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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?
What’s in a Name? The Curious Case of Trypanosome Species and Ecotypes
Sleeping sickness is a disease most people have heard about. The protist behind the disease, Trypanosoma, graces the pages of numerous textbooks. However, a more thorough investigation of the source literature reveals discrepancies in the protozoan’s scientific name. For instance, it has variously been referred to as Trypanosoma brucei, T. gambiense, or as one or two subspecies of T. brucei. Furthermore, other African trypanosomes, such as T. evansi parasitising animals, have a different name, yet are considered to be the same species as T. brucei. A recent paper published in Trends in Parasitology and co-authored by Jan Votýpka from the Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science seeks to shed light on the chaotic species/ecotype status of Trypanosoma
Light against bacteria
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics and contaminated environment is an issue for the whole world. That is why many research groups are trying to solve these problems. Some of these researchers are Ph.D. students Vojtěch Liška and Petra Křtěnová from the Faculty of Science at Charles University under the lead of professor Jiří Mosinger. In cooperation with RNDr. Pavel Kubát CSc. from J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry they have investigated new polymeric nanofibrous membranes with antibacterial effects once activated by light. The antibacterial effects can be manipulated from afar by a magnetic field.
Even a machine can train to be a forester
In recent years, forests in Czechia have been experiencing a terrifying period of change. They have been weakened due to climate change, harmful emissions, and improper management. The reduced vitality of the trees provides an opportunity for the expansion of pests which not only attack the trees, but also kill them. The area occupied by forests is declining rapidly. This raises concerns about environmental impacts, timber scarcity, and effects on human health. However, we often see trees that appear to be healthy, but are already badly damaged. Detecting damaged trees at an early stage is not easy, but it is indispensable. Robert Minařík, together with Jakub Langhammer and Theodora Lendzioch from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University focused on the forest from a bird’s eye view.
Do fungi work efficiently in croplands?
The term mycorrhiza is certainly familiar to many of us. We would have a hard time finding mushrooms in the forest without their related woody plants. But how does mycorrhiza work in the fields? And do the normally invisible fungal filaments affect agricultural yields? The function of these systems has been investigated in more detail by a research group, together with Paula A. Buil, a Ph.D. student working for the Department of Botany at the Faculty of Science of Charles University.
Legacy of the past
Water is essential for the existence of life on Earth. However, it is not only the quantity of water that is important, but also the quality, particularly for drinking water. With the effects of climate change being felt around the globe, even drinking water is becoming a ‘scarce commodity’ in some areas of Czechia. Today, headwater areas are potential drinking water sources. However, what is the quality of this water in the context of long-term trends and climatic extremes? A team of hydrologists led by Kateřina Fraindová from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology at the Faculty of Science of Charles University focused on the upper Blanice River catchment.

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