An international team of scientists from the Department of Botany at the Palacký University Faculty of Science, Charles University, and Lund University in Sweden has described the early development of a new species of the microscopic alga Synura petersenii from the group of golden algae (chrysophytes), which is mainly related to its long-term adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The scientists came to this conclusion by studying more than a hundred algae samples taken from several lakes in Europe and Canada. The results of their work were published in the journal Current Biology.
“The way in which new species of organisms arise is one of the fundamental questions in biology. Relatively cheap and efficient DNA sequencing has brought about major advances. However, research in this area is still largely confined to animals and plants, despite the fact that the vast majority of species on the planet are microorganisms. Together with colleagues from Charles University (the research was led by Pavel Škaloud) and Lund University in Sweden, we have tried to fill this gap,” said Petr Dvořák from the UP Faculty of Science Department of Botany.
For their research, the scientists chose the alga Synura petersenii, which commonly lives in the plankton of lakes at our latitudes. These are colonial flagellates, whose cells are covered with siliceous scales. With the help of an electron microscope, distinctive ornaments that are species-specific can be seen on them.
“To elucidate the factors that have led to diversification within this species, we obtained more than 100 laboratory cultures from samples from multiple lakes in Europe and Canada. This is the largest dataset of its kind among algae and protozoa. Using DNA sequencing, we obtained a representation of the entire genome of each laboratory culture and subsequently reconstructed the evolutionary relationships between individual samples,” he described.
Population structure analyses have revealed that over the past 100,000+ years, Synura petersenii has evolved into three diversified populations that are on their way to become new species in the future. “Diversification began 125,000 years ago, before the last glacial period, as calculated by molecular clock dating. Significant population radiation took place in the last 14,500 years, after the last great ice age. This suggests that climate change has influenced the diversification of this alga, as it has for plants. Moreover, the diversification of Synura algae was very rapid compared to other algae, where this process takes millions of years,” noted Dvořák.
The diversification of populations of this alga has been driven by adaptation to local conditions, especially different temperatures and the amount of dissolved substances in water. Heavy rainfall has also influenced the evolution of individual populations, causing nutrients to wash up from the bottom, mixing the water and reducing transparency, which affects all planktonic organisms, which must adapt to such events. “Geographical distance at the intercontinental level also played a significant role, although these organisms were originally thought to have an almost unlimited ability to spread across the planet. Populations continue to diversify into new species, even though genetic flow continues to occur between them. This implies that ecological diversification is a stronger factor than genetic mixing of lineages,” said Dvořák.
An international team of scientists, led by Czech physicists, has successfully developed a unique magnetic nanographene for the first time. They combined two concepts of magnetism and were the first to detect their magnetic signal using advanced scanning electron microscopy and quantum mechanical calculations. Graphene nanoparticles have the potential to be used for information storage and processing in quantum computing.
The paper, published in Nature Chemistry, describes an innovative method to design, prepare, and verify the magnetic properties of graphene in the shape of four rounded triangles resembling “butterfly wings”. Each of these triangles contains an unpaired pi electron responsible for the magnetic properties.
“Previous approaches were limited to a single magnetic origin, which limited the number of correlated spins or the type of magnetic ordering in the nanographenes. In this work, we were able to combine two approaches for the first time to create this unique magnetic nanographene with four unpaired electrons. Moreover, by combining experimental and theoretical calculations, we were able to provide irrefutable evidence for its magnetic character,” says Adam Matěj from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Palacký University in Olomouc.
Recipe for making nanomaterials from Singapore
This nanographene was synthesized by scientists in Singapore on the surface of gold by heating a pre-prepared organic molecule to 600 Kelvin, which leads to dehydrogenation and cyclization in the individual “butterfly wings”. The entire preparation of nanographene had to be carried out in an ultra-high vacuum because synthesizing highly reactive compounds in solution is problematic.
The traditional image of magnetism is associated with transition metals such as iron, which contain highly spatially localized unpaired electrons. For a long time, it was thought that carbon-based materials with strongly delocalized electrons could not have magnetic properties.
However, research in recent years has shown new ways of making magnetic systems based on nanographene structures. This new concept of magnetism is called pi-magnetism, due to the presence of unpaired pi electrons. One of the unsolved challenges of this new magnetism class remained not only the preparation of nanographenes with a higher number of unpaired electrons but also the direct experimental verification of their magnetic character.
The unique magnetic properties of nanographene were verified by Czech scientists from Pavel Jelinek’s team using scanning tunneling microscopy, which can measure the local magnetic field in a specific part of the molecule thanks to a probe with a nickelocene molecule.
The experimental results determining the electronic structure were confirmed using state-of-the-art quantum chemical computational methods in collaboration with Libor Veis’ team at the J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry. “Calculating the electronic structure of molecules with multiple open shells is generally very challenging. However, we have often seen that the computational tools we are developing can solve this problem with great accuracy. In this case, too, we can be confident in the conclusions of our study because of the excellent agreement between experimental and theoretical results. Moreover, theoretical calculations often have the advantage of providing information that is not available experimentally, in this case, the way in which individual electron spins are strongly entangled,” explains Libor Veis.
Scientists from the National University of Singapore, the CATRIN research institute at Palacký University in Olomouc, Nanjing University in China, and two institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences – the Institute of Physics and the J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry – participated in the experimental and theoretical verification of the properties of nanographene.
Dozens of students who were given the opportunity to expand their knowledge; an honorary doctorate for the first post-communist UP rector Josef Jařab; mutual exchanges of academics from various fields and participation in conferences – this is just a shortlist of activities that have been connecting Palacký University Olomouc and Moravian University, Pennsylvania, for more than thirty years.
Palacký University has several partner schools overseas. Cooperation with American partners is one of its long-term priorities, bringing opportunities for mutual exchange visits of students and academics, and the creation of joint study programmes and research activities. One example of successful internationalisation in practice is its collaboration with Moravian University.
“The school was founded in 1742 by the Moravian Brethren, who came to Pennsylvania from Saxony. It is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is the sixth oldest university in the United States. It has more than two thousand students. It was a college until 2021, when it received university certification and became Moravian University. At present, its most important fields of study are nursing and business,” explained Jiří Stavovčík, Vice-Rector for internationalisation.
For UP, this school has also been their base for the Merrill Scholarship Fund, which was founded more than thirty years ago by American philanthropist and friend of Palacký University Charles Merrill, and which allows UP students to go to the USA for study stays.
Over the years, UP’s relationship with Moravian University has extended beyond business contacts. The two universities “understand” each other, and their representatives regularly meet on various occasions. One of the most recent ones was the celebration which took place in New York in autumn 2023 on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of Olomouc’s university, and was attended by Bryon Grigsby, Rector of Moravian University. Last autumn, UP Rector Martin Procházka visited their university.
“I am delighted to have been able to continue the successful collaboration with schools in the USA initiated shortly after the Velvet Revolution by Prof Josef Jařab, an American Studies scholar and UP Rector Emeritus. We continue to systematically expand the portfolio of American universities with which we carry out mutual student and academic exchanges and develop partnerships in science and research. Needless to say, our long-term relationship with Moravian University is clearly one of the closest,” said Rector Procházka.
The students who have benefited from the support of the Merrill Scholarship Fund greatly appreciate this opportunity. They have summarised their impressions and advice for their colleagues on the UP website dedicated to international cooperation. Here are a few:
I remember the moment I learned that I had been selected for a semester-long study abroad programme at Moravian University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. I knew that this was going to be a great opportunity for me, which would open the door to a new world with many new possibilities. But it went beyond my expectations. Now, after spending a semester there, I have rich memories of Moravian University imprinted on my mind. Those memories are full of happy moments of everyday life on campus spent with new friends and exploring new parts of the world. Moreover, it was a continuous process of learning and gaining new experiences. They say that a semester goes fast, but this time with all the experiences, it went by in a snap of the fingers. Within four months, I found a corner of home at Moravian University, thanks to the people around me. It was a unique experience, and it is hard to sum up so many happy moments in words. It was something unforgettable to step out of my comfort zone, to face culture shock and all the changes, but also because of all that, the semester became one big adventure that I will never forget.
