The historic first online elections have resulted in the new UP Academic Senate for the 2020–2023 term. The elections took place on May 19–25 via the Internet due to the coronavirus epidemic and related restrictions.
An interim report on the course and results of the elections is available here. "Pursuant to Article 10 of the Election Rules of the UP Academic Senate, each member of the academic community may submit a written complaint about the conduct of the election to the main election commission no later than two working days from the date of publication of the election results. Complaints can be submitted to my e-mail address – email@example.com – or to me in person at the Department of Pharmacology, UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, no later than midnight May 28, 2020. Any complaints and comments will be subsequently dealt with by the election commission, and the final results of the elections and the composition of the new senate will be published on UP’s Official Notice Board,” said Jan Strojil, the chairman of the main election commission.
The UP Academic Senate is a self-governing representative body comprised of 24 members. Each faculty is represented by two senators from the ranks of academics and one from the ranks of students. The candidates who receive the highest number of votes at each faculty become senators.
UP Academic Senate members 2020–2023:
– academic workers:
Smolová Irena, Faculty of Science
Botur Michal, Faculty of Science
Procházka Vít, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
Ehrmann Jiří, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
Aláčová Gaul Petra, Faculty of Health Sciences
Merz Lukáš, Faculty of Health Sciences
Šucha Matúš, Faculty of Arts
Lebeda Tomáš, Faculty of Arts
Malacka Michal, Faculty of Law
Tomoszková Veronika, Faculty of Law
Cajthaml Martin, Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology
Menke Monika, Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology
Langer Jiří, Faculty of Education
Vitásková Kateřina, Faculty of Education
Formánková Soňa, Faculty of Physical Culture
Bělka Jan, Faculty of Physical Culture
Stejskal Aleš, Faculty of Science
Juriš Erik, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
Marková Tereza, Faculty of Health Sciences
Nguyen Michal, Faculty of Arts
Stratilík Marek, Faculty of Law
Janoušek Lukáš, Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology
Voráč Dominik, Faculty of Education
Murinová Lenka, Faculty of Physical Culture
Miniature particles with a magnetic core and a thin silica shell on the surface to isolate viral RNA developed by scientists at the Regional Centre of Advanced Technology and Materials (RCPTM), the Faculty of Science, are now being translated into commercial applications. Commercial companies have already purchased first batches of the magnetic balls for diagnostic purposes. Nanoparticles are an important part of the new Covid-19 testing technology designed at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB) of the Czech Academy of Sciences, whose help was fundamental at the time of the culminating coronavirus pandemic.
The development of the testing protocol was a response to the lack of commercial test kits at a time of the coronavirus crisis. RCPTM’s researchers responded quickly to the demand of colleagues at IOCB. Thanks to extensive experience with research into nanomaterials for biomedical applications, they prepared, within a couple of days, a new type of magnetic nanoballs, dozens of nanometers in size, with a suitably modified surface to isolate nucleic acids.
“Silicon dioxide, which coats magnetic nanoparticles, has a great ability to bind nucleic acids. Owing to the vast surface of the nanoparticles, large amounts of viral RNA can effectively get captured on them. Such bound RNA molecules can be easily isolated by the method of PCR, using an external magnet for diagnostics purposes,” described the principle of nanoballs Radek Zbořil from RCPTM.
The team from Olomouc can produce the nanoparticles in bulk. “In one cycle, we are able to prepare more than 100 grams, which is enough for around 100,000 tests on Covid-19. This is a technologically undemanding synthesis. That way, we can increase the capacity by an order of magnitude,” explained Ivo Medřík, who was involved in the development of nanoparticles.
According to Pavel Šácha from IOCB, the isolation of viral RNA was the bottleneck of the whole process of preparing the new technology. “At the time of the coronavirus crisis, RNA isolation kits manufactured abroad were not available, so we looked elsewhere for suitable magnetic particles capable of binding viral RNA. Nanoparticles from RCPTM have proved to be the best: they have a rapid response to the magnetic field, a large capacity for RNA binding and can be prepared in large quantities,” said Šácha, who coordinated the design of the new test protocol.
Successful verification of the technology was carried out by the National Institute of Public Health in Prague, as well as in hospitals in Motol and Na Bulovce, or in academic workplaces including CEITEC, Brno; BIOCEV, Prague; IMTM, Olomouc. The National Reference Laboratory for Influenza of the National Institute of Public Health tested the IOCB–RCPTM RNA isolation kits and compared them with sets designed to isolate nucleic acids produced by the world's leading suppliers —Roche and ThermoFisher Scientific. “The IOCB–RCPTM RNA isolation kit showed equal efficiency in isolating ribonucleic acids. As part of the validation of the recommended procedure, all steps and reagents were individually verified against series of variously diluted inactivated SARS-CoV-2,” said Helena Jiřincová from the National Institute of Public Health in Prague.
“The results confirmed that our magnetic particles are comparable to commercial materials in terms of the efficiency of viral RNA isolation. They are therefore fully prepared for transfer to applications, taking into account the production capacity and lower production costs. The whole development of the new isolation kits for diagnostics of Covid-19 is, to my mind, a prime example of effective collaboration among academic workplaces. At the same time, it is a demonstration of their ability to translate lab results into application in an extremely short time,” said Zbořil.
Domestically developed kits will be able to assist with diagnosis during potentially further waves of the disease, not just in the Czech Republic. “We believe that if we find a manufacturer, there will be a possibility of supplying the RNA insulation kits to other countries,” concluded Pavel Šácha. IOCB is in negotiations with several manufacturers to grant a licence for know-how and production of the isolation kits; pending their closure, production for the Czech and Slovak markets will be provided by an IOCB’s subsidiary IOCB Tech. Palacký University Olomouc ensures the production and supply of magnetic balls to isolate viral RNA.
Advancement of microscopic investigation of materials performed by LiteScope, a high-tech device designed and manufactured by the company NenoVision, Brno, is the goal of a new project funded by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic launched in April, 2020. Besides NenoVision, which was historically the first spin-off of another participant of the project―CEITEC BUT, scientists from the regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM), the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc, will be taking part in the project alongside the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT BUT) and the Institute of Physics of Materials (IPM), Czech Academy of Sciences.
“We hope to establish a consortium strong enough to break into a world market. Currently, there’s barely a company, doing scientific equipment, that has the required capacity and know-how to meet various application demands of potential customers worldwide. Therefore, it’s perfectly logical to collaborate with academic partners that can help us in the long run to develop suitable tools for particular research areas. Such a collaboration will benefit both sides. Our partners can, as one of the firsts, employ new measurement techniques and use them for an in-depth understanding of the target phenomena and materials properties,” said the Principal Investigator Jan Neuman, NenoVision. The partners’ ambition is for the Czech Republic to become the hub of not only electron microscopy but also cutting-edge correlative techniques, which enable to process information obtained from various types of microscopes, e.g. atomic force microscopy and scanning electron microscopy.
