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Attention, Aristolochia!
We use herbs daily, let it be in the kitchen or the medicine. After all, a little dash of herbs can´t hurt… right? Well, not really. Aristolochic acids are a group of chemical substances produced by the Aristolochiaceae family. They are very dangerous to human health, so much so that they are classified as Group I carcinogens. You wouldn´t expect such compounds in medicinal products. However, they are still contained in many traditional medicines, which are distributed worldwide without any supervision. How exactly are aristolochic acids dangerous and how could we prevent their detrimental consequences to human health? The group of Dr. Jiří Zavadil from the International Agency for Cancer Research in Lyon, France focused on exactly that in their new review published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Reviews Cancer. The review was co-authored by Shefali Thakur, who graduated from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Protecting large carnivores by studying their prey
Can we protect large carnivores more efficiently by studying the ecology of ungulates? An international team of scientists, including Soňa Vařachová and Professor Pavel Kindlmann from the Institute of Environmental Studies aimed to shed some light on this issue. Their study focused on the ecological demands of the barking deer in the mountains of Nepal. Even though the object of the study was a single species of ungulate, the main objective of the research was in fact the protection of the common leopard.
(Un)remarkable floras
A general rule is that with distance, floras in various regions are increasingly dissimilar. However, this has become less true since humans started moving species between regions. This process began hundreds of years ago, when people started travelling not only between countries but also between continents. This weakened the role of biogeographic barriers as plants that could not spread beyond a certain region were taken to new ranges where they could grow and naturalise. The effect of naturalised plants on global floristic homogenisation has been studied by Professor Petr Pyšek from the Department of Ecology in the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Nanoparticles: the future or ancient past?
Nanomaterials are a very current topic for many research teams worldwide thanks to their unique properties. It is quite certain that the interest in them will not subside any time soon. Moreover, it seems that nanoparticles have been around for much longer than we thought. Is it possible that they were created by nature itself? Quantum dots are a type of nanoparticle that are usually considered to be artificial semiconductors with interesting properties and applications. The research team of Dr. Martin Ferus, featuring his students from the Faculty of Science of Charles University, joined forces with the group of Dr. Lukáš Nejdl from Mendel University in Brno to study the role of quantum dots in prebiotic chemistry.
When trees aren´t growing
Extreme tree growth reductions are visible in the width of tree rings, thanks to which scientists are able to study various trends in growth and even make predictions. These reductions can be climate-driven or caused by pests or other disturbances and are often the main cause of high forest mortality. During these extreme reductions, carbon sequestration declines to 20-40% of normal values. Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies are two conifer species occurring in Central Europe. Václav Treml from the Faculty of Science at Charles University and his colleagues analyzed extreme tree growth reductions in high- and low-elevation forests, their recurrence, and how they are linked to climatic drivers. They looked at long-term trends in extreme growth reductions since they are still largely unknown.
Diabetes? Old cells must go!
Diabetes mellitus represents one of the major health problems worldwide. It is very likely that each one of us knows someone suffering from this disease. Just diabetes mellitus type two is currently affecting over 420 million people all over the world. That is about the same amount of people that live in the whole of South America! How to help treat the disease? Team of Czech scientists led by prof. Jiří Neužil has tried to find the answer. Mgr. Eliška Vacurová from the Faculty of Science of Charles University Prague was also part of that team, and she is also one of the main authors of an article published in Nature Communications.
Following the footsteps of red deer in the past
Planet Earth has undergone numerous environmental changes associated with climate change. Fluctuations in temperature and precipitation have also affected the distribution of organisms on the planet. What microevolutionary process has one of Europe’s key mammals, the majestic red deer, undergone in the recent past? The results of an international study led by Karolina Doan from the University of Warsaw, which involved evolutionary analyses of a sample of red deer in Central Europe by molecular biologist and zoologist Pavel Hulva from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, has recently been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
Crown jewel of organometallic chemistry
The year is 1952. Young Elizabeth II. is taking over the throne in Britain. Meanwhile, there is a whole other revolution happening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Local scientists Thomas J. Keally and Peter L. Pauson have isolated an unknown orange substance that is stable in air and water and doesn't decompose even in concentrated hydrochloric acid. They published their discovery in Nature journal and that is how ferrocene saw the light of the day. This year it celebrates 70 years of existence and, on this occasion, prof. Petr Štěpnička from the Department of Inorganic Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Charles University Prague wrote a review summarizing the applications and the reactions of this iconic organometallic compound.