Minh Tam Le
I travelled to Moravian College in Pennsylvania as part of my Master’s degree in social science education. I wanted to broaden my horizons, get a different perspective on teacher training, and just try studying in a foreign language. Palacký University’s Merrill scholarship allowed me to do all this… and more!
I spent my fourth year as a Palacký University exchange student at Moravian College in Pennsylvania. Eight years later, I still remember those times, and I often think back on that very special year when I was a student at a prestigious college in the States. The knowledge and the experience I gained during only one year has been life-changing, eye-opening, and has enriched me for the rest of my life. I strongly believe that every student should take part in a study-abroad programme. I appreciate so much the opportunity that I had to be a part of the Merrill Program, and I will always be grateful to Mr Charles Merrill for what he has done for me and many more students. I believe that all of us who passed through this programme still have Mr Merrill in the back of our minds, and we know that we will try to be as generous and as open-hearted as he was. I am so happy I had the chance to meet him. Listening to the stories told by the professors at Moravian College who knew him, I came to realise that behind it all was a single amazing human being. It has shown me that even one person can make a huge difference in so many lives, and that everything we do should be done with passion and commitment, because it’s worth it. Mr Charles Merrill was a great example to all of us.
Better equipment for Czech workplaces, articles in renowned journals, new research teams, and support for young scientists are the goals of the National Institute for Cancer Research (NICR), the largest project in Czech academic oncology. It also involves Olomouc’s Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine (IMTM), which is part of the UP Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and UP CATRIN. In 2023, significant achievements were made in relation to these goals, and one of the ambitions the institute entered the new year with was to focus on the popularisation of oncology research.
“We are succeeding in fulfilling exactly what the NICR was founded to do – to interconnect Czech oncology research and build synergies, thanks to which we are improving the conditions for scientific work that should result in discoveries useful for the diagnosis and treatment of oncological diseases,” said NICR Director Aleksi Šedo, evaluating the year 2023.
According to him, investments in technological equipment at the workplaces in Brno, Olomouc, and Prague are good examples of that. Devices allowing a more precise view into what is happening inside cells or sequencing the genome bring scientists closer to answering questions on how to better target negative processes such as cancer in a diagnostic or therapeutic way. “In the new proteomics lab, we are experimentally studying the proteins present in cells, tissues, and blood in relation to mechanisms of cancer onset and development. The instrumentation of the laboratory is unparalleled not only elsewhere in the Czech Republic but anywhere in Central or Eastern Europe. We are able to detect and quantify thousands of proteins in a single measurement, which allows us to work faster. At the same time, we can see exactly what processes are taking place in the cell at any given moment, giving us a comprehensive view of the issue under study,” said Šedo, describing the Proteomics Laboratory at the First Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague.
One of the most advanced mass spectrometers, which has expanded the possibilities of proteomic and metabolomic studies in particular, is now at their disposal in the IMTM laboratory, too. This workplace focuses mainly on the analysis of cancer biomarkers from human fluids and tissues collected in non-invasive ways – such as from breath or tears. There are also new additions at the Brno branch of the NICR – the workplace of CEITEC and Masaryk University – where they have installed a modern sequencing system able to “read” the entire human genome efficiently, and at low cost. It can read up to 48 genomes concurrently in two days, something not previously possible.
The interconnection of the workplaces into a single unit allows the scientific teams to share information and technological capabilities more efficiently. “The excellent results of the scientific teams involved in the NICR have resulted in publications in top peer-reviewed journals such as Nature Communications, Blood, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Clinical Cancer Research, and Nucleic Acid Research. This confirms that oncology research in the Czech Republic is world-class,” said Ondřej Slabý, NICR Scientific Director. The NICR has also established close cooperation with medical infrastructures supporting translational research (EATRIS), clinical research (ECRIN), and biobanking (BBMRI).
Last but not least, in 2023 the NICR also organised two international summer schools, the international conference Czech Annual Cancer Research Meeting, and the first OncoPatient conference, where academics meet patients and patient organisations. “One of our goals was also to support young talents via developing academic oncology. That is why we are pleased that eleven colleagues have defended their doctoral theses under the supervision of scientists from the NICR, three junior research groups have been established, and two doctoral study programmes have been opened: Experimental and Clinical Oncology at Charles University in Prague, and Molecular and Translational Medicine at Palacký University Olomouc,” said NICR Medical Director Marián Hajdúch from the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
In 2024, NICR also wants to focus on popularising cancer research among the public and to encourage their interest in it. Among other things, NICR is preparing projects for high school students, their teachers, and budding scientists.
The National Institute for Cancer Research was established in 2022 as part of the Programme for Public Research & Development Support for Priority Areas of Medical Sciences and Related Social Sciences – EXCELES, which is funded by the National Recovery Plan. The institute brings together seventy excellent research teams from workplaces in Prague, Brno, and Olomouc. For more information, see www.nuvr.cz/en/.
Thanks to CATRIN, Palacký University has won the prestigious TECHSCALE (Technology Beyond Nanoscale) project from the Excellent Research OP JAK call with a budget of almost half a billion Czech koruna. The multidisciplinary team will be led by the physical chemist Michal Otyepka.
Many scientists in the Czech Republic have recently applied to the Excellent Research call from the Operational Programme Jan Amos Komenský. The TECHSCALE project led by you succeeded amongst stiff competition. Moreover, it garnered high ratings in its field. What does this success mean to you?
We devoted a huge effort to the preparation of the project proposal, and in this pre-Christmas period, I recall the sleepless nights and several near-heart attacks that the whole team went through this time last year. But the incredible stress then turned into great joy when the results were announced. I view the second place we were awarded in such a prestigious project call not only with satisfaction but also as a mark of appreciation of the consistent and long-term work of ourselves and our partners from Charles University and CEITEC-VUT. I also think that we have managed to assemble a great interdisciplinary team that includes the humanities as well as natural sciences. Together we have been looking for ways of cooperation that will allow us to significantly push the boundaries of the current world of nanomaterials towards technologies that work with single atoms.
You have a number of other achievements to your credit, including four times success in the European Research Council’s grant competition. Did this experience help?
We build on our experience when preparing new projects, and thus continuously improve project proposals. It’s a never-ending story. I think that CATRIN has moved forward enormously in the field of international project grants over the last two years; we are capitalizing on our investment in this area and are now seeing the first results. In addition to science itself, international projects highlight a number of other topics that deal with implementation and impacts. We have certainly benefited from our experience with international projects within TECHSCALE.
You expect major discoveries that will push the boundaries of current nanotechnologies and find applications in a wide range of areas. What exactly can we look forward to?
Nowadays, nanomaterials and nanotechnologies are among well-established scientific disciplines that have advanced our knowledge and attract a huge number of applications. The whole project has a unifying theme, which is to push the boundaries of the nanoworld and achieve precision in tuning properties up to the level of single atoms. We want to design such materials and prepare them in a controlled way. Already during the design phase, we will consider the safety of materials and possible social impacts. We will then target three major areas where we envisage the greatest potential for application, i.e. sensors, catalysis and energy storage. I believe that we will be able to prepare new materials that will change the paradigm, for example, in the fight against antibiotic resistance, alongside designing very effective catalysts for industrial production or preparing selective and sensitive sensors.
In what way do you think the project is unique?
A unique element of the project is the interconnection of four pillars. These are computer design, synthesis and characterization of new materials, their application, as well as safety and social impacts. Recent crises have taught us that technicians and natural scientists must work closely with experts from social science. Such cooperation allows new topics to be tackled, reveals entirely new perspectives and raises questions that natural scientists do not normally ask. I think this organic interconnection of disciplines was also highly appreciated by the evaluators of the project.
How do you and your colleagues in the social sciences learn to find common ground?
