52,000 Estonians Now Have a Personal Gene Map

The Estonian Genome Project is a national super-science project: gene samples from over 52,000 people were collected, which comprises about 5% of the population of Estonia. Now, 17 years after the project began, the Estonian Genome Center will offer personal feedback to people who donated their blood and information.

Tissue samples at the Estonian Genome Center. Photo credit: Andres Tennus

Through the Hardships

It was in 2001 when scientists from a small post-Soviet country came up with the ambitious plan to collect, record, and thoroughly decode the genetic information of Estonians. They hoped that the project would lead to scientific discoveries and help to create more precise medications. In 2007 the state became the project’s main financer and the Estonian Genome Center was united with the University of Tartu. Sample collecting began again, celebrities were hired to raise awareness about the project, and the topic of donating genetic information even appeared in the popular Estonian TV show “Õnne 13”.

The Estonian Genome Center got a new building with the monetary support from the European Union, new, state-of-the-art technology, and also lured back some of the scientists who had left Estonia. By the end of 2010, all the samples had been collected. What distinguishes this biobank from other biobanks in the world is that in Estonia the data collected did not involve only those who were ill, but it also offered a cross-sectional genetic view of the society.

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Leonardo Pataccini: Teaching Is Just Like Dancing

Although I was born in Argentina and I have lived there for the most of my life, I’m actually half-Spanish. My grandparents fled to Argentina during the Spanish civil war, but as half of the family remained in Spain, I still have a strong connection with the country.

I studied sociology at the University of Buenos Aires and already during my second term I started teaching history at the university. What’s interesting about Argentina is that most lecturers receive no salary for giving lecturers. They are usually young scientists in the beginning of their journey, and with universities largely relying on lecturers working for free, it’s like a voluntary work, to put it simply.

Leonardo Pataccini teaching at Johann Skytte Institute of Political Sciences. Photo credit: Andres Tennus

A few years ago I moved to Latvia where I researched the local economic crisis. With variable success, I spent two years over there and while working, I naturally heard about the University of Tartu. At first I wanted to come to Tartu for just five months but then I had a chance to stay for longer – even for three years. It began as a research visit, but the Skytte Institute of Political Studies found a way to incorporate me into its doings for a longer period. I agreed as I immediately felt really cozy and comfortable in Tartu.

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Iryna from Belarus Found Her Passion in Tartu

Since early childhood, I have been travelling a lot. I have met people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. It has shaped me a lot and made me dream about studying abroad. Eventually, my dream came true here, in Estonia.

Iryna as an International Student Ambassador

I arrived in Tartu in August 2014, when I started the Bachelor of Business Administration programme at the University of Tartu. I decided to study here for several reasons. Firstly, the University of Tartu is the best university in the Baltic Region, with a long and colourful history. Secondly, the programme is fully English-taught. Finally, Estonia is not really far from Belarus – my homeland.

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The Ultimate Student Experience – Tartu Student Days!

For a while now, the team of Tartu Student Days has been organizing something amazing, something you have been waiting for many months now. A week-long (student) festival that fills our beloved Tartu with the most exciting events of the year.

The organizers of Tartu Student Days full of crazy ideas and bubbling energy. Photo credit: Hanna Rattasepp

But well.. what are those so-called “student days” anyway, huh? Student Days festival is aimed at the younger generation, to the ones who spend their days indoors studying or working. We, the volunteers (and also students!) want to make your time as a fellow student in Tartu as memorable as possible. The festival organizers spend their days generating new exciting and super cool events you might want to take part of to relax and have a break from the ordinary student life.

Since there are more than 150 different events during the festival, we have made you an example guide for an ultimate festival experience. Here are some of the most exciting events.

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Physicists Are Building an Artificial Nose from Graphene

Physicists at the University of Tartu are working on an artificial nose based on graphene. In just a couple of years, all of us might have sensors in our cellphones, helping us to evaluate air pollution levels and choose routes with clearer air.

Just imagine the following situation: you are drinking your first coffee of the morning, and your coffee cup informs you that it would be wiser to work at home today. Or, if your presence at your workplace is really needed, then commute using a much longer path. The path is simultaneously projected on your kitchen wall. The warning was issued because of a prediction about bad air outside in the next few hours, and the fact that during the last month you were exposed to an unusually large amount of polluted air. Such a personal air pollution dosage could be determined if our portable smart devices included sensors for polluting gases and small particles in the air.

The structure of graphene. Photo credit: AlexanderAlUS / Wikimedia Commons

Raivo Jaaniso, the leader of the sensor technologies work group at the Institute of Physics at the University of Tartu, says that as a part of the major European Union project Graphene Flagship, he and his colleagues have set an aim to develop a graphene-based sensor chip of that nature. Their first goal is building a “nose” that could observe the quality of air. According to Jaaniso, a senior researcher of material sciences and applied physics, the really thin layer of graphene is like white paper that the scientist can write on: “Graphene is a carbon-based material with basically the thickness of one atom. One could imagine graphene by visualising a honeycomb with carbon atoms at each corner of the hexagons. Everybody has probably made some graphene by drawing lines with a pencil – it is what stays on the paper from a graphite core”.

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People Feel Similar Affection For Mobile Phones as For Other People

In January, Merilin Piipuu defended her master’s thesis which demonstrated clearly that cell phones have become our inseparable companions, best friends and cure for loneliness. We can’t even leave our homes without taking our mobile phones with us.

Merilin’s aim was to study how people use and make sense of technology. “I was interested in how we relate to something or someone, but from the aspect of the person’s everyday experience rather than the experience of a user. Several philosophers and anthropologists like Martin Heidegger and Michael D. Jackson have argued that people relate to technology similarly as to another living creature – one day we are in control, another time we are controlled.”

None of the researched individuals was capable of leaving home without the mobile phone and when they did, they felt a “part of them” was missing. Photo credit: Garry Knight / Flickr Creative Commons

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The Daily Life of a Researcher

Have you ever wondered what researchers and scientists do on a day to day basis? We were wondering about that too and that’s why we asked them to show their everyday life to us! For almost a year now, University of Tartu researchers have posted fascinating photos about their fieldwork, lab experiments and discoveries to their Instagram account @tartuuniversity. Here is a snapshot of some of their photos which show how exciting a life of a researcher can be. Oh, what kind of interesting things do their eyes witness!

If you would like to see more, follow our scientists on Instagram!

44 small metallic pinktoe (Avicularia metallica) tarantula hatchlings can be found in the University of Tartu Natural History Museum. These are the first ever successfully bred metallic pinktoe tarantulas in Estonia, congrats to Andro Truuverk – the man behind this success! Posted by Kristiina Hommik.

Do scarse-heath butterflies (Coenonympha hero) prefer endophyte rich or endophyte free host plants? University of Turku master’s student Miika Laihonen is conducting experiments in UT lab of entomology with adults and larvae to answer this question. Future perspective holds that if you want to repel or attract herbivores to your field you can choose to use proper endophyte plants. Text and photo by H. Meister, posted by Sille Holm.

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