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Popular Science

Popular Science: What is the fate of proglacial lakes?
Proglacial lakes currently represent one of the major environmental threats. Global warming and the increased rate of mountain glaciers melting could lead to the lake filling up and to a subsequent outburst, which is often accompanied by catastrophic consequences. The retreat of mountain glaciers has also raised concerns about water sources. This important topic is of concern to Kristýna Falátková, Miroslav Šobr and Bohumír Janský from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, together with Martin Slavík and Jiří Brunthans from the Department of Hydrogeology, who in their current research focused on the Adygine glacial moraine complex in the Tien Shan Mountains.
A dog or a wolf?
There is a well-known saying that ‘a dog is man’s best friend’ and nowadays we often see that it can be true. Even though dogs are our best friends, there are still a lot of things we do not know about them. For example, when did they become our best friends? In other words, when did wolves begin their transformation from a feared predator into our best friend, the dog? A team of scientists, including Martina Lázničková-Galetová from Hrdlička Museum of Man (Charles University, Faculty of Science) and Moravian Museum in Brno, tried to find an answer to this question. With the help of the latest technology the scientists analysed the microstructure of teeth samples from the Předmostí Palaeolithic site. This study follows up research focusing on the evidence of one of the earliest occurrences of domestications of wolf.
Forest protection against Impatiens glandulifera invasion
Impatiens glandulifera is one of the most successful invasive plants in Europe. In the past, its occurrence was associated mainly with riverbanks because running water facilitated further spread. In the last 20 years, however, I. glandulifera has begun to appear also in forests. What conditions influenced this sudden change during the invasion, what effect can its presence have on the forest ecosystem and how can its spread be stopped? A group of experts from the Institute of Botany of the CAS and our Faculty took a closer look at this issue.
Popular Science: Frequency of fog in the Czech Republic. What is the trend?
Fog is very important for the environment and for human society. In particular, it brings moisture to the landscape and cleans the atmosphere. However, it can be dangerous due to low visibility conditions and because of the formation of acidic fog associated with air pollutants. Yet, not enough attention was devoted to detailed research into fog. Scientists led by Iva Hůnová therefore focused on a comprehensive study of the occurrence of this important atmospheric phenomenon in the Czech Republic from a long-term perspective.
What is the bird species diversity in traditional fruit orchards?
Agriculture intensification and other anthropogenic changes in landscape affect bird populations negatively. Birds are pushed out of the landscape, which ultimately has an adverse effect on the ecological balance in nature, in turn affecting humans. With that said, is every man-made habitat indeed unsuitable for diverse bird populations? Experts together with Dušan Romportl from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology focused on the issue of bird species diversity in small areas used as orchards.
No more bottles of beer? Czech adolescents drink less alcohol
Alcohol has been relatively accessible and attractive for teens in the past. In the last decade, however, alcohol consumption among adolescents in Europe has begun to decline. Ladislav Kážmér from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development, together with Pavla Chomynová from the National Institute of Mental Health, analysed the main causes of this decline.
Popular Science: Education and Research in the Pandemic Times
How did the lock-down affect the life of scientists? We asked several questions of two members of our Faculty – Petr Tureček (theoretical biologist, postdoctoral researcher) and Lukáš Kratochvíl (evolution biologist, professor).
Popular Science: The Devil’s Own
Scratchy eyes, irritated skin, eczema, headaches, asthma, cancer and even death. These are the main health risks caused by formaldehyde. This organic compound is extensively produced industrially worldwide, as it is part of a large number of products. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above and would like to find out if the cause is, for example, new furniture, look at the new methods of rapid detection of formaldehyde in wood-based products, which were developed with contributions from Pavel Dvořák and Vlastimil Vyskočil from the Department of Analytical Chemistry.
Testosterone does not make big fighters – at least in chameleons?
While body size is one of the biggest differences between sexes (i.e. sexual dimorphism) in chameleons, little is still known about the mechanism of its evolution. Scientists assumed that male sex hormones play a major role in the ontogeny, as it is thought to be in most vertebrates. However, a study done in geckos suggested otherwise. Three scientists from the Department of Ecology of Charles University’s Faculty of Science led by prof. Lukáš Kratochvíl have carried out a study in chameleons to find out how male gonadal androgens impact the ontogeny of sexual dimorphism.