LiteScope microscope, launched in 2016, is the only one in the world that can connect simultaneously a two-dimensional image from an electron microscope and a three-dimensional image from an atomic force microscope with great precision. As a result, this technique can be applied to analyses of samples in various fields including nanotechnology, materials research, semiconductor industry or, for example, solar cell research. The project entitled Next Generation of Integrated Atomic Force and Scanning Electron Microscopy (GEFSEM) aims to extend the facility to new functions that are currently not available or only to a very limited extent.
“We plan to design new modules, which will be highly attractive even for the research currently done at our workplace. The consortium established within the project appears to be very promising. Our research group will be participating in designing and application testing of advanced methods of probe microscopy. Integration of these techniques into electron microscopy will allow a unique experimental system for researching and designing electronic and optoelectronic 2D-based components,” said Miroslav Kolíbal from CEITEC.
IPM has already collaborated with NenoVision in the past; they worked together on three different projects aiming to improve and expand the range of functional properties of LiteScope. “We envision great benefits of continuing our collaboration. IPM will focus on extending the portfolio of characterization methods to correlative measurements of structure and surface electrical properties of semiconductor films. What is really interesting for us is the opportunity to combine direct measurements on LiteScope devices with theoretical and computer defect models of solids, which are one of the main research guidelines of our group, clarified the reasons for participating in the project Roman Gröger from the IPM.
Olomouc RCPTM will test the methods on two-dimensional materials, which are being developed as part of the 2D chemistry project. “This will provide us with new options for analysing 2D materials and NenoVision with feedback helping them identify interesting problems that should be addressed in the fields of chemistry and 2D materials properties. Correlative methods open up new perspectives on the nanoworld and allow us to study properties we have previously acquired only with great difficulty,” explained the RCPTM Executive Director Michal Otyepka. Regarding the joint project, he appreciates not only the opportunity to expand the number of analytical methods used but also the chance to communicate directly with the device manufacturer or share the know-how in the field of nanomaterials analysis with partners.
The opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research has also attracted researchers from FIT. “Our research group has long been involved in image processing and computer vision. The images from the electron microscope and other sensors are a little “exotic” for us, and we’re interested in what we’ll be able to see and recognize in them. It’s interesting how the experience of one kind of image can benefit a completely different discipline,” Added Adam Herout from FIT.
This project has been funded by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic within the TREND programme, with the grant being 23 736 761 CZK. The investigation period ends on March 31, 2023.
A robotic system called Popelka (Cinderella), designed to automatically prepare samples for the research of plant behaviour in various environments, has been developed by researchers at the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) in collaboration with Stäubli Systems and Palacký University’s Science and Technology Park (STP). Unlike the fairy-tale character, the automated device does not sort peas from lentils, but can very accurately, meticulously, and persistently transfer miniature plant seeds to plates, test tubes, or flowerpots, thus significantly speeding up the preparation of experiments.
“The handling of seeds, often smaller than poppy seeds, is relatively complicated. That’s why we considered the possibility of automating the whole process. In the past, we dealt with automation in another project, so we thought of building a device that would ensure the transfer of seeds. There was a team of four of us building it for about ten months,” said Pavel Mazura, the principal researcher of the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) project from the new GAMA programme (“Programme of applied research, experimental development and Innovation GAMA”) by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR).
The device combines automated transfer and examination of seeds with the preparation of necessary gels and liquids containing fertilisers or test substances. “Cinderella will create a complex sample that laboratory technicians used to have to prepare manually. The preparation of samples will be more accurate, faster, made in large quantities, and even in continuous operation if necessary. In addition, the entire device is located in a box with air filtration and a UV lamp, which ensures the sterility of the environment,” explained the molecular biologist Mazura.
Pavel Klimeš, an analytical chemist from CRH, played a key role in the development of the device. “The most difficult thing for me was to get to the heart of the programming of various devices and their connection into one functional unit. However, we felt this was a fulfilment of our vision, an opportunity to penetrate the mysteries of modern technologies. On the other hand, we were able to capitalise on knowledge from our own fields and tailor Cinderella to our needs,” added Klimeš, the co-inventor of the device, which is going to be patented; the patent process has already started. Although Cinderella is intended for laboratories providing plant phenotyping, it is also able to transfer other small objects. Its application can therefore be more diverse and goes beyond research. The CRH and STP representatives will now be looking for a commercial partner interested in using the device alone or as part of a larger facility.
CRH, which brings together research teams from the Faculty of Science at Palacký University Olomouc and the Olomouc branches of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Crop Research Institute, is the national coordinator for plant phenotyping within the Czech Plant Phenotyping Network (CzPPN). According to the CzPPN coordinator Lukáš Spíchal, the new device can significantly streamline the entire research process in this field. “We are able to analyse plant growth in automatic mode using non-invasive sensors, in really large quantities. The critical point in the preparation of plants is the transfer of seeds, which means high demands on the manual work of laboratory technicians. The robot will take care of this, so the laboratory technicians will be able to engage in other activities,” explained Spíchal, according to whom automation in science is necessary. That is why he is considering closer cooperation with technical universities, which could contribute to the development of other devices.
One of the important factors in the success of the project was cooperation with a company that provided a necessary robotic arm for testing, free of charge. “We are very pleased that we are overcoming the mistrust between academia and industry, and the Cinderella project was an exemplary collaboration that led to a great result. We are very happy for that,” added UP STP Director Roman Jurečka.
The cooperation was also highly appreciated by a representative of the company. “Stäubli Systems aims to support education and research in its activities in the Czech Republic, and thus increase the students’ interest in technical fields at both traditional technical and non-technical universities. Our company was happy to be part of this successful project, and we offer further cooperation to other partners who will put Cinderella into practice,” said Jindřich Kára, the company’s marketing specialist.
Up to one-fifth of Czech schoolchildren aged 13–15 do not know their way around health issues. They do not understand instructions from their physicians. They are unable to assess the health information they come across. Children are also often unaware of the effects of lifestyle on their own health. These findings are based on the data from an international HBSC study coordinated by a team from Palacký University Olomouc.
Adolescents aged 13–15 can be divided into three categories in terms of health literacy. One-fifth of them (18.2 percent) are at a low level; the largest group of schoolchildren (63.2 percent) is aware of health issues at a medium level. Another roughly one-fifth of children (18.6 percent) are very good at getting information on health, understanding it, and applying it. A slightly higher percentage of health illiterates was observed among boys (20 percent of boys vs about 16 percent of girls).
Health literacy affects health as well as lifestyle
The differences in the degree of health literacy are directly reflected in the health status of adolescents. Schoolchildren with lower scores in health literacy show significantly worse results in practically all compared criteria. Various aspects of physical and mental health were questioned – such as psychosomatic problems, the risk of depression, and overall satisfaction in life.
“Children with lower levels of health literacy have low statistical scores in other indicators too. The relationship between low literacy and eating habits is striking,” says Michal Kalman, head of the research team at UP. Children in this group eat little fruit and vegetables and often skip breakfast. The study also notes that they drink energy drinks more often. There is also a strong link between health illiteracy and physical inactivity or lack of sleep.
