Czech children are active. According to a study conducted by researchers at Palacký University Olomouc, 86 percent of schoolchildren aged 11–15 are involved in organised activities. In other words, only one in seven children has no regular leisure activity. However, a significant proportion of the child population spends four or more hours a day on computers, televisions, and smartphones, thus facing increased health risks.
Recently published data from the study for HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) shows that most Czech young people aged 11–15 years spend their leisure time actively. They are involved in team and individual sports and in activities in arts clubs or youth organisations. Among the boys, team sports prevail (58 percent), while among girls it is artistic activity (60 percent). “We have found that children who spend their leisure time in an organised way show higher satisfaction with their lives and are more successful at school. In addition, there are smaller numbers of regular smokers and those with repeated drunkenness among them,” says the research team leader, Michal Kalman.
With family, actively
The research also focussed on the ways how leisure time is spent in families. One of the favourite activities in this case is sport. Almost 40 percent of adolescents do sports with their parents at least once a week. “In the long run, this is very good news, because it was only 30 percent 16 years ago. The family environment is essential for an active lifestyle,” says Petr Baďura from the UP Faculty of Physical Culture. He adds that the number of families who go for regular walks together has also increased. Active leisure is, according to him, more typical in better-off families. That includes sports as well as visits to restaurants or the cinema, regular walks, and time spent chatting.
Non-organised activities without a predetermined structure, deadline or regularity also play an important role in young people’s lives. These include reading, playing board and card games, visiting the cinema, spending “down” time with family at home or with peers in the park or housing estate, or just doing nothing.
Less than one third of Czech children read at least once a week, with girls heavily outnumbering boys (41 percent vs. 24 percent). Only about one fifth of children meet with their friends every day in the streets or in the park. By contrast, children often prefer to go to shopping centres. Three out of ten teenagers go there for entertainment or distraction several times a week; this involves more often children from poorer families.
Interestingly, the lack of activity – simple lying on the couch or in bed – also has its place among leisure time “activities”. This is how up to 40 percent of children spend time several times a week. “We should not see this only negatively. Some studies suggest that occasional boredom increases creativity and imagination, especially in younger children,” argues Baďura.
Risky four hours daily in front of a screen
A significant consumer of time are electronic devices. On weekdays, 19 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls spend four hours or more watching TV and videos; and one third of boys and 27 percent of girls on weekends. In addition, almost every fourth boy (23 percent) versus 9 percent of girls spend four or more hours on weekdays playing electronic games. Girls, on the other hand, are more often visiting social networks and browsing the internet. Note that the younger generation is able to combine several such activities simultaneously.
“Excessive time spent on the computer screen, television, or smartphone poses a significant risk to children, not only in terms of overweight and obesity; it also negatively affects sleep quality and is associated with the occurrence of depression,” concludes Srđan Matić, a representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Czech Republic. The HBSC study has been conducted under the auspices of WHO internationally for many years; the study’s conclusions serve to develop strategic documents, policies, and practical recommendations.
The HBSC study is one of the largest data sources on children’s and adolescent lifestyles in the world. The current research in the Czech Republic involved 230 schools and 13,000 children. The team from the UP Faculty of Physical Culture has been long monitoring and commenting on factors influencing the health of Czech schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 years.
Selected data including infographics can be viewed on the website www.zdravagenerace.cz.
Thanks to the financial support of the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR) provided within the GAMA2 programme, in 2020–2022 Palacký University can make use of up to €600,000 in support to finalize scientific findings for practical use. The UP Science and Technology Park (VTP UP) has started accepting applications for Proof-of-Concept sub-projects.
The projects are designed for researchers who want to get their ideas on the market while doing what they enjoy and what fulfils them. Applications will continue to be accepted until the funds, which amount to €200,00 for each year, become depleted.
The TA CR GAMA2 programme aims to support the verification of the results of applied research and to prepare their subsequent commercial use. “Do you need to build a prototype device or a software tool to showcase your project to potential customers or verify the qualities of the result so that it can be patented effectively? Do you wish to transform your research output into applicable practice? Then the Proof-of-Concept projects are here for you,” said Petr Kubečka, Head of the Technology Transfer Office.