Popular Science: Snow cover, tell me how much water will there be in the summer?
Dry periods that have been observed not only in our country, but also in other Central European countries in recent years, have several causes. They are associated mainly with higher air temperatures and lower precipitation or its different distribution during the year. However, the accumulation of snow cover also plays a crucial role. These changes have been studied in more detail by hydrology experts together with members of the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology from our faculty.
Popular Scienc: Who lives in birds’ feathers?
An international scientific team including a member of our faculty described new host relationships between Mallophaga (taxon Ischnocera: Philopteridae) and birds. New observations show that life and evolutionary relationships of Mallophaga are much more complicated than we could conceive before.
Popular Science: How do women react when confronted with the threat of infidelity, and does this correlate with the quality of their relationships?
That is the question that Jitka Lindová, Kateřina Klapilová, Adéla Vobořilová and Barbora Chlápková from the Faculty of Humanities and the National institute of mental health (NUDZ) and Jan Havlíček from our Faculty attempted to answer in their study.
Popular Science: Is an old killifish reproductively more proficient than a young one?
Asking a similar question in humans would seem a nonsense, as everybody can imagine that the reproductive performance of an old man or woman is lower than when they were young. But the situation is different in organisms that still grow after reaching maturity, like fish for example. There, the evolutionary theory of aging predicts an increase of reproductive fitness with age. What is then, however, the situation in fish that live only for a short period, such as killifish? This is the question addressed by a two-person Czech team that included Jakub Žák from the Department of Zoology of our faculty.
Popular Science: A friend in the attic, an enemy on the ground floor – ozone: the challenge of man’s future?
Stratospheric ozone – the ozone layer – is crucial for life on Earth. However, its occurrence in the troposphere, especially the ground-level ozone, has a highly adverse impact. Fundamentally, ambient ozone has harmful effects on human health, vegetation and entire ecosystems. Nowadays, it along with aerosol and benzo[a]pyrene are among the most serious pollutants for ambient air quality in the Czech Republic and in Europe. This is why Iva Hůnová from the Institute for Environmental Studies together with her team focused on detailed research into the occurrence of ambient ozone throughout the Czech Republic from a long-term perspective and in the context of seasonality.
The Ordovician struggle for a solid base in a sea of soft sediment: focused on the conulariids of the Prague Basin
For a large part of sessile animals, whether current or long-extinct, a hard base is a prerequisite for a full-fledged life. In ancient times, there was a bitter struggle for space to attach to on the seabed. Jana Bruthansová from the Department of Geology and Palaeontology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, has published an article in the prestigious journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology about sessile organisms on conulariids.
One bear, please! or Bear trade in the Czech Republic
No, it is not a mistake and it should not be beer, the Czech favourite alcoholic drink. It should not even be a teddy bear. Even though it may surprise you, in the Czech Republic, there exists quite a high demand for various bear species and/or their body parts originating from abroad. The details of the current il-/legal trade have been summarised in a study led by Chris R. Shepherd and co-authored by three members of the Institute of Environmental Studies of the Faculty of Science of the Charles University – Jitka Kufnerová, Tomáš Cajthaml and Jaroslava Frouzová.
Popular Science: One more piece to the coronavirus puzzle
Dozens of millions of infected people all over the world, nearly two and a half million deaths, and normal life on hold… all because one virus, which obviously is the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causing the disease known as covid-19. In addition to the development of vaccines and drugs, the characterisation of individual parts of the virus particles is another very important part of research. This part of research was of interest to the team led by Václav Veverka and Evžen Bouřa from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IOCB CAS) and the Faculty of Sciences of Charles University. They published an article with the main authors being Dhurvas Chandrasekaran Dinesh and Dominika Chalupská from IOCB CAS.