These children are twice as likely to get drunk repeatedly or experiment with marijuana, and even three times more likely to smoke regularly.
Socio-economic status, i.e. the economic security of the family, is another key to understanding all levels of health literacy. A quarter of the better-off schoolchildren have a high level of literacy (25.2 percent compared to 15.9 percent in less affluent families). At the same time, the level of health literacy does not differ fundamentally with respect to the size of the municipality where the children come from, i.e. the difference between urban and rural areas is not evident.
Children and pandemics?
The findings of UP researchers are highly topical in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Health information and the ability to deal with it in a relevant way can have a significant impact on the course of such events.
“This type of data can help us understand how young people really are. How they behave. How they are able to react to the current situation. Or how to prepare them for similar threats in the future,” Deputy Minister of Health Alena Šteflová said, emphasising the importance of the concept of health literacy. From the very beginning, the ongoing epidemic required constant public encouragement for increased hygiene and adherence to guidelines for controlling the spread of infectious diseases. “I believe that this was positively reflected in the awareness of everyone, including the child population,” added Šteflová.
Srdan Matić, a representative of the WHO in the Czech Republic, also considers the data obtained within the international HBSC study to be extremely important: “Health literacy is one of the long-term priorities for the WHO. This initial study gives us a great insight into the current state of health literacy among Czech children. In addition, we have data for comparison from several other European countries.” According to Matić, the proven significant relationship between health literacy and health status is a sufficient basis for specific projects aiming to increase the level of health literacy among children and youth in the Czech Republic.
In addition to that, the topic of health literacy is expected to become one of the key areas of research in the next data collection for the HBSC study. The impact of the ongoing pandemic on the lifestyle of teenagers will be also researched.
Health literacy in Czech schools
These were one of the reasons why a set of informative educational materials was created for immediate use in Czech schools. It is based on the latest findings of Olomouc researchers, complementing them with specific recommendations and teaching activities with an emphasis on 11–15-year-olds. The activities can also be adapted for other age groups.
“The materials have a print component, but a large part of the information is available online. Some of its proposed activities rely on the remote fulfilment of tasks. It reflects the current situation not only thematically, but also by the means used to achieve the ends. This is exactly the type of project that we quickly supported in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic,” concludes Petr Konvalinka, Chairman of the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic.
The team from Palacký University Olomouc has been monitoring and commenting on factors influencing the health of Czech schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 on a long-term basis. A total of 230 schools took part in the current research on the level of health literacy; more than 9,000 children provided their answers. For more information, see the Zdravá generace?! (Healthy Generation?!) website.
The HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) study is developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). It comprehensively deals with the lifestyle of the young generation. In addition to recent data on health literacy, it also focuses on physical activity, obesity, and eating habits, alcohol consumption, smoking and marijuana consumption, and drinking sugary and energy drinks. In addition to the Czech Republic, forty countries from all over the world are involved in the study. You can learn more about the study at www.hbsc.cz.
This year, about a fifth of bee colonies, which have been decimated by varroosis for a long time, did not survive the winter in the Czech Republic. This year’s bee colony losses are the highest since 2013, when their regular monitoring began. These data result from a survey made by experts from the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Geoinformatics at the Palacký University Olomouc Faculty of Science. In the Czech Republic, 1,729 respondents among beekeepers took part in the seventh year of monitoring the success rate of wintering hives.
Beekeepers and experts have been warning of their increased losses since last autumn, when the year’s first deaths of weakened bee colonies were recorded in the Czech Republic. In the winter months, this negative trend worsened. “The study has showed that the losses of colonies in the winter of 2019/20 were eventually 20.8 percent and are the highest since the beginning of monitoring, which we started in the winter of 2013/14,” said Jiří Danihlík from the Department of Biochemistry. According to him, this year’s mortality rate of bee colonies is comparable to the losses in the winter of 2014/15, when the second year of monitoring took place. The losses of bee colonies then were hitting the threshold of 20 percent.
This time, the highest losses of bee colonies were reported in the Moravian-Silesian Region (35.2 percent) and in the Olomouc Region, where about 30 percent of beehives did not survive last winter. Beekeepers recorded the lowest losses in the Pardubice Region (10.8 percent) and in the Vysočina Region (12.3 percent).
Many beekeepers lost more than half of their hives last winter. The percentage of respondents has increased compared to the winter of 2018/19. “This is an increase of 8.6 percentage points to 14.6 percent. Respondents reported similarly increased frequencies of losses even after the winter of 2014/15,” Danihlík pointed out. In recent years, domestic beekeepers have increasingly encountered extensive collapses of their bee colonies, which, according to the survey, reoccur on average once every two to three years. Researchers are therefore trying to identify the causes of this unfavourable trend and quantify the overall losses through extensive data collection from beekeepers.
Thanks to the survey, experts found that the loss of bee colonies in the Czech Republic fluctuates. For example, after the winter of 2014/15, when beekeepers recorded a high mortality rate, there were very low bee losses recorded in the next year. In the following years, however, losses increased again to 12 to 15 percent. According to Danihlík, extensive bee mortality in recent years have also been reported by beekeepers in neighbouring countries. “Everyone is debating the possible causes; the most probable one seems to be varroosis, which has probably swept through Central Europe,” he added.
According to official records, there are about 686,000 beehives and almost 60,000 beekeepers in the Czech Republic. The results of the Czech survey, organised by experts from the UP Faculty of Science, are sent annually to the international association COLOSS, which monitors the success of bee wintering in Europe. “In regard to the number of answers received, this year is a record year. Of course, this has a positive effect on the quality and representativeness of the obtained results. Data, and especially maps, thus have a greater informative value,” said Jan Brus from the Department of Geoinformatics.
“COLOSS: Monitoring the success of bee colonies wintering” is an international project sponsored by the Swiss-based COLOSS association. The Czech Republic has been involved in the project since 2014, when the first year of monitoring took place. More detailed information and map applications can be found at www.coloss.cz.
Dear Colleagues, Employees, Students,
It’s evident that the crisis brought on by the coronavirus epidemic is gradually ebbing, and our society, the Czech Republic, and all of Europe are slowly getting back to normal life.
For Palacký University Olomouc the last two months have represented a real stress test, which has subjected management of the university, faculties, central units, dormitories and dining halls to extreme organisational strain, and often to improvised and circumstance-forced emergency measures. This is also true of many rank-and-file employees who have had to safeguard the operations of their workplaces, for academics who have had to learn on the fly how to teach on-line, and for all our students, whose studies have been complicated in a real way, including for many their return home abroad. Despite all, it seems that we have managed the situation well (at least so far) and the university can begin to open its doors under a restricted regime for those students who need to fulfil their study requirements this semester. I beg you to please follow the strict hygienic measures and always remember that by doing so you are not only protecting yourself, but also your colleagues – many of whom fall into risk groups. We’re far from out of this yet, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. At the same time, we have to do everything we can to renew standard conditions and normal life. For example, in a matter of a few days we will have to resolve whether and under what conditions to open the university’s nursery school.
