An important genetic test for pregnant women will soon be made in Estonia

Estonian researchers have developed an innovative method of medical genetics that will enable non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to be carried out soon in Estonia. NIPT is like an insurance policy, providing reliable genetic testing about fetal chromosomal health already at an early phase of pregnancy. An advanced genetic testing laboratory location on site strengthens the diagnostics sector in Estonia.

The age of pregnant women continues to increase in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe, which is associated with a higher risk for fetal chromosomal diseases. With the help of NIPT, the genetic mutations causing these diseases can be detected with 100% precision at an early stage of pregnancy by analysing fetal cell-free DNA from a pregnant woman’s blood sample. The NIPT has been available for pregnant women in Estonia even now, but so far samples have been sent and analyzed abroad. Therefore, the cost of testing is about €400–800 per test and is paid out of the pocket by families.

NIPT is a prenatal blood test to screen for fetal aneuploidy disorders such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18) and Patau syndrome (trisomy 13) that cause intellectual disability or significant birth defects. Source: Mum Juncton.

The Competence Centre on Health Technologies (CCHT), along with University of Tartu (UT), has created a new NIPT algorithm, the core of the NIPT testing procedure, referred to as NIPTmer. By applying NIPT, a blood sample obtained from pregnant woman is used to find out if a fetus is carrying an additional copy of chromosome 13, 18, or 21. For Hexample, an additional copy of chromosome 21 causes Down syndrome, which is one of the most prevalent causes of developmental disability. In addition, NIPT provides information about the sex of the fetus.

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Lynx videos – get familiar with Estonian animal of the year!

The Animal of the Year 2018 is the extremely beautiful Eurasian Lynx. Although quite widespread in Estonia, their presence remains largely unnoticed due to their low abundance and hidden lifestyle.

Similar to other big predators the presence of the Lynx is often thought to be associated with only empty wild areas of forest, but in Estonia, Lynx is not so fearful of humans. A well-established landscape with fields and forests is also well-suited for the Lynx, and in the darkness, his pathways can pass within the vicinity of quiet human dwellings. A Lynxes territory, which in Estonia is several hundred square kilometres, must be at least half covered with forest because they prefer to move and hunt within the cover of woodlands and also as safe areas to rest and raise their cubs (Source: Protected areas of Estonia).

Lynx – animal of the year – has been always held to be a mysterious and rare creature. I myself have seen them only once through a car window. As the options of video recording keep improving, the animal is being caught on camera more frequently. We want to share a story about radio-collaring lynxes by scientists and nature tourist recordings of the feline hunting deer.

ReWild, a spin-off from University of Tartu, researches animals in the wild:

Ilves on üks kõige salapärasematest Eesti loomadest. Suurkiskja, kelle kodu on mitmesaja ruutkilomeetrine metsamaastik. Uurime ilvest selleks et teada paremini, mida ta eluks vajab, millised on suhted teiste liikide ja inimesega. Nii on võimalik edukalt teostada looduskaitse- ja jahikorraldust. Noor isane ilves Lemps asub telemeetriaseadme vahendusel koguma informatsiooni üksildase eluviisiga looma kodupiirkonna kasutuse ja toitumise kohta.Koostöös OÜ Rewild, Keskkonnaagentuur ja Tartu Ülikool.Video eest tänud Britta Kalganile.•••Lynx is one of the most mysterious animals in Estonia. A large carnivore, whose home is several hundreds square kilometers of forest landscape. We study the lynx to know better what they need for living, and how they relate to other species and human. It is the way for successful nature protection and game management. The young male lynx Lemps with telemetry device starts collecting information about use of home range and foraging of the secluded species.Collaboration of Rewild Ltd, Estonian Environment Agency and University of Tartu.•••www.rewild.ee

Posted by Rewild on Reede, 14. aprill 2017

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Doctoral Students’ Stories – Reasons to Undertake the Journey

This spring we brought you some stories from various (mostly financial) challenges doctoral students face every day. Despite all that, each year hundreds of young researchers both start and carry on with their doctoral studies. It is reasonable to ask what is the motivation?

Full disclosure: gathering positive stories turned out to be a much more difficult task than finding negative ones. This might be attributed to anything, be it potential participants’ time-consuming outdoor activities in the summer, busy attention period, or just the stereotypical Estonian tradition of avoiding praise. There were many who turned us down, as they thought they had no merry tales to tell.

“The system doesn’t really work at the institute level, the communication is lacking, as well as support… It’s hard to manage with a professional career and kids… I’m just such a wuss myself…”

This would be a brief anonymous summary of our participants’ woes. Most definitely there is a lot of variety between all the different institutes and many work groups. Some of them are planning to cancel doctoral studies altogether, while one has already done it. But this story was supposed to be about positive experiences…

Reasons to Undertake the Journey. Author/Source: PhD Comics

The first good news comes straight from the University of Tartu. Following the Senate’s decision, doctoral students who have positively attended and fit into the nominal schedule will receive an additional grant of 400 euros each month, starting from 1 September. This means that a doctoral student’s grant would approximate the average salary in Estonia. Not bad at all!

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The season of graduation: European politics for youths & changes across continents

I talked the talk and walked the walk with my 2nd-semester well-spent.