Honestly, it’s a slow evolution. It’s not easy for either side. I’d compare it to a very coy courtship. I know from previous projects that sometimes it only takes about a year to find common ground. The great thing is that we all are seeking a way to accommodate each other because we see the enormous potential that effective interconnection can provide. I’m convinced that this effort will soon bear fruit.
The project has already achieved its first results in the form of publications in prestigious journals. Can you describe some of them?
We are just starting a number of new joint projects. The existing cooperation has certainly accelerated everything. For example, we have recently managed to find a way to improve ammonia production with our colleagues from CEITEC Energy. In addition, we have used the computing capacity of the IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Centre at VSB – Technical University of Ostrava. These achievements clearly show that broad cooperation is the only way to progress and remain internationally competitive. I believe that this project will enable us to intensify our cooperation at home and abroad. I also believe that our International Scientific Board, which includes six of the world’s leading experts, will help us in this.
Prof. RNDr. Michal Otyepka, Ph.D. (*1975)
Prof. Michal Otyepka studied physical chemistry at Palacký University Olomouc. From 2008 to 2020, he was Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry. He now heads the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials at the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN-RCPTM) and works at the IT4Innovations National Supercomputer Centre at VSB-TUO.
He studies the structure and properties of nanomaterials and biomacromolecules. He played a key role in the discovery of the thinnest isolator in the world — fluorographene — and was involved in the development of the first non-metallic magnet. In 2014, he received a Neuron Impuls grant from the Neuron Foundation. In 2015, he was awarded a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) and the first EIC Transition grant in the Czech Republic. In 2020, he was the first ever Czech scientist to receive an ERC Proof of Concept grant, and in the following years, he repeated this success twice.
On the proposal of the Scholarly Board of the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (FMD), Palacký University Olomouc awarded the honorary degree of doctor honoris causa to Hans-Peter Hartung, the world-renowned physician and scientist who has significantly contributed to the elucidation of the mechanism of new treatment for demyelinating diseases of the nervous system, especially multiple sclerosis, and who has been intensively collaborating with the FMD Department of Neurology and University Hospital Olomouc for more than twenty years.
The world-renowned physician and scientist received an honorary doctorate during a ceremony at the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc. Milan Kolář, UP FMD Dean, introduced the laureate and his connection to Olomouc’s university.
“Prof Hans-Peter Hartung is an extraordinary scientific, medical, and pedagogical authority in the global context. The long-term collaboration of Palacký University with Prof Hartung enables our students to undertake research internships in Germany and has resulted in a number of important publications in the field of contemporary neurological research. His relentless interest in systemic collaboration has translated into a number of excellent results in science and research and has thus undoubtedly contributed and will continue to contribute significantly to the reputation of Palacký University – not only in the European but also in the broader international context,” Kolář said.
He did not omit to say Prof Hartung was appointed a Visiting Professor at Palacký University in 2022, regularly attends Olomouc neuroimmunology symposia as an invited speaker, and is a member of the editorial board of the professional journal Biomedical Papers, published by the UP FMD.
Hans-Peter Hartung is mainly involved in clinical and translational research in basic and clinical neuroimmunology, particularly in multiple sclerosis and immune neuropathies, and in the development of novel immunological, neuroprotective, and neurorepair therapeutic strategies. His work has contributed significantly to the elucidation of the mechanism of contemporary therapies for demyelinating diseases of the nervous system – i.e. multiple sclerosis and demyelinating inflammations of the peripheral nervous system. He currently heads the Centre for Neurology and Neuropsychiatry at Heinrich Heine University and University Hospital Düsseldorf.
The honorary doctorate in the form of a diploma as well as a UP commemorative medal with a double portrait of Josef Dobrovský and František Palacký was presented to him by UP Rector Martin Procházka, together with Lucie Plíhalová, Vice-Rector for Science and Research. “With great joy and deep respect, I present the honorary degree to Prof Hartung for his merits in the development of medical science and in promoting the good name of Palacký University Olomouc. At the same time, let me use this solemn occasion to wish you good health and many more successes in science, medicine, and teaching, Prof Hartung,” said Rector Procházka in his speech.
“This is really a very touching moment for me and one of the highlights of my academic career,” said Prof Hartung at the ceremony. In his speech, he recalled the beginning of his cooperation with Olomouc physicians and scientists when he headed the neurology department at the University of Graz, and when Olomouc neurologist Jan Mareš, now head of the Centre for Diagnostics and Treatment of Demyelinating Diseases at University Hospital Olomouc, visited the laboratories in Graz as a young assistant.
“Our common goal was to improve the quality of life for our patients. This was the starting point of a long-term productive scientific collaboration that resulted in repeated mutual visits and many a joint publication. The head of Olomouc neurology, Petr Kaňovský, fully supported this cooperation. Over the years, Professors Mareš and Kaňovský became my close friends, which I appreciate very much. Such relationships are one of the most valuable things one can achieve when working in academia,” said Prof Hartung. He also pointed out that the honorary doctorate from UP means a lot to him in the context of the renewed good neighbourly relations between the Czech Republic and Germany.
After the ceremony in the Archbishop’s Palace, the new honorary doctor of Palacký University Olomouc headed to a place he is familiar with – the historical lecture hall of the UP FMD Department of Neurology and University Hospital Olomouc. In a special seminar, he gave a lecture on current trends in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
Hans-Peter Hartung has become the third person to be awarded an honorary doctorate by Palacký University in recent months. During last year's celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the founding of Olomouc’s university, the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, who was involved in the revival of theological studies in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution, and the well-known jazz composer and pianist Emil Viklický, a graduate of the UP Faculty of Science, received honorary doctorates. Since 1990, Palacký University has awarded honorary doctorates to five dozen personalities for their contributions to the development of science, culture, and other activities for the benefit of society and humanity. Among them are the first president of the Czech Republic (and post-1989 Czechoslovakia) Václav Havel, chemist Antonín Holý, and plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahač. A list of all UP honorary doctors is available on the university's website.
The Palacký University Endowment Fund (UP EF) offers opportunity, resources, and knowledge to talented students who want to try their hand at running their own scientific and artistic projects. The latest, ninth call for applications for support will be open from 12 February to 31 March 2024.
Long-term and continuous work with talented students is one of the priorities of Palacký University Olomouc. The UP EF activities have been a great testament for years that this effort makes sense. Students not only obtain funding for internships, literature, and necessary equipment, but also a vast amount of knowledge. All UP faculties have shown interest: last year, nine successful students from the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Science, Theology, Physical Culture, and Health Sciences were able to use a total of almost €30,000 for their projects. In total, five dozen UP students have been given the opportunity to test their skills and learn something new.
“In order to support talented students, we raise money from corporate and individual donors, as well as from our important supporters who care about the development of young talents and society as a whole. Komerční banka [Commercial Bank] has been the general partner of the UP EF for some time now. Projects that are to be supported are selected by the fund’s Board of Directors; our important criteria include the impact of the project and its application in practice,” explained UP EF director Jiří Rudolf.
Students who have received support in previous years highly recommend their colleagues to take an interest in what the UP EF has to offer. As they emphasise, even if you do not succeed the first time, you should not give up. “I dare to say that thanks to the UP EF challenges I’ve sorted my ideas and managed to define my goals precisely. Thanks to the financial support, I had the opportunity to attend two foreign internships at a prestigious international workplace, the Institute of Science and Technology Austria in Klosterneuburg, in the workgroup of Prof Jiří Friml, and also to buy the materials I needed for my project. I have applied several times, however it didn’t work out immediately. At first, I took it as a huge personal failure, but it was this failure that made me get on with my project. It’s an interesting opportunity for all students; in addition to receiving financial resources necessary for the implementation of their own projects, it also provides valuable contacts and an opportunity to develop one’s skills and abilities through courses organised by the UP Career Centre,” said Ludmila Včelařová from the Faculty of Arts, summarising her experience.