Brandy Bay and unique fossil wood from the James Ross Island in Antarctica
More than 10 years ago, a team led by Radek Vodrážka from CGS (Czech Geological Survey) and Jakub “James” Sakala discovered a large number of fascinating fossils on James Ross Island. The findings from the Antarctic Project of the CGS are gradually being processed and published. The fossil wood from the pleasant Brandy Bay is, in a way, unique. The article was published in the Antarctic Science journal last year. Its authors are Oleksandra Chernomorets and Jakub Sakala from the Department of Geology and Paleontology, Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Seven deadly sins of potential romantic partners
Every relationship has its ups and downs, but initially the focus is typically on the positives. To date, scientists have focused on exploring the positive characteristics, known as dealmakers, in a potential partner. However, dealbreakers, a person’s negative characteristics, also play an important role, but have been neglected in scientific research, even though they are at least as important as dealmakers. Research has yet to determine whether they outweigh the dealmakers and it will be of immense interest to see how men and women approach these two aspects of a potential partner. Therefore, research into specific dealbreakers and their importance was conducted by a team of scientists, including Zsófia Csajbók from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Chronicle of bark beetle infestations
Forest mortality has been increasing in recent years. This is primarily because bark beetle populations are growing at a rapid rate, decimating sometimes relatively healthy trees. Are we really experiencing unprecedented extremes, or have similar disturbances occurred throughout history? And can past events help us to deal with the current situation? Scientists have been searching for answers to these questions in the pristine region of the High Tatra Mountains. Petr Kuneš and Helena Svitavská Svobodová from the Department of Botany at the Faculty of Science, Charles University contributed significantly to research led by Nick Schafstall from the Czech University of Agriculture.
What a difficult life plants have…
Plants can be found all over the world; therefore, it is no surprise that they have developed numerous adaptations and life strategies. Disturbances lead to a removal of biomass, and how the plant copes with this is a key factor in selection. Vegetative regeneration is one of the possible ways a plant can respond to removal of its aboveground parts. There are even plants that can survive the total destruction of these parts. A team of scientists, including Jitka Klimešová from Charles University Faculty of Science, conducted a detailed study of these plants. They investigated how the removal of the aboveground parts of plants affects their growth, root respiration, and photosynthesis.
Was the environment somehow affected by Communism? What about the birds?
Nowadays, all children in schools are taught about communism. Yet, we are used to looking at this topic mostly from a historical point of view. But what effect did these 41 years have on nature? Collectivisation, which was strongly supported by the socialist regime, not only impacted small farmers, who lost their inherited estates for generations, but also the ecosystem and animal diversity. For instance, the homogenisation of the landscape changed the composition and numbers of bird populations. This transformation has been examined by Martin Šálek and other scientists from the Faculty of Science of Charles University on both the Czech and Austrian sides of the Iron Curtain.
The sky kept crying over Smutná. What happened next?
Harsh mountain landscapes attract adventurers as well as scientists. The natural conditions there allow the formulation of unusual but also destructive phenomena and processes, often of large proportions. One such phenomenon is that of fast-moving masses of poorly sorted sediments saturated with water, known as debris flows. Studying these, along with the specific preconditions that give rise to them, is crucial for the prediction and prevention of devastating consequences. Therefore, geomorphological experts Tereza Dlabáčková and Zbyněk Engel from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University have focused on mapping and evaluating the cause of a recent event.
Whom can we hear singing in European cities?
It is a well-established fact that urbanisation causes fragmentation of the landscape and habitat loss. Moreover, urban environment presents a challenge for wildlife, as it is a dynamic system that changes easily. It is therefore important to understand how urbanisation affects ecosystems in which an increasing number of people are now living. A large international team of scientists, including Jiří Reif from the Institute of Environmental Studies, surveyed birds across 17 cities in 10 European countries. The team asked a quite simple question: Which urban characteristics affect different facets of avian diversity and how?
Are we afraid of spiders as a taxonomical group or is their categorisation unimportant?
When you react to a stimulus, neural pathways that enable various responses to different situations are created. The neural circuits responsible for these quick reactions are one of the oldest we possess and mediate responses that are among the fastest. The question is, how deeply is the fear of spiders imprinted within us? Is it a result of natural selection, learning, and reflexes or are there other reasons for this common phobia? Even newborns react negatively to spiders and children aged 9 to 13 respond more negatively to crawling invertebrates than those that fly. There has to be a reason for this! Research into the fear of spiders and other creatures is moving forward thanks to Eva Landová, Markéta Janovcová, and Professor Daniel Frynta’s team from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Case: Waste
Do you sort waste? Or do you throw everything in the municipal solid waste bin? Have you ever thought about what happens then? If it is not placed in landfill, which is increasingly being abandoned due to the highly negative impact on the environment, it is processed. However, municipal solid waste is more difficult to treat because it is composed of a variety of materials. An expert team, led by Vojtěch Pilnáček and Libuše Benešová from the Institute for the Environment, Faculty of Science, Charles University, therefore focused on the possibilities of making optimal use of biodrying technology
Unicorn horn – what else can we find in a painkiller more than 200 years old?
People have always experienced pain, so the effort to suppress it with various forms of medication is nothing new. Until the discovery of modern analgesics, opium (dried latex from unripe poppy) was the main component of pain killers. Such medications were mainly based on an alcoholic solution of opium prepared by Paracelsus in 16th century. In the 18th century in particular, complicated mixtures of various substances were popular. An analysis of drugs from that period is now extremely valuable for analytical chemists. One such study of an 18th century preparation has been conducted by a team led by doc. Karel Nesměrák from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Fairy tales from the sea near the mouth of the river: How climate change has affected oysters
Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, on the very border of the Outer and Central Western Carpathians lies the fascinating paleontological locality of Hôrka. It is no ordinary locality as its geological profile has provided a wealth of interesting findings due to the presence of the often-neglected Upper Cretaceous oysters. This scientific article is based on long-term research by palaeontologist Jakub Rantuch from the Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (IGP), Faculty of Science, Charles University. It is no coincidence that this work was awarded the Zlatko Kvaček Prize for the best article by a doctoral student at IGP.