In this Estonian city of good thoughts, I gave my best shot to make every possible change happen across the continents. During the spring semester, I travelled to Brussels, Budapest, Yale University, The Hague and Strasbourg to grow seeds in everyone’s mind, in hopes that the world, one day, will never be the same again when I walk away.

If you still recall my previous article on My First 100 Days at the University of Tartu, then this article is probably no surprise for you–I met the heart of European politics, engaged with a diplomat to the UN, and organised a simulation of international peace talks in France.

Perhaps, this is beyond an ordinary university student’s daily routine.

EU-ASEAN Young Leader Summit, Brussels (24-28/2)

Asking questions at the EU-ASEAN Strategic Thinkers Forum, Brussels. Photo: Friends of Europe

In the beginning of this semester, I received an email about my acceptance as a British representative to attend this high-level summit that connects European policymakers, 38 national representatives (EU-28 and ASEAN-10) and numerous Brussels insiders to discuss a range of issues, including political and security cooperation, economy, trade and business exchanges, as well as people-to-people contacts.

Along with dozens of other European leaders, I was arranged to stay at The Hotel Brussels, a 4-star hotel where the former American president Barack Obama stayed for a night. As a Master’s student on a budget, it would be simply unimaginable if I wasn’t sponsored to stay in this luxurious place where the gym room is located at 26th floor with the highest public viewpoint in this Belgian capital. For me, it’s a moral question on whether I have the strength to withstand materialistic temptation when I become a policy-maker in the future.

Throughout the summit, I was stunned by the fact that while most of the European representatives are either full-time students working at think-tanks or community leaders from prominent NGOs, almost every ASEAN representative is a national diplomat. It was indeed a sign of the imbalance of power.

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President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid: Tartu and the university symbolically bind us all into one

At the invitation of Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, six European heads of state arrived in Tartu on the 22nd of June to celebrate Estonia`s 100th anniversary.

President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelašvili, President of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis, President of Poland Andrzej Duda and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö participated in the Estonia 100 celebration in Tartu, which culminated with the opening of the XVIII student song- and dance festival Gaudeamus.

At the invitation of Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, six European heads of state arrived in Tartu on the 22nd of June to celebrate Estonia`s 100th anniversary. Photo: Andres Tennus.

Dear people of Tartu and distinguished guests,

I am very glad to welcome you in the heart of the city of Tartu. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, we are graced today by the presence of good friends with whom we share common values. A century ago, they, like us, went through a crucial period in the formative years of their statehood.

I am pleased that we can commemorate our country’s anniversary here in Tartu in particular, as it is the home of our oldest and largest university. Our only Universitas. The university is what made Tartu into what it is for Estonians and the entire world.

Above all, Tartu is a key bulwark for Estonians’ and Europeans’ academic world.

For Estonians, Tartu is important as one of the centres of our national independence movement. The first Estonian poet, Kristjan Jaak Peterson, studied here in the early 19th century. His statue stands on Toome Hill, reminding us of the hope that our national language would find an enduring place in the family of the world’s languages – and this hope has been realized.

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First Peoples: study finds two ancient ancestries ‘reconverged’ with settling of South America

New research using ancient DNA finds that a population split after people first arrived in North America was maintained for millennia before mixing again before or during the expansion of humans into the southern continent.

Recent research has suggested that the first people to enter the Americas split into two ancestral branches, the northern and southern, and that the “southern branch” gave rise to all populations in Central and South America.

Now, a study shows for the first time that, deep in their genetic history, the majority – if not all – of the Indigenous peoples of the southern continent retain at least some DNA from the “northern branch”: the direct ancestors of many Native communities living today in the Canadian east.

The drawings of the native Americans on the wall of the Horseshoe Canyon. Author\/Source: Greg Willis\/CC by Flickr

The latest findings, published today in the journal Science, reveal that, while these two populations may have remained separate for millennia – long enough for distinct genetic ancestries to emerge – they came back together before or during the expansion of people into South America.

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The New Rector of the University of Tartu is a Man of Action

Colleagues say that Toomas Asser, who was elected rector on 26 April, is a true Estonian in the best sense of the word: he says a lot in few words and does even more.

After the election results were announced, when 187 ballots out of the 212 in the ballot box were cast in favour of Asser in the second round of voting, the elected rector thanked the electoral council members for trusting him.

“I extend my thanks to those who voted for me and for those who voted for Margit. I am grateful to Margit for this long and complicated but extremely instructive period that we experienced together in the course of the election debates”, he said.

Toomas Asser. Photo: Andres Tennus

Asser admitted he did not expect such a result but said it gave him courage to think that his desire to cooperate would definitely come true. He expressed hope that by working together with all university members we could make the University of Tartu a better place.

In talking to Asser’s closest colleagues before the elections, it became clear that he is a really cooperative and reliable person. He does not speak much, but his words are always as valuable as his deeds.

Since the time Asser first came to the university as a student, he has been interested in neurology, says Eero Vasar, director of the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, who was admitted to the Faculty of Medicine at the same time as Toomas Asser in 1973. Asser’s good friend Aadu Liivat shared his interest in neurology.

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