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Bravery among birds
Most people have probably at least heard about human activities that are massively modifying ecosystems. These include not only tropical rainforests, which are important biodiversity hotspots for both animals and plants, but also open ecosystems, such as savannahs. Animals also meet humans much more often than before. However, species differ in their tolerance towards humans and degree of stress that encounters with them induce. Peter Mikula from the Faculty of Science, Charles University investigated the tolerance of tropical birds towards humans.
Interact or not? That´s the question.
Hybrid organo-inorganic molecules are gaining lots of attention in medicinal chemistry lately. They can be applied in targeted cancer therapy or the treatment of other serious diseases. One of the inorganic pharmacophores (active parts of a therapeutic molecule) is metallacarborane COSAN, which is used to improve the function of many biologically active molecules targeting DNA. But how does COSAN itself interact with DNA? A new study conducted under the lead author Mariusz Uchman from the Department of Physical and Macromolecular Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Charles University, now answers this question.
Immune genes – important, yet not explored
Our immune system is very complex. 10% of the genome is made of genes encoding immunity. Even though species differ in the composition of their immune genes, most of them are shared by the majority of jawed vertebrates. Despite this, there are tremendous differences within these shared genes. That’s because genomes are undergoing never-ending changes thanks to mutations. Immune system genes are one of the most rapidly evolving and their sequences are diverse both across and within species, mostly due to adaptations induced by previous interactions of the host immune system and pathogens. However, this field of infectious biology is heavily understudied. Michal Vinkler from the Faculty of Science, Charles University looked at this topic in more detail.
A window into the future of cancer treatment
Most of us probably think of a tumor as a piece of tissue that grew somewhere, where it wasn’t supposed to. Cancer tumor contains not only metastasizing cells but other cell types as well. Collectively, this is called the tumor microenvironment (TME), and everything in it is affected by the cancer treatment. Most of the research regarding cancer focuses on its treatment. Nevertheless, the effects on TME are not discussed enough, even though it might have a crucial influence on the illness. Mirko Milošević from the Faculty of Science, Charles University was part of a research group that looked at this missing piece and summarized the effect of various metabolic cancer treatments on the non-transformed cell types within TME.
So similar yet so different – the story of Earth and Venus
Most of us probably know how Mount Everest and the Himalayas mountains look. But have you ever imagined how mountains look at our nearest planetary neighbor – Venus? How can we use our own terrestrial mountains to study the space ones? The scientific team led by geophysicist Gunther Kletetschka from the Institute of Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology, and Applied Geophysics of the Faculty of Science, Charles University, has taken these questions and used them for their new study comparing the geological profiles of Earth and Venus based on their gravitation. The paper was published in the prestigious scientific journal Scientific Reports, which is part of the Nature journal.
Global change under the microscope
Global climate change can be studied from various points of view. What causes it, how to prevent it, and what consequences will it bring. Petr Kohout from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, was part of a research group, that studied the effect of global change on forest microbiome. The study was even selected to be on the cover of a prestigious journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.
How Trypanosoma escaped the immunity
Trypanosoma brucei gambiense is responsible for over 95 % of sleeping sickness cases – a disease that threatens many inhabitants of Africa. Like any parasite, Trypanosoma is trying to escape the human immune system quite successfully, despite being exposed to the hostile environment of the intravascular system. Its elaborate mechanisms against adaptive immunity have been described but how does this parasite outsmart the early stages of immune response? An international research group, joined by Martin Zoltner from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, tried to answer that question.
How much do cities affect bird lives?
You have probably already noticed the decline of insects in nature, either through the media or even from your own experience. Now, an international European research group has investigated how disappearing insects can affect bird populations. Professor Jiří Reif, from the Faculty of Science at Charles University, was involved in this research too, particularly in the planning of the project. According to the authors, insectivorous birds could be negatively affected by the depletion of insect communities.
Where do the herbarium specimens come from?