Goodbye birds…?
Just venture outside, close your eyes, and listen to the sounds of nature, especially birds singing... Maybe this will become history if society continues to develop in the same direction. The sounds of nature have changed dramatically across North America and Europe over the past 25 years. But in what way? An international team of experts led by Catriona A. Morrison and Simon J. Butler from the University of East Anglia, which included Jiří Reif from the Department of the Environment, Faculty of Science, Charles University, analysed bird songs across North America and Europe. The results of this international study were recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
Socio-economic aspects of golf courses in Czechia
The spectrum of research topics at the Faculty of Science of the Charles University is extremely broad and even covers studies on the dynamics of the golf market. Dana Fialová (Department of Social Geography and Regional Development) and Přemysl Štych (Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography) participated in a study led by Jiří Sláma from the University of South Bohemia which analysed the development of golf courses in the Czech Republic between 1990 and 2019.
To Cyprus for the sea? Why not for the bats?
As well as being a wonderful place for a vacation, the Mediterranean islands also contain a high diversity of bats. Why is this? It is because the islands provide the animals with a variety of habitats to live in. Regrettably, these areas are currently facing several ecological threats. A group of authors, including Assoc. Prof. Petra Benda from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, conducted an acoustic study, focusing on echolocation, to determine the habitual preferences of certain bat species.
What factors determine trends in tree growth in a changing climate?
Forests play a key role in our ecosystem. Their impact on the carbon cycle and the Earth’s climate is crucial. Approximately 20% of all CO2 emissions are absorbed by forest ecosystems. Loss of forest areas and/or disruption of their vitality has negative effects on carbon sequestration in biomass. The influence of individual factors on tree growth is thus a topical and extremely important scientific topic. A group of experts led by Jiří Mašek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, have investigated the influence of factors (other than climate) on tree growth trends.
What are the hospitalisation costs associated with childbirth? Does the method of conception matter?
A gradual increase in the age of mothers at childbirth has been observed in Czechia in recent decades. However, postponing childbearing has certain negative consequences. One notable problem is that of infertility and an associated increase in the use of assisted reproductive technologies, one of the most common of which is IVF (in vitro fertilisation). What are the costs associated with childbirth and the subsequent rise in hospitalisations caused by the increased health complications connected with IVF? Tereza Havelková, Luděk Šídlo, Jiřina Kocourková and Anna Šťastná from the Department of Demography and Geodemography, Faculty of Science, Charles University, have conducted detailed research on this topic.
What do we know about Aristolochia toxicity?
Aristolochia are aromatic decorative plants that grow all around the world. Most species can be found in the Mediterranean and in Asia. These plants contain biologically active compounds named after the genus – aristolochic acids I and II. Both cause mutations leading to carcinogenic growth and are classified as group 1 carcinogens. However, their interactions with each other within live organisms have been underexplored. An international team of scientists, with the main contribution provided by the research group of Professors Marie Stiborová and Petr Hodek from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, decided to change this.
Popular Science: Stories of Ukrainian migrants
They are the biggest group of foreigners in Czechia. But do we know their fates? Family and relationships with their homeland are factors that form the financial behaviour of the migrants. Eva Janská with colleagues from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development and the Centre of Theoretical Studies of Charles University analysed the financial consequences of migration based on interviews.
Popular Science: The work of anthropologists in commercial archaeology
While excavating human remains in commercial archaeology, anthropologists are often limited by financial and time constraints and the collection of meaningful information is therefore rather difficult. That is why technologies and work methodology need to be quicker, cheaper and simpler and the collaboration between anthropologists, archaeologists and developers needs to be better to achieve maximal results. Erika Průchová from our faculty and her colleagues examined these field techniques and their effectiveness during the recent excavation of three cemeteries in Karlín, Prague.
Popular Science: Community Gardens in Prague
In the cities of North America and Western Europe, community gardens have been developing for more than a hundred years. Previously, allotment gardening had also been present in Eastern Europe, while community gardening has occurred recently. Jana Spilková from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of our faculty shows the similarities and differences between Prague and the cities, where this phenomenon was born.
Popular Science: The phenomenon of farmers’ shops in Czechia
What are the reasons of the recent expansion of farmers’ shops in the Czech Republic? Are all the goods sold there from Czechia? What are the problems faced by the owners of the shops? We can read about these and other topics in the article written by Marie Syrovátková from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development from the Faculty of Science of the Charles University.
Popular Science: Ageing is more pronounced in male face than in women
Ageing or senescence is a natural part of our lives, even though we often try to hide it. First senescence changes start to manifest on the human face as early as at the age of twenty. Knowledge of the facial ageing process can be crucial for face appearance predictions for long-term missing persons.

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