Adam Matěj, her colleague from the same faculty, pointed out that working on such a project expands the possibilities for future employment. “I applied to the open call of the UP Endowment Fund to expand my research and try to run my own project. The first new experience was the formulation of the goal, arranging the necessary collaboration and then submitting a short proposal. The main goal of my project, which was financially supported, was a three-month internship with Prof Hans Lischka at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, USA. During that time, we collaborated on several research projects, and I focused on learning advanced computational methods under the guidance of this professor. The success of the proposed research project is evidenced by a joint published paper in the journal Nanoscale. In addition to the expected results and publications, it allowed me to find and arrange a postdoctoral fellowship at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. All in all, I can only recommend all young scientists to try to write a project proposal, and who knows, maybe it will open career doors for them, as it did for me,” said Matěj.
Students who want to know the details of how to apply can take advantage of a webinar called How to Succeed in the UP Endowment Fund Call, which will take place on 19 February from 1 to 2 pm. “Applicants will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their project plans. Participation in the webinar is highly recommended. Registration for the webinar on the UP Career Centre portal is required; the event can also be found on the UP EF’s Facebook page. During the application call’s duration, students can also contact me individually for consultations at the UP Career Centre,” said Katrin Stark, UP coordinator for talented students.
The registration system for applications will be published on the UP EF website on 12 February 2024. More detailed information and the full text of the call can be found here. Information on the Palacký University Endowment Fund can be found here.
Scientists from the Department of Experimental Biology at the UP Faculty of Science, in collaboration with Prof Herman Sintim’s research group at Purdue University in the USA, will focus their attention on chemical compounds that could play an important role in the future treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia and some other types of cancers.
The joint Czech-American project, entitled “Pyrazoloquinoline Kinase Inhibitors and their Characterization in Relation to Cancer” received the support of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports from the INTER-EXCELLENCE II programme, which focuses on research, development and innovation.
Researchers will investigate inhibitors of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) and FLT3 kinases over the next five years. Abnormal function of the FLT3 receptor kinase, which is often subject to oncogenic hyperactivation, is associated with the development of acute myeloid leukemia. “However, CDKs have also become a relevant target in the potential therapy of acute myeloid leukaemia because of their irreplaceable role in the direct regulation of the cell cycle as well as transcription. Simultaneous inhibition of two distinct cellular targets has been a trend in the development of new anti-cancer therapeutics in recent years, and blocking FLT3 and CDKs has already been tested in some models of acute myeloid leukaemia,” said project investigator Radek Jorda from the Department of Experimental Biology.
Preliminary results confirmed that by modifying the pyrazoloquinoline skeleton at different positions, the activity of the prepared compounds towards FLT3 and CDKs kinases can be modulated. “A series of new analogues of these compounds will be prepared during this project. In order to maximise their potential, they must be studied as best as possible in biochemical and cellular models. We also need to confirm their mechanism of action and structure-activity relationships so that new, more effective compounds can be designed. A closer characterisation of the new inhibitors in a variety of in vitro cell models will contribute to further understanding of these derivatives and their potential therapeutic use for the treatment of oncological diseases,” described Jorda.
While FLT3 kinase targeting has proven effective in the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia, inhibition of selected CDKs by itself offers the potential to treat specific subtypes of solid tumours. “CDK2 kinase inhibition has been confirmed in several studies to be relevant in breast and ovarian cancer models with enhanced CCNE gene expression. Blocking the transcriptional kinase CDK12, in turn, led to increased sensitivity to drugs affecting DNA repair enzymes or DNA itself,” explained Jorda.
Read the online version of Žurnál to learn more about UP’s academics, students, achievements, research, discoveries, and interesting facts about the university.
The latest UP magazine in English is about the university world, life far beyond our campus, and one man’s journey to learn how to calm one’s mind. It presents a portrait of UP Academic Senate Chair Irena Smolová, an interview with Vice-Rector Michal Malacka, the story of UP Endowment Fund recipient Eliška Vodáková from the Faculty of Physical Culture, and the experience of Faculty of Education teacher and doctoral student Dominik Voráč at a Buddhist temple.
The English version of Palacký University’s Žurnál is published twice a year. The magazine summarises important events and activities at Palacký University Olomouc. Download the PDF version now!
The UP Faculty of Law has taken a significant step towards gaining its first foreign partner from Asia. It consisted of a trip to Taiwan, undertaken in January by Václav Stehlík, Dean of the Faculty, and Martin Faix, Vice Dean for International Affairs. They returned with pre-negotiated cooperation agreements, including with prestigious National Taiwan University, and also sought funding opportunities for these activities in meetings with local representatives of government institutions and industry.
Both members of management rate their trip to Asia, where they attended more than 12 meetings, as challenging, intense, and successful. “We had a warm welcome. I dare say that the interest shown by Taiwanese institutions is genuine. Czechs have a very good reputation in this Asian country. There is the will to cooperate on their side,” said Dean Stehlík.
The week-long foreign trip was a continuation of the last year’s activities of the Faculty of Law – namely, the stay of I-Hsun Sandy Chou, an American lawyer and native of Taiwan, who worked at Olomouc’s Law Faculty thanks to the Fulbright scholarship programme. “It was she with whom we first started talking about the possibilities of cooperation with this economically advanced Asian country. Moreover, it is a country that is highly developed in modern technologies, and that is important for us: for instance, in terms of the further development of our study programmes; we are introducing a new PhD programme in Law and Digital Technologies this year. We’ve had no partner from Asia yet,” said Faix. Last June, the Faculty of Law was actively involved in organising a visit of a delegation from Taiwan’s Constitutional Court to the Czech Republic. “Our school was the first institution they visited,” Faix recalled. On the basis of that successful first cooperation, the faculty soon received an invitation to visit the Constitutional Court in Taipei.
“This created an opportunity to visit the court as well as the local universities. Again, Sandy Chou helped us a lot with the organisation of the trip in January, arranging all the meetings,” Faix said. He presented a talk for the Taiwanese constitutional judges on the topic of punishing crimes from the communist era, while Dean Václav Stehlík spoke about the Czech Republic’s journey into the European Union, the subsequent transformation of the Czech legal system, and the benefits of membership in terms of democratisation.
The following days of the week-long foreign trip included visits to universities in various cities, including the most prestigious one – National Taiwan University, one of the top twenty universities in Asia according to international rankings. “At the universities, we mainly discussed exchange opportunities, participation in summer schools, and project cooperation,” said Faix. He added that the faculty is aware that these activities are more financially demanding.
The faculty representatives in Taipei were also successful in this aspect. They also met with a representative of the Czech Economic and Cultural Office, with whom they discussed various forms of financial support, including scholarships. “And we had a number of meetings with people who could potentially support our cooperation with Taiwanese institutions. For example, with people who are connected to companies that do businesses in the Czech Republic and Europe,” said Faix.
Now that management representatives have returned from Asia, all the information and documents brought back will be processed. This should result in the first cooperation agreements with Taiwanese schools.
The establishment of academic relations with this democratic island country builds on the previous activities of Palacký University Olomouc and is based on the current foreign policy of the Czech Republic.
Film screenings and top documentaries from around the world, unforgettable lectures, meetings, and debates! This year’s 59th Academia Film Olomouc International Festival of Science Documentary Films (AFO), organised by Palacký University Olomouc, will be indelibly etched in its visitors’ memories. Documentary film fans will meet in Olomouc from 23 to 28 April 2024.
This year, the festival’s main theme will be Memory. The audience can look forward to ambitious journeys “into the future past”, passing through prehistory and the dinosaur era all the way to the time of artificial intelligence. Festival programmers aim to search for the key to understanding memory in the context of society and technology, and together with the audience they will imagine a world in which memory is completely absent. Interesting guests from abroad will once again come to the Czech Republic. The accompanying programme will target adults and children alike.