In several places, I’ve already thanked our student and academic volunteers from all faculties for their sacrifices, and also our scientists, who have significantly helped the country in testing the Czech populace. Here I would like to repeat my thanks to them once again. This crisis has proved without a doubt that the university and its research facilities are part of the fundamental and essential strategic infrastructure of the state – and recognised as such by the Government of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Education, and the Government Council for Science, Research and Innovation. And of course, I must not fail to mention the workers at our dormitories and dining halls, who though not trained for this, have shown real sacrifice and drive during the course of the complicated situation of instituting a quarantine regime at the dormitories. And my admiration also goes out to the employees of the university library, who despite all restrictions have been able to maintain services to the utmost extent possible.
Exams, admissions, and graduation ceremonies this year will take place under quite unusual conditions, and for the most part on unusual dates. We have been able however to show adequate flexibility in a difficult situation. The main goal is to provide students in the given circumstances the most comfortable deadlines and conditions for taking exams, and this includes prospective students. A good measure of tolerance and benevolence will nevertheless be certainly required on the part of both sides.
Have we learned anything new during the last two months? Based on my personal feelings, I’d have to say that the best survey takes into consideration the high level of creativity, flexibility, solidarity and good will, which has assured me that despite occasional vexations, arguments and conflicts, the world remains in basically good shape. I am also convinced that the spirit of community and university comradery is something important for the majority of us. And this is the survey upon which we ought to build and which has the potential to carry us through whatever challenges the future may bring. In short: In the last two months, we have demonstrated excellent teamwork.
Once again, my thanks to all of you.
Another significant decline in groundwater levels and flow in rivers and streams in the Czech Republic this year will be caused by a drought that struck in the spring – much earlier than in previous years, due to poor snow cover and a lack of rainfall. Drought reduction cannot be expected in the coming months, when, on the contrary, the precipitation deficit should widen further. This has been brought to our attention by Martin Rulík from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the UP Faculty of Science.
“Meteorological forecasts for the coming months do not anticipate more rain, so the impact of drought on surface and groundwater will be enormous this year. There will be significantly below-average flow in watercourses,” warned Rulík.
In terms of the lack of moisture in the soil and flow in rivers and streams, this spring is worse than the previous two years. “The drought in mid-April this year was comparable to the situation we observed last year at the end of April or the beginning of May. It follows that the drought has shifted more to spring, bringing with it all the negative effects,” said Rulík.
Compared to 2018 and 2019, the water supply in the snow in the mountains was up to three times lower. In addition, the snow began to melt in February, relatively soon. “This was followed by a period without significant precipitation. Although there was increased flow in watercourses at the time of melting, groundwater was not significantly affected by this. At present, the levels are significantly below normal,” added the hydrobiologist.
The summer months should be above average in temperature
According to Rulík, meteorologists’ forecasts for the next part of this year are not optimistic. “Precipitation is expected to be less frequent, very dry weather is expected with extreme heat in the summer, when temperatures are expected to reach 40°C,” he warned. However, due to the mild winter, groundwater reserves have not been replenished and their levels are below average. “Therefore, it can be expected that the flow in watercourses will be much below average, or even none at all,” he warned.
Very low flows are already visible on larger watercourses, such as the Morava River and the Elbe. “Heavier precipitation, for example during storms, can occasionally raise flows for a shorter period of time, but otherwise very low flows will prevail,” he said. The Czech Republic has been struggling with drought for a long time. For example, in South Moravia, there is already such a precipitation deficit as if it had not rained there at all for a year, according to Rulík.
Groundwater status will be saved only by heavier rains and winters richer in snow
Rulík assumes that the average total rainfall in the Czech Republic will continue to be approximately the same as in previous years. “However, their distribution will change significantly during the year. Extremes will be more frequent, i.e. torrential rains, when in a short time it rains as much as it once did in one month,” he said.
Due to the rising temperature, the evaporation of water from the landscape and the output of water through plant surfaces will also increase. According to Rulík, the hydrological situation could be improved only by heavier rains and winters richer in snow, which is not realistic. “It now rains an average of 680 mm annually. In order to improve the state of groundwater for next year in particular, it would have to rain at least twice as much, and in the winter it would have to snow and last at least until March 2021 and then gradually thaw. But that is, of course, just a theoretical calculation and wishful thinking,” he said.
It is therefore necessary to introduce measures to increase the amount of water retained in the landscape. “The only source of water for the Czech Republic is precipitation. So the more water we capture in the landscape, the more we will have. So that the water that rains stays at the point of impact and soaks into the soil and then into the groundwater depends on the condition of the landscape,” he said.
Restart the landscape
However, the Czech landscape has been considerably devastated over the last 60 years and lacks sufficient retention structures to slow water runoff. “It is necessary to ‘restart’ the ‘small’ water cycle in the landscape. Primarily, a change in management in our landscape is necessary, i.e. above all a change in management on agricultural land and in forests,” mentioned Rulík.
Retention structures that would slow down the outflow of water and the removal of soil from the fields include, for example, small woods, seepage meadow belts or alleyways of trees between the fields. “Forest management should also be improved and the revitalization of our regulated streams is needed in order to slow the outflow of water away from the landscape. It would also help to increase water areas in the landscape, which would strengthen the small water cycle. During evaporation and plant transpiration, water vapor removes heat from the environment, thus cooling it. Therefore, in a landscape with plenty of water, the climate and temperature are more amiable than in a landscape without water,” he explained.
Another two new species of Thismiaceae have been discovered on Borneo by a team of scientists from the Palacký University Faculty of Science and the Crop Research Institute. Thismia ornata is named after the inside of its flower, which is covered with a bright orange net resembling ornate lace. Thismia coronata, on the other hand, was named after the top of the flower, which resembles a crown.
The description of the new species was published in the international scientific journal Willdenowia. The team of Czech scientists already has twelve new Thismiaceae species to their credit.
Both new species of Thismiaceae were actually found by biologists in Borneo by accident. In the local forests, they were searching for completely different species, which had already been described, but which had not been seen since their discovery. “In the case of Thismia ornata, we set out to find the species described by the Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in the mid-19th century. Instead, we found a plant whose flower reaches up to 12 cm in diameter and boasts a strong coloration. Especially unique is the inner part of the flower, which is covered with a deep orange net resembling lace – a form not occurring in any other known species of Thismia. This gave us a name for the plant,” described Martin Dančák from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
Thismia ornata is also interesting in that this species is not completely unknown, as it occurs in several localities near the city of Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Therefore, it has not escaped the attention of many amateur photographers, who have published their photos of it on the Internet. “However, no one realised it was a hitherto unknown species. This Thismiaceae also has not so many demands on its environment, and grows even where other species would not occur. For example, we found it on the edge of the forest in the local mini zoo, right next to the crocodile enclosure,” added Michal Sochor from the Crop Research Institute.