Proof-of-Concept projects have proven to be a very effective tool for successful commercialisation in the past. “This year we have successfully completed the last seven sub-projects from the previous call of the GAMA programme, which was implemented in 2014–2019,” Kubečka said. “A total of 28 sub-projects were supported in this university-wide project, and 52 valuable results were achieved. Some of them have already been applied in practice, others are being negotiated with commercial partners and investors. In the new call, the VTP UP team will cooperate even more closely with all the investigators in order to implement the results quickly and efficiently,” he added.
In order to have their projects launched by 1 January 2020, project applications must be sent to VTP UP no later than 11 November 2019 and subsequently approved by the Commercialisation Board. All documents necessary for filing the application can be found on the VTP UP website, in the section “For download”. The budget of the projects can be used for material costs, travel, services, and salaries of the investigators. Applicants can apply for the project even after November 11, 2019, but projects approved by the Board will not be launched until the second quarter of 2020. More information is available here.
Palacký University Olomouc’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry is the first in the Czech Republic to pass the demanding external evaluation to receive accreditation from the Association of Medical Schools in Europe (AMSE), which confirms the high quality and European standards of medical studies in Olomouc.
UP FMD, together with five other medical schools in Europe, was subjected to the detailed evaluation of its General Medicine study programme as part of a pilot project launched by the association. AMSE accreditation guarantees the quality of education provided for medical applicants as well as hospitals and healthcare facilities as their future employers.
“This is an important success for us. The fact that our medical faculty has become the first in the Czech Republic and one of the first in Europe to receive the European certification is mainly due to the efforts by previous faculty management and to the long-term cultivation of the General Medicine curriculum during the era of my predecessors,” said Dean Josef Zadražil, who has been in charge of the faculty since June.
According to Dean Emeritus Milan Kolář, this is a confirmation that the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry is a recognised educational and scientific research institution. “Among other things, this accreditation means that our diploma will be one of the most recognised and highly sought-after in the European Union, and many European hospitals will give preference to medical graduates with this. At the same time, it is necessary to realise that it is also a commitment to further development, i.e. maintaining this seal of European quality,” added Kolář, current Vice-Dean for External Relations, who feels that the entire academic community of the faculty deserves respect for their conscientious and outstanding work.
The Olomouc faculty underwent the demanding evaluation during the past two years. In addition to the assessment of documentation on the faculty and its study programme, this spring there was also a several-day inspection by the evaluation committee made up of German experts. The evaluators appreciated, among other things, the modern facilities used for education, the comprehensiveness of the curriculum and the continuity of individual subjects, the functional evaluation of the teachers, and the above-standard collaboration of the faculty with University Hospital Olomouc.
The conclusion of the evaluation also mentions some negatives and further recommendations, for example in the area of practical training, greater involvement of students in research projects, and further in-service training and teacher development.
The UP Faculty of Medicine has received the AMSE accreditation for one year. Once the before-mentioned objections have been resolved, the accreditation will be extended until 2024.
Eight interesting routes for runners and pedestrians starting in the vicinity of the Faculty of Science, thematically named after scientific fields and Olomouc attractions, can be found in a new map app authored by Martin Gabryš, a graduate of the Faculty of Science, and students of Geoinformatics and Cartography Jakub Koníček and Radek Barvíř. The application is designed for students, employees, and the general public.
“Last year I started working on the Cyclo-Routes project, in which I create circuit routes primarily for cycling, in the form of printed maps, map apps, and websites. It occurred to me that I could do something similar at the faculty, so I applied for the Cherish Your Nature competition. I wrote a project, and made a print map, app, and website in which the faculty eventually showed interest,” said Martin Gabryš.
The aim of the project was to create routes for pedestrians and runners that both start and end at a common point at the Faculty of Science. Routes are 2.5 to 12 km long. In the menu are found thematically focused topics sorted by the fields of Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Ecology, Earth Sciences, Fort Science, and Science Centres, as well as Olomouc “bonuses”, which include parks, monuments and squares.
“Together with Radek Barvíř, with whom we organise weekly runs from the Department of Geoinformatics, we devised thematically focused routes, which, according to our running experience, are the best in Olomouc. After digitizing and creating a description of each route, I worked out a graphic design of the project in the form of a poster while Martin Gabryš fine-tuned the map application,” added Jakub Koníček.