Remembering is not knowing
“The programme will reflect on the various ways in which memory and information storage affect our world and the relationship between memory and knowledge. We are interested in human memory in terms of the storage of information and individual memories, as well as “technological memory” – the evolution of the various technologies to which humans have developed over history to delegate their own memory. That is, all the way from the emergence of writing to neural networks,” said Zdeněk Rychtera, the main programmer of the Memory section.
Thus, the entire main programme section will be dedicated to memory, with film screenings, lectures, and podcasts. However, this theme will also be woven organically into the other programme sections outside the competition, and shown from various angles. The AFO programme will include sections on Resilience, Naturalness and Nature, Of Mushrooms and Men, The Dinosaurs of Tomorrow, and Science in Pop Culture.
Tributes to Jane Goodall and Cormac McCarthy
“On the occasion of Jane Goodall’s 90th birthday, we are going to commemorate the vital legacy of this iconic scientist and activist. We will also present an intimate documentary on the work and ideas of author Cormac McCarthy, who spent the last 25 years of his life as an active member in residence at the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary research centre. The Czech premiere of Cormac McCarthy’s Veer by Polish director and physicist Karol Jałochowski will be featured,” said Ondřej Kazík, the festival’s head of programming.
Fans will experience the genius loci of newly renovated buildings
The festival will also continue its cooperation with external partners such as Czech Television, which will again be the general media partner of the festival, and the National Film Archive. AFO is also expanding the list of key festival venues. “One of them is the renovated Central cinema in the Olomouc Museum of Art; our visitors will surely love it because of its proximity to the festival headquarters and its excellent facilities. Another one is the Red Church of the Olomouc Research Library, where the VR zone will be featured for the whole week; it has grown in size compared to last year, and this will allow us to present new possibilities of working with augmented reality. Our AFO Junior section will also be expanded. In addition, we’ve agreed to cooperate more closely with Czech Radio Olomouc with their beautiful premises where we want to bring festival visitors from all over the world,” added AFO director Eva Navrátilová.
The festival’s visual identity: Back to the future
Every year, AFO comes up with a new visual identity that is in line with the main theme. This year, the creative team tried to elaborate on the theme of memory and “invited” artificial intelligence to join the team. So, a canine crew oversees and navigates astronauts on the Moon. The graphics are based on a retro aesthetic, and the typography evokes the golden era of theme parks. The festival becomes a unique place in space and time, with its own rules, waiting to be filled with visitors’ experiences.
“Using AI, we prompted scenarios from the past that relate to the selected iconic event. And it’s turned out that AI is unable to process such a request accurately. With our graphics, we want to show that human memory is selective, too. History is written by the victors; our memories are being managed by external servers, and for the time being, AI is interpreting all this data with a high error rate. The ‘memory’ of our yet non-existent festival is also an alternate one. So, we’re starting to build a unique ecosystem and attraction that will culminate during the festival, as we will experience a journey to this unique place together,” said graphic designer and art director Radim Měsíc when describing the creation of the AFO59 visual identity.
The Academia Film Olomouc International Festival of Science Documentary Films (AFO) has been organised by Palacký University Olomouc since 1966. It is one of the oldest Czech film festivals. Its driving organisational force is, most importantly, current as well as former UP students. The chance to take part in the production of such a large event is an ideal opportunity for them to test and develop their own skills. AFO is thus not only a world-renowned festival, but also an established educational platform. It is one of the most visited film festivals in the Czech Republic in terms of the number of accredited viewers.
An international team of scientists has experimentally created the world’s first Gottesman-Kitaev-Preskill (GKP) quantum codes propagating light, opening up the possibility of constructing optical quantum computers which offer exponential speed-up over classical computer technology. The unique experiment is a culmination of long-term collaboration between the scientists from the University of Tokyo, Palacký University Olomouc, and the University of Mainz. The results were published in Science.
Quantum computers offer a new way to process information thanks to the principle of quantum superposition. Their qubits – the quantum counterpart to classical bits – can contain not only values of 0 or 1, but also 0 and 1 concurrently. However, this makes these qubits highly vulnerable even to small random errors, therefore it is necessary to detect and correct even minute errors.
To make the qubits fault-tolerant, one logical qubit is usually encoded into a high number of physical qubits. This approach, however, makes it difficult to create larger quantum circuits, because it is necessary to maintain their overall quantum superposition. In the current research, the international team of researchers focused on encoding the logical qubits into optical oscillators, which can handle even quite complicated quantum codes and at the same time maintain their resistance to error. “These codes can be created, for example, with help of microwave quantum circuits in superconducting resonators, in the motion of individual cold atoms, and now, thanks to our result, at room temperature as engineered states of light, which is suitable for practical use,” explained Prof Radim Filip of the UP FS Department of Optics.
Pulses of propagating light working as an optical oscillator have the advantage that they do not need cooling. The optical code is composed of a high number of photons, but they are all coherently contained within the individual pulses. “These pulses can be combined, processed, and measured at room temperatures and at high speeds with the techniques of modern optical communications. Another key technology for such systems, nonlinear measurement, was already tested by the collaborative effort of the two teams in 2023 and the result was published in Nature Communication,” added Assoc Prof Petr Marek, UP FS Department of Optics.
The fault-tolerant GKP code in a single optical pulse is formed by high number of photons arranged in a very specific arrangement that can be represented by a virtual grid. “Random errors lead to deformations or shifts in the grid, which can be detected and corrected. Confirming whether the experimentally prepared state possesses these required properties was our task,” said Marek.
Constructing these GKP codes in optical systems is a very difficult task that requires strong nonlinearity, which is still an open challenge. “In the current experiment, such nonlinearity was provided by high-end photon number detectors. Looking to the future, we believe there will be further rapid scientific progress. Nonlinearity is the key to optical quantum computers,” added Prof Filip.
This long-term joint research of the teams from Olomouc and Tokyo was funded by a number of projects of the Grant Agency of Czech Republic, including an EXPRO project; and by the projects CLUSTEC and NONGAUSS within the frameworks of the Flagship and Widening programmes financed by Horizon Europe.
To increase the quality of life of children with visual impairments through their participation in school and leisure-time physical activities is a common goal of the Centre for Adapted Physical Activities (APA) at the UP Faculty of Physical Culture and the Světluška [Firefly] project of the Czech Radio Foundation. Thanks to this cooperation, consultants will be available to pupils, their teachers, and parents who will introduce to them various support measures and movement activities adapted for people with visual impairments.
APA consultants for schoolchildren and students with visual or combined impairments will be working in five Czech regions – the South Bohemian, South Moravian, Moravian-Silesian, Olomouc and Ústí nad Labem regions – as well as in the capital city of Prague, with an overlap to the Central Bohemian region. The two-year project is meant to provide intensive support to up to 90 pupils, however counselling services will be provided to each individual out of the hundreds of such children in each region.
“We want them to develop habits leading to a healthy and active lifestyle, which is a positive prerequisite for holistic health and thus a happier life. Developing motor skills is a continuous activity, so our aim will be for the consultants to see ‘their’ pupils and work with them regularly, at least once a month. We anticipate that initially some pupils or their parents will be concerned about the risks of engaging in physical activities and questioning their benefits for the visually impaired. In some respects, it may not be an easy job for the consultants, as they also have to process the necessary administration, travel to the pupils, and attend regular meetings to share their experiences,” said Ondřej Ješina, head of the APA Centre, adding that one-time events with a broader scope of interests are also being planned, such as ski weekends for families and various trips.
Similarly, other interested parties will also be able to benefit from the counselling on how to involve pupils with visual impairments in physical activities and promote their equal access to education. The activities of the project are intended to enhance the competences of teachers, raise awareness among parents and peers, and positively influence public attitudes towards supporting the participation of people with visual impairments in physical and leisure-time activities in the widest possible context.
The APA Centre has abundant experience in promoting equal access to education for pupils with impairments, disadvantages, and other special needs through physical activities. One of them was a nationwide project supported by the Czech Ministry of Education and implemented before the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to which agreement APA managed to anchor its consultancy in the priorities and strategic documentation of the Olomouc Region.