For more than twenty years, there has been a heated debate about the close relationship between museums and colonialism. A new study in the prestigious journal Nature Human Behaviour examines herbarium collections around the world, their colonial legacy and the extent to which herbarium data has been digitised. One of the study's co-authors is Patrik Mráz, Head of the Herbarium Collections at the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Is an increase in disgust during pregnancy a way to protect the fetus?
The behavioural immune system (BIS) is a very important part of the human defence mechanism against external pathogens, in addition to the physical immune system. It functions mainly on the principle of disgust, which warns us against potential infectious agents. The degree of disgust varies not only between people but can also change in an individual throughout a lifetime. Most often these changes reflect an increased risk of pathogenic infection (e.g. due to immune and hormonal changes or due to higher concentrations of pathogens in the environment). Could the level of disgust increase in women during pregnancy because of an intelligent immune system response to protect the mother and fetus from potential pathogens? The question of whether the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in pregnancy disgust or changes in it, precisely because of the increased risk of disease, was addressed by a group of researchers who recently published a paper in Frontiers in Psychology. Šárka Kaňková and Jana Hlaváčová from the Department of Philosophy and History of Science and Jan Havlíček from the Department of Zoology also participated in the study.
Halt migration – a new way of cancer treatment?
Cellular migration is crucial for the formation of metastasis – distant cancer cell deposits. However, metastasis is what makes cancer deadly in most cases. Prevention of their formation could thus present a promising approach to the treatment of the feared disease. The current options as well as prospects for the future are reviewed in a new paper by a scientific team joined by Jan Brábek and Daniel Rosel from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
How high is the ambient ozone?
Ambient ozone is one of the major pollutants in the air. Its presence is highly undesirable as it is toxic to living organisms and causes damage to forest stands. Monitoring ambient ozone is therefore very important. But how does it behave at different levels close to the surface in an area with relatively clean air? This question has not yet been answered. A team of experts led by Iva Hůnová from the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Faculty of Science of Charles University, together with Marek Brabec and Marek Malý from the Czech Academy of Sciences, set out to find out the results.
Genetic movement of Soldanella
In both plant and animal species, various hybridisations can occur over time, leading to the transmission of genes to descendants and sometimes to the origin of new species. Using new methods of plant genome research, it is possible to capture these pathways into history, helping us to better understand evolutionary processes and often making extraordinary discoveries. One interesting plant whose pathways of evolutionary hybridization have not yet been fully elucidated is the genus Soldanella L. (snowbells; Primulaceae). Marek Slovák from the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University, together with an international team across Europe, have unravelled the so far unknown fate of the Soldanella genus.
When ice melts and water disappears
Climate change, along with rising air temperatures, has a major impact on the quantity and availability of water in many ways. As a result, there are also ecological impacts on the entire ecosystem. One of the catchments that has been severely affected by climate change and is also currently facing controversy over the use of large amounts of water to extract the lowest quality oil resource (bitumen) is the Athabasca River Basin in Canada. Milada Matoušková and Kateřina Fraindová from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology at the Faculty of Science of Charles University focused on the specific impacts in detail.
New colours of the world
The world is still changing. Because of that, there is an increasing need for new classifications of individual systems to help determine the state, pattern, and dynamics of change in each area. However, most global systems only include natural conditions. But what about abiotic factors, biodiversity, or human influence? Aleš Hrdina and Dušan Romportl from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology at Charles University used all mentioned and much more in their quest for a new classification of Global Environmental Systems.
Mitochondria on the Move
“Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.” An almost iconic sentence describing and simplifying the role of mitochondria in eukaryotic cells. Mitochondria indeed are essential in producing vast amounts of energy for the cell. However, they also serve many other key functions. So key in fact that cells may exchange mitochondria with each other or even steal them in a process termed horizontal mitochondrial transfer (HMT). A new review paper in the Journal of Cell Biology co-authored by prof. Ing. Jiří Neužil, CSc. (Griffith University, IBT CAS, and Department of Physiology, Faculty of Science) thus focused on known implications of HMT for human health.