The second Thismiaceae, Thismia coronata, was discovered by scientists while searching for the species Thismia goodii. Thanks to its bright blue flowers, this plant is one of the iconic species of Thismiaceae. “Interestingly, the two species are actually very similar. Although Thismia coronata has yellow-orange flowers, both species have the top of the flower in the shape of a mitre, which in technical terms is literally used for the upper part of the flower of some Thismiaceae precisely because of its resemblance to a bishop’s mitre. Thanks to its yellow-orange colour and the special skirting around the flower, it also resembles a royal crown, which led us to name it coronata,” described Michal Hroneš from the Department of Botany.
This species of Thismiaceae grows in the mountains of northern Borneo, on the border between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, and has so far been found in only one place. Like most other Thismiaceae, it grows in deep shady tropical rainforests. “Another piece of good news is that in January this year we finally did find the blue-flowered Thismia goodii,” added Dančák.
These two species are now the eleventh and twelfth new species of Thismiaceae that Olomouc scientists have found in Borneo. Experts from the Faculty of Science have been going on expeditions to the rainforest in Borneo for several years. Their first discovered Thismiaceae was Thismia hexagona, followed by Thismia brunneomitra, and the third rare species was a Thismia which was given the attribute inconspicua - inconspicuous.
An international team of scientists, involving researchers from the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM), the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc, and the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (FZU), has designed and experimentally verified the possibility of preparing single-dimensional, carbon-based conductive polymers. As carbon is one of the most abundant elements, new polymer conductors have potentially lower production costs than normal metal conductors, along with greater stability and the opportunity to control their material properties. The joint work of Czech, Spanish and Swiss scientists, which was published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology 1, introduces a novel approach to designing non-metallic conductors, which could be used in solar energy applications, optical technologies or nanoelectronics. The work is so important that the editors of Nature Nanotechnology included a special commentary on the article in their News & Views section (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-020-0667-8).
“The advantage of the new polymers is the possibility of controlling their electronic and optical properties along with expected higher stability compared to current conductive polymers, which are enriched by foreign elements. Their synthesis is simple and easily reproducible. The possibility of constructing stable carbon conductive polymers paves the way for miniaturizing and enhancing the performance of a number of electronic components,” says Pavel Jelínek, who leads the Czech team.
Metal conductors, which are currently an integral part of most commercial electrical and electronic devices, pass an electrical current by means of free electrons in their structures. In most cases, organic carbon and hydrogen-based molecules do not contain free electrons and therefore act as insulators. However, organic conductors, so-called conductive polymers, are known to carry electric current thanks to enrichment by other elements. These elements supply or extract electrons from the structure of carbon polymers, creating the essential free electrical charge responsible for high electrical conductivity. The discoverers of these polymers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000. Advantages of polymer conductors over conventional metal conductors include low-cost production, easy processing using conventional technologies, better mechanical properties and the potential for manipulating their electrical and optical characteristics. Some have found applications in organic LEDs, solar cells, transistors or different types of sensors. However, the main disadvantage of existing conductive polymers is their low chemical and thermal stability, which is linked to the presence of foreign elements in their structure. A number of laboratories around the world are, therefore, trying to prepare new types of conductive polymers that do not contain such elements. It was the Czech-Spanish-Swiss team that was the first to succeed in this challenge.
“In our work, we studied so-called p-conjugated polymers, which are characterized by alternating simple and double bonds between carbon atoms. Nevertheless, on the basis of the polymer's internal stress compensation and its electron structure, an appropriate choice of the polymer's basic construction units can be made to prepare a one-dimensional system that is located near the phase transition. It was the use of the right starting molecules that produced the highly conductive polymer with free electrons without the necessary presence of foreign elements. This approach to the synthesis of 1D conductive polymers may lead to the development of a new generation of organic conductors for molecular electronics,” says Jelínek.
The synthesis of 1D polymer chains took place on a gold surface. The chemical structure and electrical properties were examined by scientists using a scanning microscope with a chemically modified tip that enabled imaging of individual molecules (Fig. 1.) “Conductive polymers were prepared by applying appropriate molecules, developed by Spanish colleagues, to the gold surface. Their subsequent heat treatment led to the formation of long 1D chains without any structural disturbances. The basic building units of the polymers were interconnected carbon bridges. In addition, the electrical properties of 1D polymers can be tuned using just the right choice of basic construction units, moving towards the development of 1D organic semiconductors, for example. Such polymers could find applications not only in the development of molecular electronics, but also in new optoelectronic devices or organic solar cells,” says Bruno de la Torre from both FZU and RCPTM.
Following the collaboration of the Spanish and Czech teams, the results of the study have recently led to the development of chemical protocols for polymer synthesis, the preparation of which is not possible using normal processes.2 “The work in Nature Nanotechnology shows unique possibilities for surface chemistry, where different chemical rules are applied compared to reactions taking place in liquid or gaseous environments. This enables the preparation of completely unique materials such as 1D molecular conductors, with their conductivity resulting directly from their structure. These findings could help address a number of other scientific challenges and prepare a new generation of low dimensional structures with completely new optical, magnetic and electrical properties,” adds Radek Zbořil from RCPTM, Olomouc.
1 B. Cirera, A. Sánchez-Grande, B. de la Torre, J. Santos, Sh. Edalatmanesh, E. Rodríguez-Sánchez, K. Lauwaet, B. Mallada, R. Zbořil, R. Miranda, O. Gröning, P. Jelínek, N. Martín, D. Ecija,Tailoring topological order and π-conjugation to engineer quasi-metallic polymers, Nature Nanotech. (2020) DOI: 10.1038/s41565-020-0668-7.
2 A. Sánchez-Grande, B. de la Torre, J. Santos, B. Cirera, K. Lauwaet, T. Chutora, S. Edalatmanesh, P. Mutombo, J. Rosen, R. Zbořil, R. Miranda, J. Björk, P. Jelínek, N. Martín and D. Écija," ANGEWANDTE CHEMIE INTERNATIONAL EDITION vol. 58, iss. 20, pp. 6559-6563, 2019. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201814154.
Fig. 1 Structure of a conductive 1D polymer imaged using atomic force microscopy (top). An image from a scanning tunnelling microscope showing so-called free electron radicals on the polymer's ends (bottom). (Image source: B. de la Torre)
Fig. 2 A schematic representation of the structure of the 1D conductive polymer on the gold surface with the tip of the scanning microscope used to characterise it. (Image source: M. Pykal)
Based upon new shifts in strategy by the Government of the Czech Republic as of 14 April 2020 in conjunction with the declared State of Emergency and the measures to prevent the spread of the new type of coronavirus, as of 20 April 2020 the premises of Palacký University will be reopened to a limited extent, and solely for graduating students.
