foreign genes are just as safe as if they were obtained from classic breeding techniques. The scientists are calling on European authorities to react quickly and amend the legal regulations so that the use of these methods does not fall under mandates on GMOs. CRISPR has huge potential in the area of research and innovations, and last but not least, it can help in confronting acute challenges, especially in conjunction with climatic changes.
The main initiator of the European initiative is Dirk Inzé, Scientific Director of the VIB-UGhent Department of Plant Systems Biology. “This is one of the rare examples in which the scientific community across the entire EU has united and unanimously calls for a revision of the European legislation affecting genome editing. The initiative is supported by 121 leading European institutions, and currently, this topic is a buzzword for politicians at the European, as well as national levels. Our endeavour is supported by most of the agricultural ministries across EU countries. It is necessary to move to the level of the European Parliament now.”
His words were also supported by Czech Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Toman. “In general, the Czech Republic supports these new methods, provided that the findings of plant and animal breeding shall not be subjected to patents. The reason for this is to protect new Czech small and middle breeding companies, as well as the breeders, so that they are able to continue using breeding material during the creation of new plant varieties,” the minister said.
In the Czech Republic, the initiative is supported by CEITEC at Masaryk University in Brno. “Plant breeding may contribute significantly to new crop varieties that are less susceptible to pathogens and more resilient to drought. This will enable farmers to produce high yields, while decreasing the use of chemicals and water,” emphasised Karel Říha, Deputy Science Director at CEITEC, who carries out research in the area of plant genetics. He also pointed out that the European Union is surrounded by an ever-growing number of countries that are more open and responsive to the genome editing issue. “The ECJ’s decision means that the core of research will be pushed outside of Europe. As a consequence, control over such progressive technology, which will significantly form new approaches to agriculture and medicine, shall be lost, whether or not we want it to,” Říha warned.
The initiative is also supported by the directors of relevant institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) and other representatives of leading Czech scientific institutions and universities:
Prof. Vojtěch Adam, Vice-Rector of Mendel University in Brno
Doc. Eva Bártová, Director of the Institute of Biophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Prof. Jaroslav Doležel, Science Director of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnical and Agricultural Research (CRH)
Prof. Ivo Frébort, Director of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnical and Agricultural Research (CRH)
Prof. František Foret, Director of the Institute of Analytical Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Prof. Libor Grubhoffer, Director of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Prof. František Marec, Deputy Director of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Dr. Karel Říha, Deputy Science Director of CEITEC Masaryk University
RNDr. Martin Vágner, CSc., Director of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS)
The increase in global agricultural production related to the rising demand for food and agricultural commodities will have inevitable negative impact on biological diversity in agricultural regions. However, the intensified use of existing cropland would impose lesser risk on the surrounding environment than further expansion of arable land. These are the results of a study conducted by researchers from the UP Faculty of Science and three research institutes in Germany. The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers involved in the study, evaluating the trade-offs between food security and the preservation of biodiversity associated with both strategies, set out to identify those areas in which it would be profitable, under projected climatic and socioeconomic conditions for the next decade, to increase agricultural production by intensifying or expanding the use of land for farming. They then created detailed models to explore what effects each of these strategies would have on biodiversity – i.e. the diversity of life in all its forms, levels, and combinations – as well as on global agricultural markets.
“Our results show that for a given rise in food production, the impact of cropland expansion on biodiversity is many times greater than that of the intensification scenario. This is because expansion can be expected to occur in those regions with the highest existing levels of biodiversity, mainly in Central and South America,” says Dr Tomáš Václavík from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Palacký University in Olomouc. Near-term intensification of agriculture on existing cropland, on the other hand, primarily presents a threat to biodiversity in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, as he noted.
Agriculture is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. “Increases in production are almost always achieved at the expense of biodiversity. But whether and where production rises due to intensification or expansion of cropland does make a difference,” said Dr Florian Zabel of the Department of Geography and Remote Sensing at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.
However, while biodiversity is set at risk in those regions in which more food is produced, the study suggests that all parts of the world – including those in which the local rise is modest – will profit from the fall in food prices that ensues as a result of the overall growth in global production. “This result has potentially critical implications, because it suggests that, while all regions – including North America and the EU – will profit from sinking food prices, the threat to biodiversity is greatest in developing countries in the tropical regions," said Dr Ruth Delzeit of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
The scientists stated that effects of intensification and expansion are also predicted to play out differently within these regions. Intensification promises the highest gains in food security in some regions of the tropics, principally India and Sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, the study sees inhabitants of Latin American countries such as Brazil as the primary beneficiaries of the advantages brought by lower food prices to cropland expansion. For, in this region, as the scientists warn, the expansion strategy presents an especially serious threat to biodiversity.
