Looking For an Alarm Clock for Bacteria

Even among bacteria there are those that go by the Estonian proverb “Wake up early, go to bed late”, as scientists at the University of Tartu have managed to show. Now the same scientists are looking for a way to make all bacteria act this way, as it would make treatment of the diseases they cause much easier.

Diverse E. coli

Understanding the behaviour of E. coli (in the picture) and other bacteria can open new ways to beat diseases. Image credit: Mattosaurus / Wikimedia Commons

In an article published at the beginning of April in Scientific Reports, an offshoot journal of the renowned science journal Nature, Arvi Jõers and Tanel Tenson show how bacterial cells awake from dormancy. It turns out that bacteria possess something resembling memory, and those that drop off last will be the first to wake up.

It is quite common for bacteria to enter the state of dormancy, as Jõers, a senior researcher, explains. “There are periods when bacteria have a lot to eat; then they run dry of the food and a famine begins. During evolution, bacteria have acquired a variety of mechanisms to survive such train of events. When the food runs out, bacteria enter into a state of dormancy, comparable to the hibernation of bears”.

When food sources recover, bacteria wake up and start reproducing. Scientists already knew that some bacteria wake up quicker, while others take more time. It happens this way despite the fact that each bacterium in a colony is genetically identical to the others. Continue reading

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You Are What You Eat

As the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in his famous book The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy (1825), “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”.

boy eating bread

An Estonian boy eating rye-bread. Image credit: Estonian Agricultural Museum, http://muis.ee/museaalview/1216077

With this maxim, the author did not only reference the physiological aspects of eating, but something broader – he expressed the idea of food and identity being closely linked in culture as well. What is being eaten can reflect the eater’s economical situation and social status, but also his or her religious, ethnic, or national origin.

Food is an important marker of identity. Even more than this, food is a part of identity politics. We feel communion with those who eat meals similar to those we prefer; those eating different foods seem alien. Many researchers of the food culture of immigrants have mentioned that ethnic or national eating traditions remain important to families and communities even when speaking the native tongue fades away.

What is the food or flavour that Estonians living abroad have missed the most? — black rye-bread. A documentary on food businesses of Estonian immigrants in Toronto is a good example:

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Estonian Ecologists Debate in the Pages of Science

Matsimäe bog in Estonia

Matsimäe bog in Estonia. Photo by L. Michelson

The working rooms of Martin Zobel and Lauri Laanisto, both scientists from Tartu, are less than two kilometres apart as the crow flies. One can walk from Tähtvere district to the Botanical Garden in 15 minutes. Discussing scientific matters by phone or having an argument in an office seems like the easiest thing.

Still, so that the views of ecologists all over the world could be influenced, the discussion between the two men developed on the pages of Science — one of the most well-known scientific journals in the world. This marks the first time that two scientific teams from Estonia are having a discussion in a science magazine that belongs to the top worldwide.

If it were still summer of last year, I would’ve written how “the scientists have proven a long-sought-after ecological correlation”, but by now every sane journalist would use the word “dispute” in the headline of the story. However, neither journalistic angle would actually present a true picture. In fact, it is quite a typical tale about discussions playing a central part in science.

Although ecologists study nature, in this field there is still a dearth of so-called natural laws, proven universal linkages that could be used in describing and predicting the properties of the ecosystem. For decades it has been suspected that one of these links would be the correlation between the productivity of an ecosystem and the variety of species in it. Continue reading

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First National Atlas for Estonia’s 100th Anniversary

No national atlas has ever been published in Estonia. The University of Tartu Department of Geography has set out to fill the gap in honour of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, UT as the Estonian-language university, and the department itself. The anniversary festivities will be held in 2018–2019.

The atlas is targeted at all who are interested in Estonian culture, history, and nature. Historical maps along with beautifully designed contemporary maps will portray the country’s development throughout the century in a unique visual way.

Get a glimpse of Estonian history and the future national atlas by viewing these five maps below.

Zones of influence in Estonia in the 1930s

Influence zones in Estonia in 1930-iesSimilarly to the current situation, administrative reform was a hot topic in Estonia in 1930s. This map, compiled by geography professor and future University of Tartu Rector Edgar Kant in 1936, shows zones of influence for the two main cities – Tallinn and Tartu – as well as those of smaller towns.

Places of birth for Estonia’s elite

Places of birth for Estonia's elite Continue reading

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Marina: Why I Chose To Study in English

When I started thinking about MA studies, from the very beginning I wanted them to be in English. Now, after two years have passed since my graduation, I have never regretted choosing EU-Russia Studies in the European College, which is now a part of the Skytte Institute.

It would be a misunderstanding to say that my determination to study in English was driven by the simple wish to study abroad and have some cultural variety, and, oh yes, that an English-language-based programme would be the only opportunity for foreigners. Yes, of course, the possibility to study with people from different backgrounds was and is tempting.

I would never have imagined that my relatively small course would include students from Mexico and Japan who would become my close friends. I was also very lucky to have Estonian classmates. I was not limited to hanging out with foreigners. Thanks to one of my coursemates, who also became my close friend, I got to know some things about Estonia and visit some places in Tallinn that probably gave me more time to figure myself out.

Marina with friends

Me (first from the left) and my classmates. Photo from a personal archive

So yes – studying in an English-language programme broadened my knowledge of various cultures and the way they function. But also during the classes and just informal discussion it was and still is extremely interesting to hear varying opinions about the things you are used to seeing from one particular angle. Continue reading

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Brexit: Hidden Implications for Baltic Security

Brexit scrabble

Image by Jeff Djevdet (speedpropertybuyers.co.uk)

Announced in February 2016 and bargained arduously between British officials and the 27 other member states, the agreement renegotiating the United Kingdom’s status in the European Union (EU) appears to focus almost exclusively on matters of British domestic concern.

The main issues directly at stake relate to social and economic policy, as well as British sovereignty. Prime Minister David Cameron has sought opt-outs from the principle of an “ever closer union”, restrictions on the entitlements of EU migrants to welfare benefits in the UK, and exemptions from EU regulations for London’s financial services sector. The UK has reaffirmed its desire to remain outside the single currency.

While foreign and security policy issues are likely to be at the periphery of the debate in Britain as the country’s future concerning the EU is discussed before this year’s 23 June referendum, a potential British exit (Brexit) from the EU might still hold some wider security implications for other EU member states, notably the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Firstly, it has long been the Baltic argument that their national security stands to benefit most from an EU that is both resolute and united. The British initiative to radically rethink its relationship with the EU in recent years has had the effect of galvanizing a number of Eurosceptic parties and populations elsewhere in Europe. For example, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has stated that should Britain leave the EU, there will be calls made among the largely Eurosceptic Czech public to discuss seriously their country’s possible route towards the EU exit door. Continue reading

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10 Estonian Tongue Twisters for Language Addicts

Estonian is no easy language. Sensible people don’t attack difficult stuff from its most inaccessible and challenging side — by all means, that is a direct path to defeat. Are language addicts sensible people? Not by definition, but sure enough, they are adventurous enough and know where the fun is.

As a matter of fact, most of the following phrases aren’t very useful in everyday life unless used as a weapon to knock someone out with your supernatural skills, but beware: some of this stuff is hard to pronounce even for Estonians.

If this is your first or an early-stage encounter with Estonian language, then a two-step initiation with 10 Tongue Twisters To Get You Started on Estonian and 10 Estonian Tongue Twisters for Language Hackers is strongly recommended.

Ready to go? Let’s attack the dark matter.

1. Kuuuurija töööö ööülikoolis

kuuuurija töööö ööülikoolis

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