Students finishing their Bachelor’s and Master’s studies, despite the closing of classes, will thus be able to come for consultations with their teachers and thesis advisors, enter laboratories to finish their research, and also enter the library. They will also be able to attend state degree exams. Each of these activities is nevertheless limited to the presence of a maximum of five persons at the same time, while adhering to rules already in place (two metres’ distance from one another, covering breathing passages with a face mask, etc.). If it is not possible to keep within these limits and requirements, all teaching activities (lectures, exams, credit tests, etc.) will continue to take place only remotely and via on-line form until further notice.
The individual faculties and departments will make the decisions on the reopening of their doors regarding exams, lab work, etc. – all dependent upon prior agreement between the student and their teachers.
Nothing has changed regarding the status of students not in their final years of their degree programmes, including the ban on physical classes. Their presence at the university is still prohibited, and only on-line classes are permitted at this time, until further notice. In their cases tests, exams, credit tests and satisfying other study requirements will continue to take place on-line.
In conjunction with the partial reopening of the university, the possibilities for foreign students to finish their study requirements within their exchange programmes are being discussed by the Czech Ministries of Education and the Interior, as well as rectors of individual universities. More information will be forthcoming in the next few days.
Banjo, tambourine, straw hat, and a repertoire of American folk music. An hour-long Facebook live stream on Saturday April 11th of songs by David Livingstone, UP Faculty of Arts, and his family kicked off a series of on-line performances which the UP International Relations Office has prepared for (not only) foreign students, who are at present in preventive isolation in Olomouc dormitories due to the current crisis. Four more performances are planned this April on Facebook.
“The idea of concerts for Erasmus students arose in connection with the current situation at the dormitories. We are in daily contact with the students and can only imagine how difficult it must be for them to be in quarantine, without the possibility to return home to family and friends, or even to go outside. Thus we wanted to lighten things up a bit, and show them not only that UP is thinking about them, but also to show them, at least on-line, how their stay in Olomouc might have been had the global pandemic not occurred,” said Tereza Kalousková from the UP International Relations Office. Her colleague Klára Henzlová is also taking part in organising the performances.
The Internet cultural gatherings will take place every Wednesday and Saturday evening over the next two weeks. Music and other performing arts will be presented by either UP personalities or well-known Olomouc artists. “We wanted the performers to be associated with the university and/or Olomouc,” explained Kalousková.
After the Livingstone living room entrée, on Wednesday April 15th an employee from the Rector’s Office, Salih Hadžiabdić, will play and sing songs including some from his native Bosnia and Herzegovina on Facebook. He will be live-streamed on the UP International Relations Department profile and in a Facebook group for foreign students at UP.
On Saturday, April 18th, those interested can watch a performance organised by Joanna Sio from the Departments of English & American Studies and Asian Studies. Joanna Sio is from Hong Kong, and when she is not teaching, she is performing and organising stand-up comedy and improv. This is the form of entertainment she will be offering via the stream on the Faculty of Arts Department of English Facebook page.
On Wednesday, April 22nd, there will be an on-line concert by Olomouc singer-songwriter and busker Terez Wrau, who can be seen performing regularly at university events and who also recently played a musical thank you for all UP volunteers. Terez Wrau’s live performance will be streamed on the UP International Relations Facebook page.
On Saturday, April 25th, Toby Wehle, a student at the Department of English and American Studies at the UP Faculty of Arts, will live-stream a musical performance. Details will be posted by UP Foreign Relations Office shortly.
In the future, the results of an international study on a special receptor within cells, which involved experts from the Department of Cell Biology and Genetics of the UP Faculty of Science, could be used in the effective treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Researchers have synthesized and characterized substances that correctly activate the pregnane X receptor and thanks to that have an anti-inflammatory effect. The results were published by the prestigious journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. Its front page was also dedicated to this international study. Other leading journals have treated this discovery in editorials.
The pregnane X receptor (PXR), discovered in the mid-1990s, has hitherto been considered as the steroid and xenobiotic-sensing nuclear receptor (XSR) and a key regulator of drug metabolism, whose activation is highly undesirable in terms of drug-drug interactions and interactions between food components and drugs.
However, experts have now demonstrated that correct endogenous activation of PXR by common metabolites is desirable for a variety of physiological processes within the organism. In contrast, insufficient endogenous PXR activation or its excessive activation by foreign compounds results in a number of pathological conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. “It therefore follows that PXR is a potential target in the therapy of these diseases. In our work, we dealt with the role and therapeutic targeting of PXR in inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. We found inspiration in the microbial world, specifically in substances produced by the human intestinal microbiome,” said Zdeněk Dvořák from the Department of Cell Biology and Genetics.
The international team of researchers based the study on earlier observations of Prof Mani’s team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “Their observations suggest that indole and indole-3-propionic acid (IPA), produced by the intestinal microflora, act in mice against intestinal inflammation through the PXR. If this signalling is insufficient, these pathological conditions start developing,” said Dvořák, describing the mechanism of PXR influence on inflammatory processes in the body.
Scientists have therefore prepared substances that mimic microbial indole catabolites and have the potential to correctly activate the PXR. “We have proven that our substances based on the concept of microbial metabolite mimicry, which contain indole and IPA in their structure, have a high ability to activate PXR. These substances show anti-inflammatory activity in the human intestinal lining, human intestinal organoids and in mice after experimentally induced colitis,” noted Dvořák.
In the United States, patent proceedings were already initiated in 2018 for the results of the international study on the effects of test substances on the functioning of PXR. “The subject of protection is the potential use of our substances in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases,” added Dvořák.
The study was the joint effort of scientists from 17 research institutions in the USA, Canada, Italy, India, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. “The Department of Cell Biology and Genetics played a major role in the study. Scientists from the UP Faculty of Science hold shared first authorship as well as the position of corresponding author. It is one result of long-term and profound scientific-pedagogical cooperation between the Department of Cell Biology and Genetics and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York,” added Dvořák.
The Centre for International Humanitarian and Operational Law (CIHOL), which operates at the UP Faculty of Law under the auspices of the Department of International and European Law, has acquired an important international partner. A Memorandum on Cooperation was signed with Centro studi giuridici europei sulla grande criminalità (MacroCrimes) at the University of Ferrara. The Memorandum will benefit not only the centres themselves but will also give students new opportunities.
The focus of the Italian centre is very close to that of CIHOL. “What is especially valuable for us is their orientation on International Law and the law of armed conflict, and their experience with the Italian army. For example, they participate in the training of military lawyers. In many ways, they can be an inspiration for us,” explained Martin Faix, Head of the CIHOL, for which the Memorandum is the first of its kind. The contract was signed on behalf of the Italian institute by its director, Serena Forlati.
For the Olomouc centre, the Memorandum expands the possibilities of its activities. “In science and research, we would like to, for example, apply for joint international projects with our Italian partners, publish, and organise conferences and workshops. We will also cooperate in the area of teaching. Next year we plan to hold a joint summer school on the law of armed conflict, which would be attended by our students and students from Ferrara,” said Faix.
CIHOL was established at the Department of International and European Law in early 2019. Its activities bring together experts in International Law from the Faculty of Law in Olomouc, the Czech Army, and several external experts from Czech universities, as well Hungary, Poland, and South Africa. The centre has its own website.
