Media releases, information for representatives of the media Media Relations (E)

Media releases 2016



How complex cells originated

Mitochondria are the “power plants” of complex cells. In order to provide the cell with energy they need protein building blocks, which are imported from the outside. Over billions of years the “protein import machines” necessary for this process have developed differently than previously assumed, as biochemists in Bern have discovered. This also casts a new light on the evolution of complex cells.



Honey bee teenagers speed up the ageing process of their elders

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies are complex societies, in which work is not distributed by a central power. How tasks are allocated among workers is still poorly understood. A research team from the Swiss Bee Research Center at Agroscope and the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern (both Switzerland), discovered that young adults influence this process by promoting older individuals to perform duties outside the hive, which shortens their life expectancy.



Doing well and talking about it

At the 182th University of Bern Dies academicus, the Rector Christian Leumann addressed the opportunities and challenges facing the University. Bernhard Pulver of Bern’s Executive Council spoke of being “immensely proud” of the performance of the University of Bern, and cited education policy as one reason for it success. Improved access to science for marginalised sections of society was called for by student representative Pia Portmann. Seven honorary doctorates were presented, fourteen researchers received academic awards and the philanthropist Celia Zwillenberg was named honorary senator.



Evaluation of scientific rigor in animal research

In the course of the “reproducibility crisis” in biomedical research, scientific rigor in animal reserach, and thus the ethical justification of animal experiments, has also been questioned. Commissioned by the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO), researchers from the University of Bern have assessed scientific rigor in animal experimentation in Switzerland. Their findings indicate widespread deficiencies in experimental conduct.



Intensification of Land Use Leads to the Same Species Everywhere

Intensive use of grasslands by humans reduces species diversity and makes the landscape more monotonous, so that the same species end up everywhere. Nature is then no longer able to provide us with many essential ‘services’, which range from soil formation for food production to pest control. Led by the Technical University of Munich and the University of Bern, 300 scientists studied the consequences of land-use intensification for biodiversity at the landscape level and for the first time could do this for a wide range of species groups.



CaSSIS sends first images from Mars orbit

The Mars Camera, CaSSIS, on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter captured its first high resolution images of the Red Planet last week. The Bernese camera worked almost perfectly and has provided spectacular views of the surface.



Chury is much younger than previously thought

Based on computer simulations, Astrophysicists at the University of Bern conclude that the comet Chury did not obtain its duck-like form during the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Although it does contain primordial material, they are able to show that the comet in its present form is hardly more than a billion years old.



Bernese Biotechnology Has International Triumph

MRI data are essential in the treatment of neurological illnesses. Self-learning software from Bern respectively evaluates them so that the imaging of brain tumours, strokes and now also multiple sclerosis can profit from it.



Preferentially Earth-sized planets with lots of water

Computer simulations by astrophysicists at the University of Bern of the formation of planets orbiting in the habitable zone of low mass stars such as Proxima Centauri show that these planets are most likely to be roughly the size of the Earth and to contain large amounts of water.



Bern-made laser altimeter taking off to Mercury

University of Bern’s Laser Altimeter BELA has been successfully tested during the last weeks and the last components will be delivered to ESA on 5 October. The first laser altimeter for inter-planetary flight to be built in Europe is part of the ESA BepiColombo mission to Mercury. Starting in 2024, it will provide data about the planet’s surface.



Rosetta’s momentous end

Rosetta’s mission is over: After the last signal at 13:20, the spacecraft was crash-landed on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with the ROSINA instrument from Bern taking measurements right until the very end. At the University of Bern, hundreds of people watched with interest as they followed the end of one of the most successful missions of the European Space Agency (ESA) live.



The first genomic history of Australia’s peopling

Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation outside Africa. But who exactly were the first people to settle there? Such a question has obvious political implications and has been hotly debated for decades. The first comprehensive genomic study of Aboriginal Australians reveals that they are indeed the direct descendants of Australia’s earliest settlers and diverged from their Papuan neighbours about 37’000 years ago (y.a.). The study also uncovers several other major findings on early human populations. The research is published today in Nature and is the result of a close collaboration between international research teams and representatives of Aboriginal Australian communities. It includes six researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics – among whom, lead author Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas and group leader Laurent Excoffier, both from the University of Bern.