Popular Science: The southern giant is heading north
Climate change affects the life on Earth significantly. Plants and animals try to adapt to these changes and often migrate to areas with more favourable natural conditions. Researchers from prestigious universities led by Gideon L. van den Berg from the University of Pretoria in South Africa joined forces with zoology experts including Pavel Hulva and Petra Nevečeřalová from the Faculty of Science, Charles University and brought interesting yet also worrying results in a research focused on one of the largest mammals on the planet, the southern right whale.
Popular Science: Drought comes earlier
Hydrological fluctuations have been occurring in recent decades and they currently manifest primarily in significant and prolonged droughts. Changes in the hydrological cycle have a major impact on both water supply and the entire ecosystem. Vojtěch Vlach and Milada Matoušková from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University together with Ondřej Ledvinka from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute know well about the severity of the hydrological situation. Therefore, they explored in detail what has happened in terms of hydrological change in the areas of Czech mountains in recent decades.
Popular Science: Easy, quick and affordable – a new method of (not only) cancer diagnosis
Early diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment of virtually any disease. This is especially true with cancer. Cancer indicators in urine are usually detected one by one, which is very time consuming and expensive. How can diagnosis be made more efficient? One way is to detect several indicators at once by using methods that are less costly and faster. This has become the subject of interest for a research group led by Professor Jiří Barek from the Department of Analytical Chemistry of the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Popular Science: Forest, tell me how high will the spring flood be?
Snow cover has a major impact on groundwater recharge and on the overall water balance in the river basin. However, the rapid melting of snow cover also causes spring floods. Ondřej Hotový together with Michal Jeníček from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, found out the influence of the condition of the forest in the river basin on the distribution and melting of snow cover.
Popular Science: Unstable east of the Czech Republic
In extreme or prolonged rainfall events, the soil is saturated with water and the cohesion of the material decreasing, consequently these processes can cause very dangerous material movements on a slope, sometimes also called "debris flows". We hear about these phenomena mainly from foreign countries, but is occurrence of debris flows possible in our region? Experts in geomorphology led by Jana Smolíková and together with Vít Vilímek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University and other colleagues answered this question.
Popular Science: Male fertility endangered by parasites?
As much as one-third of the world’s population is infected by Toxoplasma gondii nowadays. It is known that toxoplasmosis could be harmful especially for immunocompromised patients and for an unborn fetus if the mother becomes infected during pregnancy. But does the Toxoplasma gondii parasite affect human fertility? A group of experts focused on this question. The research was carried out under the guidance of our student Jana Hlaváčová together with scientists Jaroslav Flegr and Šárka Kaňková from the Department of Philosophy and History of Science, Faculty of Science, Charles University and other specialists in this field.
Popular Science: Czech imprint in modern paleontology
Understanding history promotes better understanding of the present and predicts the future. Findings from the past are thus more than desired. However, discovering them is often complicated and requires a lot of experience and sometimes even coincidence. Professor Zlatko Kvaček from the Department of Geology and Paleontology, Faculty of Science, Charles University described a new discovery in the Czech Republic, which went down in history of world paleontology.
Popular Science: Is the gloomy atmosphere of Transylvania disappearing?
Fog is a phenomenon that influences many areas, yet is often neglected. Fog occurrence significantly affects water balance, decreases visibility and affects atmospheric deposition of pollutants. Therefore, it has a significant impact on the landscape and ecosystem. At the same time, it is not entirely easy to estimate its occurrence in advance, as there are many influencing factors. An international scientific team led by Iva Hůnová from the Institute for Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, Charles University has focused on the terrain and its effects on fog occurrence as a very important, yet largely unexplored factor.
Popular Science: What are the latest findings on water in the Hranice Abyss?
The Hranice Abyss has been confirmed the deepest flooded abyss in the world with the last directly measured depth of its underwater part at 404 m. However, the Hranice Abyss is a remarkable karst phenomenon not only for its depth. As part of the Neuron Expedition project, a numerous research team of scientists and speleologists focused on the origin of water in the abyss and the causes of some of its specific properties.