In addition, the study shows that most of the areas with high levels of biodiversity that are suitable for agricultural expansion and intensification in the coming years are not currently protected. “We therefore recommend the development of global mechanisms which will recognise land as a limited resource. Measures should be implemented to protect biodiversity in landscapes that are in use rather than focusing solely on protection sites," said Prof Ralf Seppelt of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig. According to him, this is the only practicable way to achieve a balance between the conservation of existing biodiversity and the need to increase global agricultural production.
Outstanding publications and active cooperation with international researchers – these are the assets of Palacký University Olomouc, as confirmed by the international CWTS Leiden Ranking 2018, which has evaluated almost one thousand universities. Thanks to high quality articles in the top 5% of highly cited publications, UP won out even over Charles University in Prague and Masaryk University in Brno, ranking number one on the national level. In the category of publications based on international collaboration, UP placed at number 99 in Europe and 126 in the world, being exceeded domestically only by Czech Technical University in Prague.
“The results in the ranking are very pleasing, since just like in the previous years, our university has been able to maintain its dominant position on the national level in the category of most cited publications in several disciplines, which among other things confirms our emphasis on research. Mainly our progress made in international cooperation deserves acknowledgement, because we have advanced fifty positions upwards in the global comparison in the humanities and social sciences. So this is proof that even the humanities and social sciences significantly grow in their creative performance. This is a positive signal especially with respect to the future strategy of science and research at UP for the period after 2021, which we are currently elaborating,” said UP Rector Jaroslav Miller.
Great impact of Olomouc scientists
In addition to the overall placement of UP among the five per cent of the most cited works in all fields, UP scientists in particular disciplines also performed very well. In the ranking according to PP TOP 1% with no minimal publication output, UP ranked among the Czech universities best in the field of Physical Sciences and Engineering, where it ranked 139th in Europe and 317th in the world. The university did equally well in the field of Life and Earth Sciences, ranking 171st in Europe and 402nd in the world.
Abundant international contacts are a big advantage
The extensive international cooperation of scientific teams also bore fruit, even in the social sciences. UP scored above all in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities, where it jumped to 32nd place in Europe and 68th in the world in the evaluation of publications resulting from international collaborations. In the global comparison, however, UP improved year-on-year by 50 positions in this respect. In the domestic comparison, Palacký University ranked first in Physical Sciences and Engineering (59th place in Europe and 75th in the world) and also in Life and Earth Sciences (119th place in Europe and 143rd in the world).Scientific Impact Leiden Ranking 2019 Umístění podle PP top 1 % bez minima publikací Biomedical and Health Sciences Life and Earth Sciences Mathematics and Computer Physical Sciences and Engineering Social Sciences and Humanities Europe World Europe World Europe World Europe World Europe World UP 303 741 171402 263 679 139 317 285 704 MU 241 504 190 461 216 550 280701310775 UK 266 580 204 499 159 389 277695146393 ČVUT 340 921 208 507 186 456 318826113291 VŠCHT 142 290 213 516 337 858 247587334796 ČZU 346 946 198 488 338 859 310 805 288 708 VUT 301 732 305 795 287 744 313 812 297 728 Zdroj: CWTS Leiden Ranking
“One of the important achievements is also our second place among Czech universities in the field of international cooperation, where we placed behind CTU, which proves that even a university outside the capital is able to significantly cooperate abroad and that foreign partners are interested. The emphasis on internationalisation is one of the pillars of our long-term objective, it is part of two main strategic goals, and the gradual systematic steps in establishing quality conditions for education and teaching of foreign students and staff prove that we are advancing in the right direction in this respect,” said Hana Marešová, Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning and Quality at UP.
This international ranking listed almost one thousand universities, out of which seven were Czech. The ranking is conducted on the basis of the Web of Science database for the years 2014–2017. Unlike other rankings, it does not rely on reputation surveys and the quality of education at institutions. Evaluation is being made in four areas; in addition to the traditional Scientific Impact and Collaboration, new areas have been introduced this year: Open Access Publishing and Gender Diversity. UP is successful even in the new indicator of Open Access Publishing, being number one in the country and 277 in the world.