“We are pleased that the activities we are further developing in our region have resonated in other regions to such an extent that even three years after the end of our nationwide project, they are still asking for APA-trained staff in their region. And we are very happy that Světluška [‘Firefly’], or rather the Czech Radio Foundation, has adopted this mission, that their approach is systemic, and that they are willing to invest in this obviously meaningful project as the first foundation ever,” added Ješina.
The Czech Radio Foundation has many years of experience in supporting people with visual impairments via the Světluška project. “We at Světluška decided to systemically support the physical activities and sports of children and young people with visual impairments for several reasons. Children and young people with any handicap must not be excluded from physical education classes, and if the barrier is the lack of expertise and motivation on the part of teachers and their assistants, then we must provide them with both. Physical activities and sports are one of the paths to an independent and meaningful life, a life in which the impaired persons themselves hold the reins. And if there is a barrier to their participation in these activities, let’s build a system that will intervene in time and direct and accompany these persons from the beginning,” said Gabriela Drastichová, director of the foundation.
“Peer groups, teams, sports duos are all about relationships, about camaraderie, about mutual cohesion. Shared experiences in leisure sports create opportunities for development, healthy competition, and most importantly, create memories for a lifetime. And if fear of the unknown is a barrier to greater involvement of children and young people with visual impairments in sports and leisure activities in general, let’s accompany them as running and skiing guides and pilot bikers. We are extremely excited to work with the APA Centre because we are united by a common goal and determination not to be mere observers but those who make things possible,” added the director.
The two-year project of the APA Centre supported by the Světluška public collection called Systemic Support for Equal Education and Participation in Leisure Activities of Children, Pupils, and Students with Visual Impairments in the Area of Physical Literacy started at the beginning of 2024. Currently, the selection procedures for filling the positions of APA consultants in the cooperating regions are being prepared. After the necessary training and introduction, their work is expected to start in June this year, and more intensively with the start of the new school year.
The APA Centre at the Department of Adapted Physical Activities, Palacký University Olomouc Faculty of Physical Therapy, has been connecting the academic environment with the practice in the field of physical activities of people with impairments and disadvantages since 2007. Its most important activities include the creation of conditions for the creation of the position of APA consultant, the development of methodologies for supporting measures in physical education in schools, as well as various educational, popularisation, and sports events, such as the Paralympics School Day. The centre also operates a sports equipment rental service, the largest of its kind in the Czech Republic. For more information, see www.apa.upol.cz.
The Czech Radio Foundation helps to create an environment and conditions for the full development of people and their abilities, regardless of their impairments and disadvantages. It fulfils its mission through its long-term projects Světluška [Firefly] and Ježíškova vnoučata [Grandchildren of the Infant Jesus] and one-off collections that gives help where needed. Světluška has been helping people with severe visual impairments since 2003, both financially and by organising awareness-raising and experiential activities for donors. Popular events include the Night Runs for Firefly, the traditional Light for the Firefly concert, and visits to the POTMĚ Café [Café in the Dark], an extraordinary visual experience designed not only for coffee lovers. For more information, please visit nadacnifond.rozhlas.cz and svetluska.rozhlas.cz.
During their evolution, carnivorous plants have developed various ways of regulating the digestion of their prey. Some carnivores activate a sophisticated system of digestive enzyme production using phytohormones once an insect is trapped. Other carnivorous plants, however, produce digestive enzymes without the need for external stimuli. This was discovered by UP Faculty of Science scientists from the Department of Biophysics.
The results of their long-term research on the regulation of digestion in various lineages of carnivorous plants were published in the renowned Journal of Experimental Botany, in which they earned a commentary from world-renowned plant physiologist Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the United States and made the cover of the issue. The article subsequently caught the attention of the scientific editors in a paper published in Nature Plants journal.
During their evolution, carnivorous plants have responded to nutrient deficiencies in the soil, evolving at least eleven times independently in different lineages. They are therefore a textbook example of “convergent evolution”, a process by which unrelated organisms living in the same environment develop similar adaptations. One example would be a whale, which looks like a fish because it lives in water, but is actually a mammal. In the case of carnivorous plants, the ability to lure, capture and digest animal prey, from which carnivorous plants obtain the nutrients necessary for their growth and reproduction, has repeatedly evolved in nutrient-deficient environments.
Andrej Pavlovič from the Department of Biophysics has devoted himself to the issue of digestion of carnivorous plants for some time. “Around 2013, together with colleagues from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators, we discovered that iconic and well-known carnivorous plants such as the flytrap (Dionaea) and sundew (Drosera) use phytohormones from the jasmonate class to regulate the production of digestive enzymes,” he said.
Jasmonates commonly serve to activate plants’ defense mechanisms. They usually accumulate after an attack by a pathogenic organism or herbivore and then activate the synthesis of defence molecules directed against these organisms. “For example, increased jasmonate-induced synthesis of nicotine in tobacco is well known. It may be advantageous for smokers, but caterpillars do not like a leaf with a high concentration of nicotine so much. The tobacco plant defends itself against insect pests this way,” explained Pavlovič.
Less well known is, for example, increased production of the enzyme chitinase, which digests the cell walls of pathogenic fungi composed of chitin. However, chitin is also contained in the outer exoskeleton of insects. Carnivorous plants have therefore adopted this defensive signalling pathway, but instead of using it to defend, they use it to attack. “Once an insect comes into contact with the deadly leaves of a sundew or flytrap, mechanical stimuli in the plant induce electrical signals that initiate the production of jasmonates, which then synthesize digestive enzymes, including chitinases, that rapidly digest the prey’s body,” said the scientist.
These carnivorous plants have thus perfectly copied the defensive reactions of plants, in which the accumulation of jasmonates is also often preceded by the generation of electrical signals, especially after an attack by an herbivore. “However, the new publication shows that this strategy evolved only once in carnivorous plants, about 85 million years ago in the order Caryophyllales. Other evolutionarily younger carnivorous plants do not use jasmonates to regulate the secretion of digestive enzymes. Instead, they synthesize digestive enzymes without any stimuli or their secretion is regulated developmentally – ontogenically. Why this is the case remains a mystery,” added Pavlovič.
According to Pavlovič, the evolution of the regulation of the digestive system of carnivorous plants is apparently not as straightforward as scientists had previously assumed. Despite the convergent evolution that guided the development of carnivorous plants as a whole in nutrient-poor environments, individual evolutionary lineages of carnivorous plants were likely subjected to different environmental selection pressures, leading to different ways of regulating the digestion of animal prey, despite using very similar enzymes. “The initial discovery of the function of jasmonates in carnivory regulation is thus the exception rather than the rule,” pointed out Carl Procko and Joanne Chory in their commentary.
New materials for energy acquisition and storage, nano-robots detecting or eliminating germs in the human body or substances accelerating and streamlining a number of chemical reactions in industrial production will be developed by a revolutionary method of single-atom engineering as part of the Technology Beyond Nanoscale (TECHSCALE) project. Palacký University (UP) has succeeded in the prestigious Excellent Research call in the Jan Amos Komenský Operational Programme, with partners from Charles University and CEITEC-VUT. The five-year research received funding of almost half a billion Czech koruna.
“Our goal is to develop nanomaterials and technologies that will contribute to solving the two current societal challenges, i.e. the acquisition and storage of renewable energy and the improvement of quality of life. Besides experts in materials research, representatives of social sciences are also involved in the project, who will assess the acceptance of new technologies in society. At the same time, they will also propose strategies for combating the so-called fake news, which could negatively influence the perception of new technologies,” explained the principal investigator of the project Michal Otyepka from the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN) of UP, who also has representatives of five Palacký University faculties on his team.