A hydroponic preparation that increases yields by five to ten percent has been developed by scientists from the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH), which brings together the scientific teams of the UP Faculty of Science and the Olomouc branches of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Crop Research Institute. The preparation derived from plant hormones, cytokinins, can now be purchased by growers under the name VegetUP.
“The preparation increases the production of fruit vegetables and at the same time delays the ageing of plants, so they can grow more evenly throughout their vegetation. It also helps plants to better cope with temperature fluctuations,” said one of the authors, Radoslav Koprna from CRH. Together with him, other colleagues from the Department of Chemical Biology at CRH and the Laboratory of Growth Regulators, which is a joint workplace of the UP Faculty of Science and the Institute of Experimental Botany, participated in the development of this substance.
The product was registered in February by the Central Institute for Supervising and Testing in Agriculture, which confirmed not only its effectiveness, but also its safety for the environment and its production. Under the name VegetUp, it has been included in the database of fertilisers and auxiliary products for hydroponic cultivation, i.e. cultivation without soil, which has been booming in recent years. Since only a very small amount of this new type of solution is needed, CRH employees are able to prepare it for the interested parties on their own.
“While other substances need micromolar amounts, in this case there are nanomolar amounts added into large volumes of water. The recommended dilution is in millilitres per tens of thousands of litres of water. Those interested can contact us; we have also started to address large agricultural companies. I am not aware of any similar substance on the market,” added Koprna.
Eight years ago, Olomouc researchers began testing the effects of the plant hormones cytokinins in plant watering and spraying in collaboration with the Fosfa company. In the past, cytokinin derivatives were used, for example, in the Aucyt Start fertiliser, which promotes the formation of strong offshoots and thus ears and grains in cereals and branching in oilseeds; or in Salis, which is a preparation intended for seed staining in a wide range of crops such as spring or winter cereals, rapeseed, poppy, sunflower, legumes, etc.
Scientists from the UP Faculty of Science will participate in prestigious international projects funded by the European Horizon 2020 programme. The projects are aimed at the targeted treatment of osteosarcoma, quantum technologies beyond the Gaussian states, and quantum metrology. They will also seek to increase the resistance of potatoes to stress and to find possible solutions to the problems that European coal-dependent regions face in their transition to a carbon-neutral economy. A total of five projects received grants, spread over three years.
Four projects from the Czech Republic were successful in the Twinning call, two of them from the UP Faculty of Science. In the NONGAUSS project, scientists from the Department of Optics will focus on the almost unexplored area of nonlinear quantum technologies going beyond Gaussian states. They will cooperate with the Sorbonne in Paris and the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby. “This project aims to break the long-term barrier in physics of many quantum particles, which is based on deterministic Gaussian states and operations, and to extend basic research and applications much further to the field of deterministic non-Gaussian quantum phenomena. The project will help us to at least partially explore and perhaps find a way to use this vast unknown area of nonlinear quantum physics,” said the project coordinator, Radim Filip from the Department of Optics. The acquired knowledge will be used in future quantum applications focussed on secure communication, simulations of nonlinear quantum phenomena, very accurate measurements, quantum computation, and even quantum thermodynamics.
The aim of the second project, called NANO4TARMED, is the targeted treatment of osteosarcoma, a malignant bone disease. “Our colleagues from Ireland are experts in drug development. At RCPTM, we provide nanoparticles that could be used to deliver the drug to the affected tissue. This is an issue that we have been dealing with for a long time. And our partners from Italy will contribute with their experience in testing this targeted treatment on cancer cells,” said Václav Ranc of the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM), which received the prestigious grant. The project will also involve researchers from the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Italy and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
The team of experts from the Department of Optics also succeeded in the FET Open call. Their project bears the acronym StormyTune – Spectral-temporal Metrology with Tailored Quantum Measurements. It is aimed at the field of quantum metrology and thus complements the previously granted ApresSF project. In the StormyTune project, Olomouc scientists together with their colleagues from Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, and Poland will try to achieve quantum super-resolution, which should make quantum metrology even more accurate.
“Given the possibilities offered by quantum mechanics, it is truly remarkable that quantum metrology has never focused entirely on optimisation of measurements, but rather has been concerned with the construction of quantum states used to test the system under investigation. This project will use quantum estimation theory methods associated with quantum Fisher information; our goal is to achieve the quantum super-resolution mode in the temporal and frequency domain. We will demonstrate the theoretical considerations experimentally,” said Zdeněk Hradil of the Department of Optics.
Scientists from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators (LRR) will join the ADAPT project in the Sustainable Food Security call. The aim of the project is to identify the molecular mechanisms by means of which potatoes can adapt to combined environmental stress. It will result in the development of new breeding strategies to improve the productivity and yield stability of potatoes under stressful conditions. “The potato is one of the most important food crops in the world. One of the main limitations to ensuring necessary yields is its sensitivity to environmental stress, heat, and drought, often followed by floods. As far as agricultural crops are concerned, we practically lack knowledge of the signalling mechanisms that plants trigger after exposure to stressful conditions in an attempt to adapt to them. These adaptation mechanisms require metabolic reprogramming triggered by different signalling paths,” said Miroslav Strnad, Head of the LRR.
“In the case of potatoes, we will try to understand the dynamics of these complex signalling and stress response mechanisms,” added Strnad. The results of the research should be used in breeding new potato varieties that will be adapted to the specific environmental conditions.
The international project “Enabling positive tipping points towards clean-energy transitions in coal and carbon intensive regions” applied in the call “Social Sciences and Humanities Aspects of the Clean-Energy Transition” is focussed on the challenges of European coal-dependent regions in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. It is rooted in the critical concept of socio-ecological “turning points” in the context of climate change, energy transitions, and economic transformations. “Based on empirical analyses of selected geographical, environmental, and socio-economic indicators, our objective is to understand the different developmental trajectories of various European regions and to identify and characterise the key negative and positive turning points within these developmental trajectories,” said Bohumil Frantál from the Department of Geography.
Horizon 2020 – the Framework Program for Research and Innovation – is the largest and most important programme for funding science, research, and innovation in Europe.
A yet unknown family of beetles was discovered in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest by an international team of entomologists including Robin Kundrata from the Department of Zoology at the UP Faculty of Science. This new evolutionary lineage of beetles is characterised with a unique body structure and genetic make-up. While males in this family have wings and the ability to fly, the wingless females are morphologically almost indistinguishable from their larvae. The results of the study dedicated to this new beetle family from one of the most endangered biomes in the world were published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.
Scientists have already been able to describe the majority of beetle families, therefore discoveries of new developmental lineages at this level are very exceptional today. The recent discovery of a completely new group of beetles from the Brazilian rainforest has thus aroused great interest, not only in academic circles. “These beetles have escaped the attention of scientists, mainly due to their small size and also their hidden lifestyle in the soil and forest floor. During the first expedition, only two larvae were discovered. Since no one could identify them, they were preserved in the laboratory until adulthood. Coincidentally, they were representatives of both sexes,” said Kundrat, who collaborated with colleagues from Brazil and Germany on the research of this group of beetles, about the unexpected discovery.