Fish stress pushes the boundaries of science
When a person is under stress, their body produces a variety of hormones that prepare the body for a hit-or-run scenario. One of these stress hormones can also be observed and measured in fish, which challenges any claim that fish cannot experience stress. The research we present today looks more closely at how the host body reacts to a parasite infestation. A research team of scientists led by Professor Martin Reichard measured cortisol levels in plasma samples taken from rainbow gurnard fish in response to parasite infestation. Together with Anna Janovská from the Faculty of Science of Charles University, they published a paper in the Environmental Biology of Fishes journal.
Insect fossil gems from iron concretions
Palaeoentomology is a fascinating field of scientific research that studies fossil insects. Extinct species are compared to modern relatives, facilitating the dating of phylogenetic trees, and so on. Scientists can apply modern approaches to describe the morphology of individuals and compare them with extinct relatives. Tomáš Dvořák and Jakub Prokop from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, together with a colleague from the Polish Academy of Sciences, published an article in the journal Historical Biology in which they describe the findings of insect wings and other body structures in concretions from the Upper Carboniferous period.
Pheromones – more than a thousand words
Termites, as well as bees and wasps, are social or eusocial insects. What does that mean? As an insect community, they have set castes that determine each individual’s role in the termite community. But how does such a termite know which caste it belongs to? Does it prefer to look after the eggs or defend the nest? How does communication work between tens of thousands of individuals in a colony? These are key questions in social insect biology that researchers are seeking to answer. A team of scientists from the Chemistry of Social Insects research group at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS has reported an important finding. Together with Klára Dolejšová and Natan Horáček from the Faculty of Science of Charles University and their French colleague Virginia Roy, they have published their work in the journal Communications Biology. Their research details the unique discovery of the first royal pheromone in higher termites, which plays a major role in controlling the division of labour in the community; specifically, in determining when nymphs (sort of princesses) become queens.
What does the weather forecast tell us about little ringed plovers?
Our planet is undergoing global changes which are usually associated with common topics of concern, such as greenhouse gases or melting of the icebergs. Unfortunately, the effect of global changes on animal populations is not one of these topics. Vojtěch Brlík from the Faculty of Science at Charles University therefore participated in research which focused on little ringed plovers (Charadrius dubius) and the effect of precipitation and temperature on their survival throughout the year.
Even giants of the oceans deserve gentle care
Whale populations have only recently begun to recover from commercial whaling, but a new factor is already beginning to threaten them: global climate change. And this is not just speculation – the impact is being felt in reproduction and population genetics. Petra Nevečeřalová and Pavel Hulva from the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Science of Charles University have conducted genetic research on one of the largest mammals on Earth. Together with an international team of scientists, they used non-invasive methods of collecting samples for DNA analysis. Their project aimed to describe the population structure of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) and the population changes of the species in recent decades.
CLIMOS – sand fly-borne diseases in your mobile phone
Going for holidays to the Mediterranean? Beside weather forecast, accommodation prices and rating of beaches, you may soon also check in your mobile phone a risk of contracting leishmaniasis. Researchers from our faculty participate at CLIMOS, a new project aiming to study the effects of climate change on the distribution of phlebotomine sand flies and sand fly-borne pathogens in Europe and adjacent regions. And beside new scientific data, it shall provide some very handy outcomes.
Flower chafers and their potential for non-forest biotope conservation
The term flagship or umbrella species refers to those whose conservation – and, more importantly, the conservation of their habitat – allows other inhabitants of such habitats to be protected. Common flagship species include saproxylic flower chafers. However, not all flower chafers dwell in dead wood like the saproxylic species. Dominik Vondráček, David Král, and Petr Šípek from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, recently investigated flower chafers dwelling in soils in various non-forest biotopes. Their paper, published in Insect Conservation and Diversity, confirms the rediscovery of relict flower chafer populations that were thought to be extinct, assesses their genetic structure, and discusses the implications of the results in terms of biotope conservation.
Cuticular analysis – an assistant in paleontological research
The Bohemian Cretaceous Basin (BCB) is one of the longest-researched basins of its kind in Europe and the world. Despite the enduring work of eminent scientists from the past, remarkable and new findings can still be revealed. Jana Čepičková from the Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Faculty of Sciences of Charles University together with Jiří Kvaček (National Museum) published an article describing several finds of fossil plants from the Upper Cretaceous period (Cenomanian stage). As a result of their intensive efforts, the taxonomy of these fossils could be refined. In addition, the researchers have been able to describe an entirely new genus and species of fossilised plant.