The application can be used either on a computer or smartphone. Routes are not marked in the terrain, therefore it is advisable to print your own map or use GPS. “Matyáš Černohous from the Department of Computer Science helped me with the application fine-tuning, for which I express my gratitude,” added Gabryš. Under the auspices of the project, a print map was created for the entrance of the Faculty of Science. More information is available (in Czech) at https://www.mapujme.cz/prfupol/.
Preparing experts in the field of development policy and practice is the aim of the two-year Master’s programme International Development Studies – GLODEP, which is implemented in cooperation with other foreign universities. Thirty foreign students – one out of the three groups in the programme – will be studying Development Studies and Policy at the Department of Development and Environmental Studies, UP Faculty of Science, this semester.
“Thirty students have enrolled this semester, for example from El Salvador, Mexico, Kenya, Egypt, France, Italy, Ireland, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Most of them are already in Olomouc, but some are still waiting for their visas,” explained Simona Šafaříková from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies.
These students from 27 countries are given knowledge and skills to analyse the socio-economic and environmental problems of developing countries and to support development policies at national, regional, and international levels.
“I come from Mexico City, which is a place full of conflicts. I wondered how I could help my city stabilise and raise itself economically. So I was looking for a multidisciplinary field in which both economics and development studies will be represented. I got to Olomouc to the GLODEP programme, which was a priority for me, also thanks to the scholarship offered by the programme. The facilities for students have very high standards, the university and the city are very well connected. I like it at the Faculty of Science, there is an order to things, and it works. The teachers are very well prepared for their classes, they analyse development issues from various perspectives and listen to their students’ opinions,” said José Jerónimo Olvera León.
Muhammad Ali Anwer from Pakistan has similar motivation as José. “The main reason I applied for the programme is because I wanted to learn about the latest trends in the area of development, because we face big challenges in Pakistan in terms of our society’s development. I want to learn how others are looking at it, to get different views from all over the world so that I can return home and find the best way to develop our country.”
The GLODEP Master’s programme offers students the opportunity to study at three European universities: Palacký University Olomouc, the University of Clermont Auvergne, France, and the University of Pavia, Italy. It is a two-year Master’s programme in which students gradually study one semester at each university. The first group of students successfully completed their studies by passing the final state examination and defending their theses in June 2019 (watch the video from the ceremony); the second group is currently staying at the University of Pavia. The final fourth semester is dedicated to thesis writing, and students can also enrol in internships with academic as well as non-academic partners of the consortium (www.glodep.eu, FB page).
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
E: firstname.lastname@example.org M: 603 873 364
Martina Šaradínová | tisková mluvčí RCPTM
Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci | RCPTM
E: email@example.com | M: 773 616 655
Routes for road and mountain bikes as well as places of interest in the Kostelecko micro-region in the Prostějov Region can be found in well-arranged map applications and printed maps created by Martin Gabryš, a graduate of the Faculty of Science of Palacký University. The Kostelecko micro-region consists of thirteen villages in the vicinity of Kostelec na Hané.
“New map applications, printed maps, stickers and banners were created upon agreement with the mayors of the micro-region. The aim was to create routes for cycling and hiking so that both cyclists and pedestrians visit the villages of the micro-region together with their cultural and historical monuments in their surroundings,” said Martin Gabryš, the author of the map.
The Kostelecko micro-region is an area located in the southwestern part of the Olomouc Region, near Velký Kosíř mountain. There are natural monuments, reservations and parks as well as protected trees.
“Map applications are suitable for all cyclists and tourists who want to discover the micro-region. Within the application there are filters so the user can select only what interests him. For better orientation in the area, the location feature is available or the user can print his own map. Printed maps, which can be found in several information centers around the micro-region, are intended rather for road, trekking and mountain biking, hiking and Nordic walking,” Martin Gabryš explained.
New routes for cyclists are presented both in the online map application on the PC and on the mobile phone. “It is certainly not the last thing that we created in cooperation with the mayors of individual municipalities. We will try to further expand the range of these products and show that there are many other places to visit in this area,” added Martin Gabryš. For more information visit www.mapujme.cz or www.cyklookruhy.cz/kostelecko.
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).