Secrets of honey-making by bees unveiled

From never seen before X-ray images of honey bee combs, a research team from Agroscope and the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern (both Switzerland) could study how honey is produced. The team used computer tomography to measure sugar concentration in the wax cells, without disturbing the sensitive mechanisms of the colony. They found that bees use several techniques to ripen honey.



Nonwork orientations are related to higher career and life satisfaction

When planning a career, many people take nonwork orientations into account, such as family, personal interests and civic engagement. Psychologists from the University of Bern have found out that people who strongly consider the role of the family in career planning report more satisfaction with their career and their lives in general. Surprisingly, nonwork orientations also showed no negative effects on earnings.



Genetic code: Stop does not always mean stop

The genetic code is believed to be strongly conserved through evolution – from the earliest bacteria until today. But researchers from the Institute of Cell Biology of the University of Bern have now found two ciliate species where nature probably can be seen experimenting with the meaning of a codon, the building blocks of genetic communication.



Greater biodiversity in grasslands leads to higher levels of ecosystem services

The more it swarms, crawls and flies the better for humans, who benefit from the varied services provided for free by nature. This is the finding of a study by more than 60 researchers from a number of universities, including the Institute of Plant Sciences at the University of Bern and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, in Germany. A diverse ecosystem populated by many species from all levels of the food chain provides higher levels of ecosystem services, the team reports today in “Nature”. Even rather unpopular insects and invisible soil-dwelling organisms are important in maintaining a wide range of ecosystem services. The results underline the necessity of maintaining species-rich ecosystems for the good of humanity.



Synthetic Biology: Engineering a Chemical Switch into a Light-driven Proton Pump

Synthetic biology is an emerging and rapidly evolving engineering discipline. Within the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering, Bernese scientists have engineered a chemically switchable version of the light-driven proton pump proteorhodopsin – an essential tool for efficiently powering molecular factories and synthetic cells.



Two neonicotinoid insecticides may have inadvertent contraceptive effects on male honey bees

Male honey bees, called drones, can be affected by two neonicotinoid insecticides by reducing male honey bee lifespan and number of living sperm. Both insecticides are currently partially banned in Europe. Researchers from Bern, Switzerland, together with partners from Thailand and Germany, call for more thorough environmental risk assessments of these neonicotinoids.



Atmospheric chemistry on paper

Normally computers speed up calculations. But with his new pen-and-paper formula Kevin Heng of the University of Bern gets his results thousands of times faster than using conventional computer codes. The astrophysicist calculates the abundances of molecules (known as atmospheric chemistry) in exoplanetary atmospheres. Ultimately, deciphering the abundances of molecules allows us to interpret if features in a spectrum are due to physics, geology or biology.



Travelers import superbugs

Many tourists returning from India were found colonized with multidrug-resistant «superbugs». Microbiologists at the Institute for Infectious Diseases of the University of Bern also isolated a strain possessing a gene which can make these life-threatening bacteria resistant to the last active antibiotic option.



A toxic quick-change artist

Molecular biologists at the University of Bern have discovered a mechanism which enables a deadly toxin to penetrate and destroy human cells. Their findings can serve a rational framework for the design and development of new anti-toxin drugs.



Jasmonate-deficient tobacco plants attract herbivorous mammals

Tobacco plants which lack the hormones responsible for nicotine production are feasted on by rabbits and other mammals.



CaSSIS sends first image of Mars

The Mars Camera CaSSIS on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter captured its first images of the Red Planet this week. The pictures are a part of the mission’s preparations for arriving at its destination in October.



Weak bees make strong colonies

Colonies of the Eastern honey bee, the original host of parasitic Varroa destructor mites, survive infestations that are fatal to Western honey bees. A research team from Agroscope and the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern (both Switzerland), together with partners from Thailand and China discovered that a large proportion of infested Eastern honey bee larvae die, prompting their elimination from the colony, together with that of their parasites. Counter-intuitively, weak individuals contribute to society survival by preventing the parasite to spread. This is an example of how altruistic suicide can be favoured by nature.



Consensus in the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

In colorectal cancer, the presence of invasive tumor cells at the advancing edge of the tumor can provide valuable information on prognosis. Initiated by the Colorectal Cancer Research Group at the Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, a consensus conference was held to determine how this phenomenon should best be put into practice. Together with colleagues from eleven countries, an internationally standardized scoring method was established.



Rosetta’s comet contains ingredients for life

Ingredients crucial for the origin of life on Earth, including the simple amino acid glycine and phosphorus, key components of DNA and cell membranes, have been discovered at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.