Collaboration Leiden Ranking 2019 Placement according to PP international collaboration (without the minimum of publications) All Sciences Biomedical and Health Sciences Life and Earth Sciences Mathematics and Computer Physical Sciences and Engineering Social Sciences and Humanities Europe World Europe World Europe World Europe World Europe World Europe World UP Olomouc 99 126 21027411914323139059753268 MU Brno 16921188117182232228384229370167298 CU Prague 13317017823020126576128971224893 CTU Prague 90115259361285520178299115149322708 UCT Prague 309502299471306646286575309579313671 CAU Prague 290412240327275470225377315608158282 Brno UT 2994592743903096862343963085782354 Source: CWTS Leiden Ranking
More detailed information is available here.
One student: Luděk Plachký, in 2017. This has been so far the only trace of the UP Faculty of Law in the UP Endowment Fund. However, this is no longer the case. Luděk Plachký has been joined by Kateřina Augustinová, who persuaded the board of the fund this year with her application, and thanks to their financial support she can now work on her research project. She is focussing on improving knowledge of the law in children and youths.
“I feel greatly honoured for the received support, and at the same time, I am really looking forward to the project. I know this means a huge amount of work, it will be a really demanding year for me. I hope everything works out fine,” said Augustinová, a fifth-year student in Law, who already has a Bachelor’s degree in Law in Public Administration from the UP Faculty of Law.
Knowledge of the law is definitely not something new to her. In the long term, she has devoted herself to it beyond her study duties and will also deal with it in her Master’s thesis. “I am the manager of the Erudium project within the law studies association Nugis Finem. We give lectures at primary and secondary schools. I am in contact with students and pupils and I think that the level of their basic legal knowledge is often very low.” Her dissatisfaction with the current state of legal education and determination to do something about it became the main motivation for Augustinová to apply for a grant from the UP Endowment Fund. Veronika Tomoszková and Lucia Madleňáková from the UP Department of Administrative and Financial Law helped her with the application and the concept of the project.
The 25-year-old student has a year to meet her goals. She will first identify the main reasons why people seek legal aid. She will employ statistics and her own experience from Student Legal Counselling at the UP Faculty of Law. “According to the data, I will create a questionnaire which I will send to primary and secondary schools. I will consult the methodology with a sociologist.” She then plans to consult the findings with social sciences teachers and school headmasters. Their perspective, rooted in practical experience, will be invaluable to her. Then she will suggest possible solutions based on her findings. Eventually, in the final phase of her project, in early 2020, she is planning to organise a workshop for teachers to help them teach law more effectively.
“I think my project has ambition – the ambition to change something. Even if my work would only be the first impulse for another project, that would be good enough. A big success would also be to change the approach of at least several teachers,” added Augustinová.
But there is more to her project. She has committed herself to publishing academic articles and to participating in scientific symposia. She has already attended the ENCLE (European Network for Clinical Legal Education) conference in Bratislava, which took place in early July. “My goal was to meet Prof Elaine Hall of the University of Newcastle at the conference and to ask her for cooperation. I had the opportunity to see her at work already during my Erasmus stay. She is a leading world expert in clinical legal education. Thanks to Tomoszeks from our faculty, I have managed to arrange a one-month stay. I will work as her assistant in October,” said Augustinová. In December, she will travel to Indonesia to present the results of her project at a global conference on legal education.
This year, eight students from four faculties joined the elite club of students for whom the UP Endowment Fund has been creating favourable conditions in order to support their projects over the past five years. The fund distributed CZK 745,020 among them, of which Kateřina Augustinová received CZK 128,860.
Seventeen students of a two-year Master’s programme International Development Studies – GLODEP had their graduation ceremony at the Faculty of Science Assembly Hall. This joint master programme is provided by the Palacký University Olomouc in cooperation with foreign universities.
„I consider getting a Master’s degree as a significant step in my life. The possibility of sharing with others the situation in my country regarding democracy was also important to me. I want to return to my previous employment as a disaster preparedness officer, where I was responsible for prevention, conducting analyses and disaster assessment in the office of the Prime Minister of Uganda. I want to use my newly acquired knowledge. In case it fails, I will look for other options based on my previous experience to improve my job position,“ said Raymond Kirungi from Uganda.
The GLODEP study programme offers the opportunity to study at three European universities that implement programmes regarding development studies and development economics. In addition to Palacký University there is also the University of Clermont Auvergne in France and University of Pavia in Italy. The aim of this programme is to prepare students for work in the area of development policies, therefore other non-European universities are also involved in the cooperation.