The researchers decided to exploit the huge potential of the single-atom engineering method, which allows to tune the properties of substances up to the level of individual atoms. Scientists are able to bring individual metal atoms into the structure of different materials, which can significantly improve their properties or even enable completely new applications. “It turns out that nanotechnologies are being surpassed by and are giving way to single-atom engineering. For example, catalysts prepared this way bring up to orders of magnitude higher reaction yields and at the same time replace the need for expensive or inaccessible raw materials such as gold or platinum. In the energy sector, we can increase manyfold the efficiency of acquiring green hydrogen by solar decomposition of water or ammonia. We also know that materials developed on the basis of atomic engineering can kill bacteria much more effectively than many antibiotics, while bacteria cannot develop resistance to these materials. The economic, ecological and health benefits are therefore enormous,” said Radek Zbořil from CATRIN, a pioneer of this method, whose team will focus especially on its use in the energy sector.
New types of catalysts and nano-robots for use in medicine
According to another key team member Jiří Čejka from the Faculty of Science of Charles University, catalysis is essential for sustainability, for example, in oil, natural gas or biomass processing, fuel, polymer, pharmaceutical production or environmental protection. “Within the TECHSCALE project, our main objective is to prepare new types of catalysts based on individual metal atoms, which we will place on various carriers, such as graphene or zeolites. We will examine these catalysts in various industrially important reactions to achieve an increase in process efficiency and a deeper understanding of the function of the catalyst and the mechanism of the reaction,” said Čejka.
The researchers also want to contribute to the early detection and treatment of diseases. “We will develop, atom by atom, unique nanorobots based on nanoarchitecture, which will have a specific design and will be able to detect very low concentrations of biomarkers, which can significantly improve the diagnosis of a number of diseases. In addition, these nanorobots will move autonomously in the human body and kill germs,” said Martin Pumera from CEITEC-VUT, clarifying the applications in medicine.
The unifying theme of the multidisciplinary project is to push the boundaries of the nanoworld and achieve precision in tuning properties up to the level of single atoms, but also to strive for a quick and safe implementation of the results into practice. “Already during the design phase, we will consider the safety of materials and possible social impacts. I believe that we will significantly contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance, prepare high-efficiency sensors and develop new sustainable energy technologies. Single-atom engineering processes will bring environmental benefits as well as economic savings in a number of industrial areas. Last but not least, we will support the adoption of new technologies by both the professional and the general public,” concluded Otyepka.
Universities respond to societal change
Success in this prestigious call is appreciated by the leadership of Palacký University. “The fact that our scientists succeeded in it is a testament to the excellence of the research they are currently engaged in. We are all witnessing tremendous progress in many fields of human activity, yet for most of us the shift from nanotechnology to single-atom engineering is something from the field of science fiction. But who else than the university should look for new solutions to the problems faced by humanity? We are pleased not only with the cooperation with our partner workplaces in Prague and Brno, but also with the fact that this is a multidisciplinary research team, with members being from different Palacký University faculties,” said Jiří Stavovčík, Vice-Rector for International Relations.
Thanks to an increase in the budget of the Excellent Research call to 12.2 billion Czech koruna, a total of 26 projects were supported to strengthen the position of the Czech Republic in the European research area and increase the competitiveness of domestic research teams with those on a European and global level of excellence. TECHSCALE was awarded a second place in the overall competition.
“Universities and their research centres must react flexibly to the constant changes that the world and our society are facing. It is great that the OP JAK projects reflect the priority themes of digitization, robotization or climate or social change. Thus, the research funds provide practical starting points not only for individuals, but also for the whole society. In addition to these benefits, however, it is also necessary to emphasize the increase in competitiveness, which our scientists gain through their research not only in their field but also, through their results, bring to the whole Czech Republic,” said Professor Milena Králíčková, Rector of Charles University.
The development of nanomaterials is one of the areas that CEITEC BUT has been working on for a long time. “I am therefore proud that Martin Pumera and his team have joined the TECHSCALE project, which focuses not only on the scientific aspect of this area, but also on the social one. Today, science is not only about working in the laboratory, but also about communicating the results and discussing their social impact. I believe that Martin Pumera’s knowledge and experience, especially in the field of single-atomic engineering, will be a valuable contribution to the project,” concluded CEITEC BUT Director Radimír Vrba.
Information about the project is also available at www.techscale.cz
Scientists from the Palacký University Faculty of Science (UP FS) have described an important part of the complex mechanism by which plants control the growth of root hairs. These small and numerous endings of the root system play an important role in the life of plants in drawing water and nutrients from the soil. Together with the new method of gentle microscopic examination of root hairs, successfully tested by scientists from Olomouc led by UP FS Department of Biotechnology scientists Miroslav Ovečka and Jozef Šamaj, this knowledge might be used in the cultivation of agricultural crops.
The results of their research on root hairs were published in three separate publications in the prestigious journals Plant Physiology and Journal of Experimental Botany. All three scientific articles were featured on the covers of these journals.
Plants are anchored in the soil by roots, which are indispensable for their growth, development, and prosperity. The quality of the root system depends on root hairs representing tubular outgrowths of individual cells of the root epidermis, called trichoblasts. Root hairs are an important model in the developmental and cellular biology of plants, on which scientists intensively study the polarity of plant cells and the regulatory mechanisms.
A number of factors are responsible for the polar growth of root hairs, which occurs only at their apex. “But we still don’t know many of these factors. We know that proteins anchored in the plasma membrane play an important role. The question remains, however, how root hairs achieve and maintain their asymmetric accumulation in the growing tip,” said Ovečka, who, together with Jozef Šamaj, heads a group of scientists investigating what happens inside root hairs.
A recently published study from their laboratory focused on the issue of root hair growth. Experts have found that the apical part of the root hair, including the plasma membrane, constantly moves laterally away from the apex due to growth. According to Ovečka, it was therefore important to clarify how the optimal concentration and precise localization of membrane proteins in the growing tip is maintained in order to understand the mechanism of spatial and temporal regulation of root hair tip growth. “This also applies to the mechanism of polarized transport and the incorporation of these proteins into the plasma membrane,” noted Ovečka.
The scientists, using the model species Arabidopsis thaliana, demonstrated that in the case of an enzyme producing reactive oxygen species in the cell wall, its optimal concentration in the tip of the root hair is created through dynamic vesicular transport using the trans-Golgi vesicle network. Experts discovered this mechanism thanks to the use of advanced qualitative and quantitative “light-sheet” and super-resolution microscopy.
In the second published study, the scientists not only demonstrated the fundamental role of reactive oxygen species in the regulatory mechanism of root hair growth, but also presented to the plant community effective and easily applicable procedures for their labelling and detailed microscopic localization. “Reactive oxygen species are small molecules that, as their name implies, are highly reactive. In the cell, they are used positively as signalling molecules in various developmental processes, however, under stress situations, their excessive production leads to damage to cellular structures,” said Ovečka.
The plant cell must therefore keep reactive oxygen species under control. However, due to their physical and chemical properties, the possibility of detailed visualization of reactive oxygen species in living growing cells has been difficult to achieve until now. “In Arabidopsis thaliana, we succeeded in developing methods for the precise subcellular localization of diverse reactive oxygen species with resolution at the level of individual cell organelles in root hairs, simultaneously maintaining optimal physiological conditions for their undisturbed growth. This new, attractive method enables high resolution while preserving all the dynamic processes needed for root hair growth,” Ovečka pointed out .
According to Šamaj, the new findings of Olomouc scientists opened the way to a detailed study of living root hairs at the highest possible spatial and temporal resolution using the most modern microscopic methods. “We used it when studying the Arabidopsis model plant, but our ambition was to transfer and successfully apply the acquired know-how to agricultural crops,” Jozef Šamaj pointed out.
Scientists have long focused their attention on alfalfa and barley. Especially in alfalfa, root hairs play an irreplaceable role in establishing a symbiotic relationship between this plant and beneficial soil bacteria of the genus Rhizobium, which leads to the assimilation of atmospheric nitrogen in the root nodules. “Our study demonstrated that the mitogen-activated protein kinase SIMK is significantly involved in this process. This kinase plays an important signalling role, especially in the early recognition of beneficial bacteria and their internalization into root hairs,” added Ovečka.