When consumers sabotage brands

When consumers deliberately attack a brand with the objective of causing harm to it, this is known as «consumer brand sabotage». Marketing researchers at the University of Bern have examined this phenomenon in more detail, identified backgrounds and motives of brand sabotage and present initial countermeasures.



Newly created Swiss Polar Institute to launch a major Antarctic expedition

The Swiss Polar Institute with articipation of the University of Bern will study the Earth’s poles and extreme environments. Its first project is ambitious: an international scientific expedition, comprising 55 researchers from 30 countries working on 22 research projects, will circumnavigate Antarctica.



Planet 9 takes shape

Astrophysicists at the University of Bern have modelled the evolution of the putative planet in the outer solar system. They estimate that the object has a present-day radius equal to 3.7 Earth radii and a temperature of minus 226 degrees Celsius.



3000 drawings for CHEOPS space mission on the Web

Children in Switzerland and all over Europe made thousands of imaginative drawings of stars, planets, rockets, satellites, and aliens. 3000 entries to the drawing campaign organised by the University of Bern will fly into space with CHEOPS, a space telescope being built in collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Switzerland. You can now have a look at the drawings on an interactive map of Europe on the Web.



Predators drive social complexity

Variation in social organization and behavior of of highly social animals like cichlids is primarily explained by predation risk and related ecological factors. This stresses the significance of predation for social evolution.



Paracetamol is not more effective than placebo against osteoarthritis pain

Paracetamol did not show any clinically relevant efficacy in the most comprehensive analysis of pain relievers among patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis to date. In contrast, the medicine diclofenac is more effective than many newer pain relievers on the market. This is the result of a large-scale meta-analysis by Bernese researchers.



Swiss camera to launch to Mars

A camera designed and built at the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH) of the University of Bern was launched with the ExoMars space on 14 March and started its journey to Mars. The instrument will obtain stereo images of the surface in colour at a resolution of better than 5 m.



New virus transmission route discovered in pigs

Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus causes serious inflammation of the brain in people and fertility problems in pigs. Mosquitoes were previously the only known transmission route. However, the virus can also be spread from pig to pig by direct contact, and this could enable it to circulate in pigs during the mosquito-free winter season.



Tracking prejudices in the brain

We do not always say what we think: we like to hide certain prejudices, sometimes even from ourselves. But unconscious prejudices become visible with tests, because we need a longer time if we must associate unpleasant things with positive terms. Researchers in Bern now show that additional processes in the brain are not responsible for this, but some of them simply take longer.



Aggressive cichlids: attack is the best form of defence

Researchers from Bern, England and Australia have observed the "Princess of Lake Tanganyika" cichlid in territorial conflicts and made an astonishing discovery; the conflicts distract the animals from their surrounding environments to such an extent that they notice lurking dangers only very late – yet the fish have a strategy which saves their lives: instead of trying to escape from predators, they defend themselves.



Two New Vice-Rectors Elected

The Executive Council of the Canton of Bern has elected two new Vice-Rectors to serve in the Executive Board of the University of Bern. Daniel Candinas is taking over the Vice-Rectorate Research from Christian Leumann, who for his part will become the University of Bern Rector in early August. Achim Conzelmann, who is taking over the Vice-Rectorate De-velopment, was elected as the second new Vice-Rector.



Timely action needed to meet climate targets

The Paris Agreement of the UN climate change conference is deemed a historic step for climate protection, but its success depends on rapid implementations. The consequences of delaying global CO2 emission reductions for the climate and the world oceans are assessed in a new study by climate physicists from the University of Bern.



Molecular Mechanism responsible for a neurodegenerative disease discovered

Scientists from Bern have discovered a mechanism which is responsible for the degeneration of Purkinje cells in the cerebellum in a neurodegenerative disease called Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1. The results of their study open up new avenues for the future treatment of cerebellum associated degenerative disorders.



The dandelion uses latex to protect its roots against insect feeding

Dandelions are troublesome weeds that are detested by most gardeners. Yet dandelions also have many insect enemies in nature. However, they are able to protect themselves with their latex, a milky, bitter-tasting sap. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, and the University of Bern, Switzerland, have now demonstrated that a single compound in the latex protects dandelion roots against voracious cockchafer larvae. Thus, latex plays a crucial role in dandelion defense against root feeders.