Popular Science: Vampire squid tales, or how they came to their deep-water habitat
An international scientific team led by Associate Professor Košťák from the Department of Geology and Paleontology, Faculty of Science, Charles University has published a study in the Communications Biology journal describing an interesting fossil from the Hungarian Museum of Natural History. The work brings expands our knowledge of today’s deep-water vampire squids. Prof. Holcová and Dr. Mazuch from the same institute and Dr. Culka from the Institute of Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Mineral Resources, Faculty of Science, Charles University collaborated on this article.
Popular Science: Focus on litter decomposition
Sulfur and nitrogen deposition has significantly affected the ecosystems of the entire northern hemisphere. The impact of acid rain has had a significant effect in terms of lowering water pH and leaching of important ions from the soil into surface waters, as well as in terms of the decomposition rate of plant litter and thus on the global carbon cycle. The decomposition rate is influenced by several factors. How does the type of substrate and nitrogen addition contribute to the decomposition process? This is the question that Michal Růžek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University asked, and together with his team he made an experiment that yielded interesting results.
Popular Science: When volcanic ash flew over the Bohemian Massif
Czechs know huge volcano eruptions primarily from disaster movies, but definitely not from their own country. Yet, even here, history was quite explosive. One of the geological mysteries of the Bohemian Massif is a widespread layer of ash fall tuff, called the “bělka” in Czech, preserved in the carboniferous basins of Central and Western Bohemia. But, how did it get there, when exactly, and what kind of volcano could have caused this? A team of Czech specialists from Charles University, the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the Czech Geological Survey decided to finally unravel this mystery, led by Filip Tomek from the Institute of Geology and Paleontology.
Popular Science: The journey of Mars to methane and (much) farther
Curiosity is not only an important cosmic rover but also a common human emotion associated with discovering the unknown. While we are witnessing the first steps of cosmic tourism, space and its chemistry are still veiled by many questions. One of the big mysteries was the origin of methane detected by Curiosity on Mars. On Earth, methane is mostly of biological origin (its source is mostly living organisms), but could that be possible on the lifeless red planet? Prof. Svatopluk Civiš and Mgr. Antonín Knížek, two Czech scientists from J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry and Faculty of Science, Charles University, decided to embark on a journey to find the answer to this question.
Popular Science: Mysterious mercury-changing organisms under the Greenland Glacier are still eluding scientists
The vast ice masses on our planet are melting. The danger of the rising level of the world’s oceans is much talked about. One of the gigantic continental glaciers that is currently losing its volume is the Greenland Ice Sheet. If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet melted, the level of the world’s oceans would rise by up to 7 meters. But is this the only danger? A disturbing new discovery was made during the research undertaken by an international team led by Jon Hawkings from Florida State University, in which a group of experts from the Department of Ecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, led by Mark Stibal, also played a significant role. The danger is not only in the amount of water, but also in the presence of toxic substances in the melting waters.
A deep look into elephant teeth and the practices of antique traders
Ivory has been traded since prehistoric times, until such type of commercial activity had to be completely prohibited more than thirty years ago, based on an international convention, in order not to completely decimate the remaining elephants. However, the trade ban is not complete. For example, the EU still permits trade with antiques made from animals that were killed more than 50 years before the elephants, like many other species, started to be protected in the EU from excessive international trade. It is argued that killing animals “then” does not endanger the current populations. However, is everything declared as antique really old? Researchers from the Center for Forensic Studies of the Faculty of Science at Charles University and the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic analysed ivory artefacts seized by the Czech Environmental Inspectorate, verified their age as reported by the trader, and arrived at surprising conclusions.
Popular Science: Why do we yawn (longer than birds)?
Summer, warm weather, dark room, and a boring lecture – a moment when anybody would like to yawn, but it is just not appropriate. Certainly, many of us have asked themselves: Why do we yawn in the first place? Numerous scientists have posed the same question, the result of which is a variety of different answers circulated among people. The most popular one says that yawning helps to oxygenate blood. As surprising as it may be, this theory was debunked over 30 years ago. Then, why do we yawn? Do other animals yawn in the same way we do? These questions can now be answered through a new study – the largest ever conducted on yawning – by an international team of scientists, including students from the group of Mgr. Pavel Němec, Ph.D., from the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Popular Science: Small is nice? And sometimes toxic.