The results of the researchers considerably supplemented the currently valid model of the initiation of symbiotic interaction between legumes and Rhizobium soil bacteria. “Understanding this process can undoubtedly have enormous agricultural and biotechnological application potential,” added Šamaj.
The research was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic grant GA19-18675S, “Elucidation of the roles of actin, NADPH oxidase and structural sterols in the apical growth of root hairs using advanced microscopy and proteomics”, conducted in the period 2019–2023.
Dear Colleagues and Students,
I would like to wish that we all may spend the coming holidays in peace, comfort, and joy with those whom we love best. Let us not forget that Christmastime is the best opportunity for us to slow the tempo of our everyday lives, make time for family and friends, and rejoice in our shared moments. The most precious gift we can give is that of being attentive to others, listening to them, and sharing with them what is most lovely, something which is an integral part of the holiday season. And let us also think of those who do not have the luck nor opportunity to be with their loved ones, spending happy moments with them.
As the year comes to a close, allow me to at the same time wish you the best of health and success in the year ahead. I would also like to thank you for everything that you do for our university. It is your work, invention, and passion which makes our alma mater what it is. Together, we have lived through the year of celebrations of the 450th anniversary of higher education in Olomouc, which symbolically culminates two days before Christmas. Let us be proud of our university, and commemorate its rich history, help create its present, and wish that it have an even brighter future.
I thank you and look forward to meeting with you in 2024.
Martin Procházka, UP Rector
Honourable mention for the 4th generation Mössbauer spectrometer was awarded to Palacký University’s CATRIN in this year’s Innovation of the Year competition. The Association of Innovative Entrepreneurship of the Czech Republic, which announces this prestigious competition, awarded a total of ten out of 134 competing innovative products. The aim of the competition is to evaluate and award the best innovative products in the Czech Republic, in all fields.
“I am pleased that we made it to the final of the ten best innovation products. Although we did not win the main Innovation of the Year Award 2023, we were very pleased with the honourable mention for a successful innovation product. I see this as recognition and proof of the successful transfer of know-how from the university into practice,” said Jakub Navařík, who, as the author of the 4th generation spectrometer for analysis of materials containing iron or iron oxides, was handed out the award.
“The award ceremony itself was connected with the presentation of the awarded innovations, some of which were also inspiring for our work and further development. We also agreed to another two collaborations. A representative of Czechinvest expressed his interest in our 4th generation Mössbauer, and wants to add it to the pages presenting Czech innovations abroad,” said Roman Jurečka from CATRIN.
The Association of Innovative Entrepreneurship of the Czech Republic has announced the competition for the Innovation of the Year Award regularly since 1996. The competition evaluates the highest quality innovative products of applicants based in the Czech Republic. The main criteria are the technical level of the product, originality of the solution, market position and environmental impact. The complete results are available here.
On the 14th of December, exactly 10 days before Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic, a wonderful event emerged through the collaboration of the Welcome Office and the Erasmus Student Network UP Olomouc within the halls of the International Cooperation Division, with the enthusiastic participation of the university's international community.
Over 70 international students, academic staff, and guests gathered to immerse themselves in the rich traditions and customs of a Czech Christmas, all set within a heartwarming setting enhanced by the melodies of Christmas carols.
Many of the international students come from countries with varied Christmas traditions or those that slightly differ from one another. The presentation by the knowledgeable Mr. Orság, detailing the annual customs celebrated in Czech households, was an eye-opener for many.
Following the enlightening discussion on Christmas traditions and a cultural exchange of diverse practices, attendees had the chance to experience these traditions firsthand. The Little Jesus’s Workshop in the Welcome Office was a hub of creativity where participants crafted handmade Christmas postcards, discovered the Christmas star nestled within an apple, and watched as little Christmas boats danced on the waves in a basin. They also enjoyed decorating gingerbreads and the quaint tradition of waiting under the mistletoe for a Christmas kiss.
The output from the Little Jesus’s Workshop was nothing short of wonderful, with participants thoroughly enjoying the creative program and the hands-on exploration of traditions. The evening did not end there; the group was then escorted to an ice rink in Olomouc for an enchanting ice-skating experience. As night cast its shadow over the Christmas markets, the scene transformed into a magical 'evening of lights'.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to the international community at Palacký University Olomouc for their enthusiastic participation in this event. In our diverse society, it is crucial to connect people from every corner of the globe and to foster a positive environment for all. This is a foundational goal of the Welcome Office and our esteemed university. It's through these efforts that we create an atmosphere where every individual can realize their potential, become the best versions of themselves, and share experiences, connected values, and a passion for studying and working in Olomouc.
We wish all international students, academic staff, guests, Czech employees, and students a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the coming days bring you the warmth of the hearth, peace of mind, and the love of family.
Despite twice the number of listed universities as compared to last year, Palacký University Olomouc has improved its position in the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024. At the same time, UP ranked among the top 200 universities in Good Governance and among the top 500 universities in Social Impact.
The QS Sustainability Rankings were first published last year, with the aim to compare universities in the sustainability of their operations. As the results of this ranking were partly reflected in the QS World University Rankings last year, interest in QS Sustainability Rankings has grown, and twice as many universities have been involved this year. In addition, the methodology has been modified compared to the previous year, which includes, among other things, the division of the rankings into three basic categories, versus the original two. The individual categories and their weight in the overall ranking are shown in the table below:
The QS Sustainability Rankings are a combination of input data from participating universities, together with Elsevier data, publicly available national statistics, and third-party assessments.
Despite twice the number of universities ranked, Palacký University Olomouc managed to improve its standing to the 422nd position overall, which is a sum of the three categories mentioned above. Palacký University performed best in the Good Governance subcategory (187th position), which focuses on the management and governance of the university based on ten specific indicators. Among Czech universities, UP holds third place in this area, and among the Aurora alliance partners it is in second place.
Within the Social Impact category, universities are evaluated on the basis of 5 indicators focusing on equality, knowledge transfer, education, employment, and well-being. UP is ranked 488th in Social Impact, with its top-ranked indicators being Health & Well-being (221st place) which assesses the institution’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of humanity at large (through research) as well as of its own staff and students, and Knowledge Exchange (333rd place) which reflects how institutions collaborate in research, how they share knowledge and stimulate educational growth. The UP’s score in the Health & Well-being indicator is also the best in the whole Czech Republic.
The last category evaluated is Environmental Impact, in which Palacký University ranks 539th. This environmentally focused area is based on three indicators assessing sustainability, education, and research. UP performed best in Environmental Sustainability (409th place). In contrast, UP’s biggest weakness was the indicator Environmental Education, which assesses whether graduates and academic publications in the earth, marine, and environmental sciences have a good reputation in the community and whether sustainability topics are part of the curriculum. UP is already taking action in this area by developing two new study programmes with an environmental focus.
While only four Czech universities were ranked in last year’s QS Sustainability Rankings, ten Czech universities are included in the 2024 ranking. Number one this year is Masaryk University in Brno, which surprisingly overtook the traditional Czech number one, Charles University in Prague. This is followed by the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague in third place, which is not a big surprise given its focus. Fourth place belongs to Palacký University Olomouc – not only in the Czech context, but also among the partner universities of the Aurora alliance.
“Improving our ranking in the QS Sustainability Rankings 2024, despite twice the number of ranked universities, is a confirmation that we are moving in the right direction in the area of sustainability and that our strategies and action plans, as well as measurable goals that we are gradually achieving, are well set. However, we need to improve our reputation in this regard, as we still lack a sufficient number of evaluations from our partners, so there is room for improvement in some indicators, which we will work on next year,” said UP Sustainability Coordinator Zuzana Huňková.
According to the ranking, the absolute world leaders are the University of Toronto, Canada; the University of California, Berkeley, USA; and the University of Manchester, UK. Complete results are published here.