How many years did unvaccinated people lose during the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us could finally feel relief when the first approved vaccines saw the light of day. But it didn't take long for a segment of the population to turn against vaccination, preferring to be unprotected from the virus. That vaccines are effective in fighting disease has long been proven by many studies. Even at the Faculty of Science of Charles University, one such study was recently conducted. The data studied by Dr. Klára Hulíková Tesárková and her colleague Prof. Dagmar Dzúrová, who is, among others, the supervisor of the Master's degree in Social Epidemiology at the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development supported by the NPO-SYRI* project. So how does a study that has newly analyzed the data from the coronavirus era speak?
Looking back at covid – what do we think about the strict restrictions?
“Being human means having and knowing your place.” This quote was written by Canadian geographer Edward Relph in one of his publications in 1976. It says that it is important for us to visit our emotionally important places. Human life has always been connected to nature and places that are associated with important memories. The pupils’ stay in the outdoor environment is even enshrined in valid curricular documents as a compulsory part of their education both in Czechia and Slovakia. Not only does the age of digital technologies not contribute well to the fact that adults and children generally spend less time outside, but the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help the situation as well. Extremely constraining was the march of 2021 when the strictest restraints were ordered – prohibition to leave the territory of their resident district for recreation. Dominik Rubáš and Tomáš Matějček from the Faculty of Science, Charles University were in a research team which studied the consequences of covid restrictions on the health of young people.
So close, yet so far
The earth’s ecosystem is threatened by invasions for a variety of reasons. One is the significant contribution such invasions make to the extinction of native plants and animals. While it might seem that the introduction of species outside their native range is a phenomenon of the last century, this is actually not true. The first invasions can be dated back to the Neolithic period, but the major expansion began with European colonialism. Is it possible, even today, to detect traces of introductions dating back to the fifteenth century? Experts on invasions led by Bernd Lenzner from the University of Vienna, together with Petr Pyšek and Jan Pergl from the Institute of Botany of the CAS and the Department of Ecology of the Faculty of Science of Charles University have mapped in detail the historical imprints of plant species in formerly colonial countries.
Mysterious parasites peeking from paper wasp abdomens
Strepsiptera are tiny creatures that occur unexpectedly between the abdominal segments of wasps, bees, and other insects. They are bizarre parasitic insects with the females secondarily reduced beyond any semblance of a normal insect. The rarity and often troublesome determination of specimens deters many people from working on this taxon. Consequently, compared to charismatic taxa like beetles or butterflies, strepsipterans remain largely understudied. As such, a whole century separates the description of the first and two additional species of strepsipterans of the genus Xenos parasitising New World paper wasps of the genus Mischocyttarus. In an article recently published in Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae, Daniel Benda and Jakub Straka from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science have made a major contribution to the description of two new species.
New insight into old woods from Iceland
Although Iceland is far from the Czech Republic, palaeontology can partially connect these two areas. The beginnings of fossil wood research on this island date back to the second half of the 19th century and focused primarily on coal-bearing rock sequences. Last year, a team of researchers led by Richard Pokorný (Jan Evangelista Purkyně University (UJEP) in Ústí nad Labem) and his colleague Vít Koutecký (Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Faculty of Sciences of Charles University/UJEP Ústí nad Labem) published a constructive article in the Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology describing previously unknown tree fossils from this arctic island.
How are insects doing these days? Bumblebee genes provide the answer.
Do you feel you have seen fewer insects in recent years? And have you seen a bumblebee at all this summer? In the future, there may be fewer and fewer bumblebees in Europe. Unsustainable agriculture is to blame. The impact of agricultural pressure on two European bumblebee species was therefore investigated by an international team together with Mgr Jakub Straka PhD from the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Science of Charles University. The question they investigated was – can the insects adapt to the ever increasing intensity of agriculture?

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