Romina Palacios from Ecuador will look for job in an international organization or non-profit organization (NGO). „At GLODEP we have learned many quantitative techniques that are important in order to monitor and analyse development programs. I would like to work in the field of human rights, good governance or democracy or the environment. I will search all over the world and I want to choose the best offer.“
Professor Jean Francois Brun and professor Maria Sassi from partner universities in France and Italy also took part in the graduation ceremony of the International Development Studies at the Faculty of Science. They were also present at final state examinations and at diploma theses defences.
„We are glad that we could welcome these esteemed guests in Olomouc. Their speeches and anthems of both countries were heard at the graduation ceremony. Since almost all students were from distant places, such as Bhutan, Pakistan, Uganda and other countries, it was difficult to invite the closest family. Nevertheless, this moment was very important for all students,“ said Miroslav Syrovátka, director of a consortium of three universities from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies, FS UP.
More than one fifth of Czech schoolchildren are either overweight or obese. Moreover, the year-by-year comparison shows that the number of children with excessive weight is increasing. On the other hand, findings on eating habits are positive. Teenagers eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets. These findings come from the latest data collected by scientists from the UP Faculty of Physical Culture, who have long been investigating the lifestyle of adolescents.
More than one fifth of the population of Czech children aged 11–15 struggles with their weight. Fifteen percent are overweight, and six percent of adolescents are obese. Boys are more likely to have weight problems than girls – both in terms of overweight and obesity. “It is important to monitor not only the current situation but above all the development over time – and that is, unfortunately, negative. I must point out the increased incidence of obesity among 15-year-old boys and the increase in the number of overweight girls aged 13 as well as 15,” said Michal Kalman, the leader of the Olomouc research team.
Overweight, obesity, and self-esteem
The researchers also focussed on body image – they were interested in how children perceive their weight. They found out that 29 percent of overweight or obese girls do not admit this fact. Among overweight boys, it is 41 percent. On the other hand, one fifth of the girls consider themselves fat, even though their weight is normal. “We also know that almost one third of 13- and 15-year-olds are negative about their own weight. We assume that what plays a big role here is age-sensitive self-esteem in combination with the ubiquitous social pressure to have a slim figure,” suggested Kalman.
Regarding excessive weight, researchers at Palacký University also noted certain regional differences. Children have the least problems with overweight and obesity in Prague, whereas the largest problems are in North Bohemia. However, most obese children are in the Hradec Králové Region. “In our research, we have also focussed on the opposite. We found that five percent of adolescents were underweight. So, when we add five percent of the underweight to twenty percent of the heavier weight, it appears that one quarter of the Czech children’s population faces some weight-related abnormalities,” Kalman pointed out.
More fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets
Contrarily, the eating habits of Czech youth are improving. Children are increasingly reaching for fruits and vegetables. Even considerably more than is common in Europe and the rest of the world. Almost one half of Czech children aged 11–15 years eat at least one piece of fruit a day, and 37 percent of them have vegetables. Adolescents also consume fewer sweets than in previous years. Their daily consumption of sweets showed almost a one-third decrease in those aged 13 and 15 years, compared to data from 2010. One third of children do not eat candies at all, or they have access to them only rarely.
From the nutritional point of view, the findings on the first meal of the day are also important. In 2018, 49 percent of 11- to 15-year-olds had breakfast every school day. Perhaps surprisingly, more boys than girls start the day with breakfast. Less surprisingly, with increasing age this habit diminishes – while 57 percent for eleven-year-olds have breakfast, at the age of 15 it is only 42 percent. “Interestingly, there is a relatively large group of children, roughly one sixth, who do not have breakfast on weekdays. At the same time, they regularly add breakfast to their daily routine over the weekends. Is it because they have more time for everything on Saturday and Sunday? And would more Czech children have breakfast from Monday to Friday if school started later?” Kalman concluded.
The team from Palacký University has been monitoring and commenting on the factors influencing the health of Czech schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 for a long period of time. Altogether 230 schools have participated in the current research, and more than 13,000 children have provided their answers.
The HBSC study (Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children), conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses the lifestyle of the young generation in a complex way. In addition to the latest data on overweight, obesity, and eating habits, it also focusses on the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and sweetened and energy drinks. Selected data including infographics can be viewed or downloaded via a new web presentation www.zdravagenerace.cz.