The surprise for entomologists was that the male had both pairs of wings, including the elytra, and was fully able to fly, while the female was wingless and resembled her own larva in appearance. “This phenomenon of an individual retaining some larval signs in adulthood is called neotenia. In beetles, it usually involves females much more noticeably,” said Kundrata.
Entomologists eventually discovered a total of three species of this unique line in Brazil and classified them into two genera. They called them Jurasai and Tujamita, which are terms derived from the local indigenous languages. A detailed study of the morphology of all developmental stages combined with the results of DNA analysis subsequently showed that it is a completely new independent developmental branch of beetles, which deserves the status of a family and was named Jurasaidae.
“The discovery of this family has brought a lot of new knowledge about the evolution of neotenia in beetles. It arose several times and may not be as pronounced in every group. Both genera of Jurasaidae are a shining example of this. While females of the genus Jurasai are at first sight almost indistinguishable from their larvae, females of the genus Tujamita have at least some parts of the head and chest partially similar to adult males,” said Kundrata in explanation of the interesting morphology of the newly discovered line.
Due to the fact that neotenic groups with non-flying females occupy relatively small areas due to their limited ability to spread and usually strong dependence on habitats with long-term stable climatic conditions, according to Kundrata they become excellent indicators of historical refuges of tropical rainforests in periods of drier climates.
The Atlantic Forest is the second largest tropical rainforest in Brazil. It covers an over 3,000 km long strip along the Atlantic coast. Due to excessive deforestation, approximately one tenth of the area of the original forest has been preserved, while only about a third falls under protected areas. Nevertheless, the area is characterised by its unique species diversity and a number of endemic taxa. “It is one of the most endangered biomes in the world,” pointed out the Olomouc entomologist, according to whom the remaining fragments of the original rainforest are home to one of the most diverse faunas on the planet.
The largest and best protected parts of the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest are now maintained in the mountain ranges in the south of the territory. This is exactly where all the representatives of the new family Jurasaidae were found. “The fact that this forest hosts beetles whose survival is bound to long-term stable forest habitats due to their cryptic lifestyle only further reinforces the importance of this region as a priority area for local nature protection,” added Kundrata.
The establishment of a platform for international collaboration in research into the targeted treatment of osteosarcoma, a malignant bone disease, is the goal of the NANO4TARMED grant supported under the Twinning call, part of the prestigious Horizon 2020 programme, obtained by Václav Ranc from the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM) of Palacký University. The Olomouc scientist and his colleagues will work with scientists at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Italy and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Only four projects from the Czech Republic have succeeded in this call, two of them from Palacký University. The establishment of an international consortium is one of the conditions for obtaining major H2020 grants.
The above-mentioned institutions have joined their effort to advance research into osteosarcoma treatment, which is the second most common malignant bone disease and affects mostly adolescent children. “Colleagues from Ireland are excellent experts in drug development. We, at RCPTM, deliver nanoparticles that could be used to transport the drug to the affected tissue. This is an issue we have been dealing with for a long time. And partners from Italy will use their experience in testing this targeted treatment on cancer cells,” described the interconnection Václav Ranc, a project coordinator.
Alongside the research as such, the project also aims to promote mutual cooperation. “The most important thing is to establish a research cluster, a kind of platform for cooperation. We must learn to cooperate with one another and share our knowledge and experience, including exchanges, seminars or workshops. This will significantly increase our chances of winning major European grants in the future, enabling us to bring the research to a successful end, that is to say, to develop an effective strategy for treating this cancer,” added Ranc. Along with him, three other RCPTM researchers, and three from Italy and Ireland, will be involved in the project called Advanced hybrid theranostic nanoplatforms for an active drug delivery in the cancer treatment. The total funding for this three-year grant exceeds 19 million Czech Crowns.
The RCPTM deputy director, Michal Otyepka, says that obtaining such a grant is great success. “This is a very important programme for building international consortia. We consider international collaboration to be extremely important for RCPTM, enabling the exchange of experience and knowledge. It is important for achieving valuable results that smaller and isolated teams can find difficult to achieve especially in the field of interdisciplinary research, of which the project is an exemplary demonstration. I am glad that, thanks to this grant, we can not only expand our international collaboration network and research areas, but we are also acquiring important know-how for further major funding opportunities,” said Otyepka.
A total of 439 proposals were submitted for the TWINNING call, which closed last November, with 437 proposals having been evaluated. The total funding for the call is €69 million, allowing the funding of 77 projects. Portugal received the largest number of grants (13) followed by Estonia and Poland (8), Serbia (7) and Turkey (6). The next place is the Czech Republic and Lithuania, with 4 grants. Of the Czech applicants, Masaryk University and Mendel University (one grant each) have succeeded in addition to Palacký University, where the second grant awarded also goes to the Faculty of Science. The aim of the call is to help overcome disparities between the member states and regions in developing and harnessing research and innovation potential, promote participation in Horizon 2020 and contribute to more equal dissemination of excellent research in the European research area.
Dozens of students of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine & Dentistry have become permanent reinforcements for the staff of many departments at University Hospital Olomouc in recent weeks, including a COVID-19 testing checkpoint, set up in the parking lot of the Theoretical Institutes building. You can take a close look at the “frontline” through the camera lens of Vojtěch Duda.
The management of both faculties highly appreciates their students’ work. “I value your volunteer work not only as a noble gesture on the part of young, enthusiastic people, but above all as the humane response of future doctors to an emergency situation in which personal comfort goes by the wayside and helping those in need comes to the forefront. At this moment, I already know that you will not fail as doctors and that you understand that being a doctor is not just a profession, but a mission. I am delighted that we have the privilege to educate such future doctors here,” said Dean of the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Josef Zadražil, in his address to students.
Martin Procházka, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, also addressed thanks to “his” students: “We appreciate your attitude and commitment. It is proof of how sensitive you are to the moral dimension of your future professions. We are proud of you. Thank you for representing our faculty, for helping the patients and the needy. Let me wish you a lot of strength and good health.”
We are continuously providing coverage of how Palacký University students are volunteering during the pandemic, not only in University Hospital Olomouc. Their impressions and experience can be found – in addition to other information – here.
The current emergency situation in the Czech Republic – and the specials measures at Palacký University that go with it – has sparked many questions and uncertainties from both students and staff. UP management chose the format of live stream video to provide some answers. The themes came from students and employees, who sent their questions via e-mail in advance.
Hundreds of questions were received, making it impossible to answer each in turn. Since many of the questions were similar, UP management divided them into themes in order to fully comment upon them.
After a few introductory words and a brief English summary for foreign students, UP Rector Jaroslav Miller, Vice-Rector for Studies Vít Zouhar, Vice-Rector for External Relations Petr Bilík, and Director of UP Accommodation and Dining Josef Suchánek covered the following themes:
A recording of the video stream can be found here: