Last December, Alireza Fazeli held his inaugural lecture as the new Professor of Clinical Genomics and Personalized Medicine at the University of Tartu. He presented his view on the burning issue of how cells communicate with each other and why we need to know about it.
Prenatal communication on the cell level
Let’s look at pregnancy and its most important stage – implantation. That is when the embryo attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. The big question about that is: how the does mother’s body recognize the child’s embryo?
This is where prenatal communication comes in. This is communication on a cellular level that requires a certain communication system, or language. Language elicits a reaction from whomever receives the “message”; it is a means of influencing someone or something.
Communication on the cellular level becomes important if we try to understand how different cells – like an embryo and cell of the uterus – recognize each other.
The uterus only has around two kinds of bacteria that can live there. Compared to the lower vaginal part, it hosts almost no other species. We can say that the uterus has a “high security level” because this environment actively defends itself against other organisms.
Our body’s defense mechanisms can include: avoidance with the help of the immune system; resistance with inflammation; or tolerance (coexistence). Therefore, if the uterus had any other defense reaction to the embryo besides tolerance, the implantation on days 8-9 (see image below) couldn’t take place and the pregnancy would halt. Only after the cells on the walls of the uterus have received the message that it is indeed the embryo is it allowed to attach.
We are most excited for 2019. But before we go ahead, let’s look back at the best and the worst from the previous year. We’ll save you from the worst and keep it for our own learning, but share with you the most valuable stuff on our blog from 2018. Here come our most popular stories for your reading pleasure:
Learn about the typical myths to postpone writing, two golden hours, tips on how to stay focused for these two hours, why you should share your first draft with supervisor or co-authors rather sooner than later, setting priorities, and “snack” writing.
It has been already more than 6 years since I graduated from University of Tartu 😱 It’s a cliche to say that time flies, but I can’t find in my dictionary a better phrase to describe it. I remember it as if it was yesterday, as well as all those questions and hesitations of my friends about going for master’s studies to a place that very few people recognised 😬 It’s mostly because many of them were taught in schools to recite all Baltic States in one breath: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia… Well done, sit down!🏅
What the heck, let’s go to Tartu! 🚌
I may say that it was my natural curiosity that drove me to Tartu. On one side, yes. On other side, I had a strong feeling that understanding historic and economic relations between the European Union and Russian Federation would make much more sense in a post-Soviet state 🤔 I can’t imagine a better place to understand both sides than to explore those relations on the border of both worlds. In addition, I knew that I had to make a student exchange to Russia, no matter what. Not doing it would be like learning coding without touching a computer.
Going to Tartu was like a crash course before getting involved in business matters between the East and the West of Europe. It prepared me for undertaking my first real job on the edge of Europe and Russia. Image credit: Riina Varol / Visit Estonia CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I chatted to four University of Tartu researchers on Twitter about their Christmas. Please meet Senior Research Fellow in Botany Aveliina Helm, Professor of Philosophy of Language Tuomo Juhani Yli-Vakkuri, Professor in Information Systems Marlon Dumas, and Professor of Jazz Music Iñaki Sandoval.
While Aveliina Helm’s Christmas seems to be traditionally Estonian, the rest of the company’s holidays are as international as their backgrounds. What unites them all is a hearty Christmas dinner with family or friends, as well as doing some work during the holidays.
Let’s see what our researchers’ Christmas look like.
What makes it feel like Christmas for you?
Being at home, spending time with children, baking gingerbreads, decorating tree, and (if lucky) having snow and sledging aorund the house. Also… a feeling of constant overeating, I must admit…
Lots of different things. I’ve lived in Helsinki, Mexico City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Montreal, Oxford, and Berlin among other places, and I’ve come to associate different sights, scents, weather conditions, etc. with Christmas in each.
Siim Salmar cuts pieces off a plastic Christmas tree to put them into a solution. Image credit: Kristjan Teedema
It’s that time of year again, when decisions about getting a Christmas tree are being made. In Estonia, there are many possibilities: not to have a Christmas tree altogether; to buy a spruce or fir from the square in front of a shop; to find a place on the map by the Estonian State Forest Management Centre (RMK) and go get your own Christmas tree from the forest; or to get a tree from a forest that you own. And then there’s the last resort – an artificial Christmas tree.
Estonian families have traditionally brought their Christmas trees from the forest. Children would hop on the sleigh and then the journey to the forest would begin, with finding a spruce (or a fir) in mind. It was sometimes a bit crooked or faded, but still your own Christmas tree, grown on Estonian soil.
Made in China
There’s nothing Estonian about an artificial Christmas tree. The main producer of Christmas trees made by PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is China. Even when the label says that the tree is produced in the EU, one can be sure that the PVC material comes from China.
Recently, Tartu Postimees brought a brunch of a fake Christmas trees to the lab, where Siim Salmar, an associate professor of organic chemistry at the University of Tartu, made the necessary analyses to discover a little about its chemical nature.
A plastic Christmas tree branch went through a series of chemical experiments. Image credit: Kristjan Teedema
Seven years ago, Eduardo Torres was studying violin in Mexico and wanted to become a composer. An opportunity to study music abroad for a year came his way, but Eduardo’s first choice wasn’t Estonia. In fact, he didn’t even know where it was located. However, he somehow remembered that Arvo Pärt, whom he discovered at the age of 14 or 15, was Estonian. So he thought: “Okay, let’s go to this place and figure out if there is something special about Estonia that makes his music so wonderful.”
That’s how Eduardo found himself at the Gustav Adolf Gymnasium in Tallinn. During that first year in Estonia, Eduardo met his first love in Tartu, which pretty much defined his experience with this town.
Eduardo on the steps of the Gustav Adolf Gymnasium in Tallinn in 2018. Photo from a private collection
Eduardo with friends. Photo from a private collection
There was also another encounter of the greatest importance; namely, Eduardo happened to see Arvo Pärt in St. Catherine’s Church in Tallinn. He confesses: “I was shocked because he was so close to me. In that moment I decided that if I were ever to talk to him, I would do it in Estonian.” That’s how Eduardo learned Estonian in no time. And, well, he did get a chance to talk to Arvo Pärt!
The social media platform Facebook has a problem, and it is not just about the privacy measures or safety of users. According to calculations made by scientists, in a couple of decades the number of dead Facebook users will be greater than the number of living ones.
After a the passing of a close one, modern people have another thing to take into account, in addition to funeral planning and all kinds of paperwork: What to do with the remaining social media account?
In times when social media and all the communication happening in this domain are becoming a more and more significant part of our lives, expressing grief, as well as the topic of death in general, has become a much more usual thing to encounter while visiting social media portals. Annika Maksimov, who studied journalism and communication at the University of Tartu, wrote her bachelor’s thesis about grieving on Facebook.
During her research, she conducted interviews with Facebook users who had lost their friends, and following that, expressed their grief on communication portals by themselves, or had seen others do so.
Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, Maksimov picked the people to interview from the circle of her personal acquaintances.
“A warm and trusting relationship with people making up the sample helps to decrease the risk of my study causing them some emotional or mental damage,” she explained.
Researching grieving rituals is a sensitive topic that should be approached with care. Image credit: Thomassin Mickaël/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0