Martin Golec from the Department of History at the Palacký University Olomouc Faculty of Arts, Petr Zajíček from the Cave Administration of the Czech Republic, and Ivo Světlík from the Nuclear Physics Institute at the Czech Academy of Sciences have announced a unique discovery. They have determined that Catherine’s Cave in the Moravian Karst contains the oldest cave drawing in the Czech Republic. The origin of the geometrical patterns, made by charcoal on the walls, was determined by radiocarbon dating to be more than six thousand years-old.
There are more than one thousand caves in the Moravian Karst, and five of them contain numerous relics, especially signatures of people who used to enter the caves from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. These caves have been the object of interest for a team of scientists in their research of cave drawings supported by the UP Internal Grant Agency.
“I have been studying the Moravian Karst since 2007, and the signatures of people, mostly tourists, who visited the caves, start in the eighteenth century. However, in Catherine’s Cave, we found among them a group of lines that differed. Our suspicion that they originate from a different era was confirmed by radiocarbon analysis,” said Martin Golec from the Department of History. The analysis revealed that the drawings located in Catherine’s Cave are the oldest in the Czech Republic. They were created in the Early Neolithic age, 6200 years ago.
“Carbon-14 dating with low-mass samples is a great contribution for archaeologists. Ivo Světlík from the Nuclear Physics Institute significantly helped our discovery by enhancing the method of taking cave drawing samples. The samples gathered on a piece of cotton wool soaked with a special solution were cautiously prepared for measurements in a special device and sent to Debrecen, Hungary, for final measurements. The loss of radioactive carbon can be used to measure the period when the work was created. The new method of extraction damages the drawings to a minimal extent, which is very important in terms of their protection,” the UP archaeologist added.
The meaning of the paintings, however, remains unclear. Their location deep in dark recesses, on prominent protrusions and crevices, may be explained as a way of marking the place where spiritual rituals related to higher entities occurred. Martin Golec rejects the idea that they might have been made by a person who was idling with a piece of charcoal. He believes that their author saw something deeper behind every structure of the pattern; however today’s science simply cannot decode their meaning.
This unparalleled discovery will become part of a Bachelor’s thesis by Lucie Minaříková, whose adviser is Martin Golec. The data will be subsequently published in various journals; scientists hope to publish their extraordinary findings in the prestigious British journal Radio Carbon.
“It is beyond belief. Every year, up to 70 thousand visitors visit Catherine’s Cave. Generations of scientists and tourists have been passing by these six-thousand-year-old paintings without taking any notice,” the UP archaeologist added.
The Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) is one of the researchers of the European project called CLAIRO (CLean AIR in Ostrava), whose aim is to contribute to the improvement of air quality in the North Moravian county town by planting suitable greenery able to absorb pollution from various sources and reduce the effects of the heat island in the city. The results will be used not only in the city of Ostrava, but also throughout Europe.
Selected greenery will be planted under the supervision of Silesian University in Ostrava’s Radvanice and Bartovice districts. The Technical University of Ostrava will then be in charge of evaluating the measured pollution values. The task of CRH scientists will be to support the growth of greenery by biostimulants specially prepared for this purpose. Trees will have to face many environmental burdens, so these specially prepared substances will help them overcome these difficulties. Olomouc researchers have been engaged in the research and development of growth regulators derived from plant hormones for roughly two decades.
“Thanks to many years of experience, we can prepare tailor-made stimulants for specific plant species in specific conditions. These can thus face such stress factors as drought, salinity, or high concentrations of heavy metals,” said the head of the Department of Chemical Biology and Genetics at CRH, Karel Doležal. He and his colleagues, among others, are also developing special plant hormone derivatives that are helping to save endangered plant species in South Africa.
The budget of the CLAIRO project is approximately €2.5 million. Ostrava will receive a €2 million grant from European funds as the main partner responsible for project implementation. The project is implemented in cooperation with the project partners: the Moravian-Silesian Region, the Ministry of Regional Development of the Czech Republic, the Technical University of Ostrava, Silesian University in Opava, Palacký University Olomouc, SOBIC Smart & Open Base for Innovations in European Cities and Regions, and the Regional Association of Territorial Cooperation of Těšín Silesia. Urban Innovative Actions, the prestigious EU initiative, is providing resources to support the most innovative projects in Europe.
“Today, the use of state-of-the-art technologies and innovative methods is indispensable. If we have certain ambitions and goals, we cannot do without bold projects. The procedures that the CLAIRO project will use will certainly deliver results that everyone has been calling for for a long time. I am happy that we have strong partners with whom we will be able to take further steps to ensure that we all breathe better in the Moravian-Silesian Region,” said Ivo Vondrák, Governor of the Region.