Microplastics are a topic of today. They are everywhere, in water, in soil, in the air, and even in remote areas such as the Arctic. The study of the interactions of microplastics and common organic pollutants has so far focused mainly on the marine and other aquatic environment. However, their presence in the soil is one order of magnitude higher than that in the oceans. Tereza Černá, a doctoral student from the Department of the Environment at the Faculty of Science, Charles University, together with a group of experts, made an experiment on the interaction of soils containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polyurethane foams. And what was the result?
Popular Science: Is iron the new star in cancer treatment?
Cancer, an insidious disease, affected over 19 million people and killed almost 10 million worldwide in 2020 alone. Thus, it is no surprise that searching for new and more efficient treatments is still a top priority for scientists and the public all over the world. Targeted treatment has attracted special attention in the last few years because of its ability to limit the adverse effects of conventional chemotherapeutics. New approach to targeted treatment has now been developed by teams led by Dr. Jaroslav Truksa and L. Werner from the Institute of Biotechnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IB CAS). This approach is described in detail in a publication, whose main author was Cristian Sandoval-Acuna (IB CAS) and which was produced in collaboration with Faculty of Science of Charles University and the Institute of Molecular Genetics CAS.
Popular Science: Czech polar explorers are ready for the future
Predicting potential future changes in the landscape is based on knowledge of the current state and changes in the past. A group of experts, led by Stephen J. A. Jennings from Masaryk University in Brno, have now finished mapping the inhospitable area of the Ulu Peninsula, which could provide a window into the future development of other areas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Zbyněk Engel from the Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Science, Charles University, who has been travelling to polar research expeditions since 2009, played a significant part in this research.
Popular Science: How much food do Czech households waste?
Food waste is a global problem. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation, UN), 1/3 of the food produced worldwide – 1.2 billion tonnes – is wasted each year. Data provided by the EU indicate that 20% of food in Europe remains unconsumed. Countries around the globe have all agreed on the urgent need to reduce such waste. For example, as part of target 12.3 of the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) programme, member states of the UN have called for per capita global food waste to be halved by 2030. To achieve these goals, detailed monitoring is essential. However, reliable and coherent data are often missing. An analysis by Petra Novákovás (Faculty of Science alumna), which I am going to introduce in this article, should help fill some of these gaps. Svatava Janoušková from the Faculty of Science, Charles university, also collaborated in this research.
Popular Science: First fluorescent dye for the imaging of amyloid fibrils
The plaques of amyloid fibrils are the hallmark of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. As our society gets older, these diseases become more widespread, causing immense difficulties not only for patients but also for their close friends and relatives. The selective imaging of amyloid fibrils is therefore crucial for studying the mechanism of their development but has encountered multiple obstacles. A small fluorescent dye developed by scientists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of Czech Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Science of Charles University, led by Dr. Pankaj Gaur, could therefore be a new hope for imaging the amyloid fibrils in living cells.
Popular Science: Chemists as children of the Sun on a journey to a stellar future of chemistry
In the play Children of the Sun, written by Maxim Gorky in 1905, the chemist Protassoff exclaims, “But us, us people, us children of the Sun, bright source of life… we will conquer the dark fear of death!” His words became an inspiration for the new communication strategy “Chemists as Children of the Sun” designed by Mgr. Radek Chalupa and Dr Karel Nesměrák from the Faculty of Science, Charles University. Their aim is to highlight successful chemists throughout history and supress chemophobia (fear of anything chemical that prevails in society).
Type of water really matters
Many factors affect the fog occurrence. Sufficient air humidity and the existence of condensation nuclei are the basic preconditions for the fog formation at all. However, there are many more factors influencing the fog formation and they are still not sufficiently explored. Iva Hůnová's international scientific team from the Institute for Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, Charles University has previously studied and quantified the effects of meteorology and air pollution, as well as the impact of terrain and forests. Now they focused on the effect of water areas around the fog observation stations - and moreover - depending on the type of water – fresh- or sea-water.

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