Since 2018 networking projects from different subject areas are being supported by the University of Bern with three Interfaculty Research Cooperations IRC.
Each of these networking projects involves 9 to 13 research groups from at least two different faculties. They are each led by two people from different faculties.
The three IRCs launched in 2018 were approved by the Executive Board of the University of Bern in a competitive process. They are based on the five strategic priority topics of the University of Bern (Sustainability, Health and Medicine, Matter and Universe, Intercultural Knowledge, Politics and Administration).
A maximum funding of 1.5 million Swiss francs per year per IRC is provided. After an interim evaluation after two years, the Executive Board decided in 2020 to continue all three IRCs for two more years until the end of the four-year limited duration.
The ongoing projects deal with the health of environment, animals and humans, with religious conflicts and with sleep.
«One Health: Cascading and Microbiome-Dependent Effects on Multitrophic Health»
The IRC One Health investigates how environmental chemicals affect the health of soils, plants animals and humans. In an integrated effort, 9 research groups from the Faculties of Science, Veterinary Medicine and Medicine quantify the impact of pesticides, heavy metals and plant toxins on microbial communities at the interfaces between soils, plants, animals and humans. Through an interdisciplinary approach, the collaboration aims at a better understanding of the impact of environmental change on the health of food chains.
The IRC One Health combines the priority topics "Sustainability" and "Health and Medicine" at the University of Bern by fostering interdisciplinary research on a relevant topic and current frontier in Life Sciences.
Interim report after two years:
Within a short period of time, the IRC "One Health" has established a new, unique interdisciplinary research network to investigate the impact of various environmental chemicals on the health of food chains and their microbial communities. Various research successes have already been recorded. "For example, we were recently able to show for the first time in detail how agricultural practice affects pesticide pollution in seabed ecosystems in the long term," says Matthias Erb, Director of the IRC "One Health". In addition, the IRC was also very active in teaching (e.g. with the Summer School "Hidden Players in the Food Chain"), promoting young scientists and raising third-party funds.
"In the long term, our efforts should, for example, contribute to pesticide-free, sustainable agriculture. The first two years have shown the great potential and enormous benefits of this interfaculty network. We want to build on this," says Matthias Erb.
The interdisciplinary "One Health" approach is also gaining ground internationally. Every year on November 3, for example, researchers around the world mark the "One Health Day" to draw attention to the great importance of interdisciplinary research to maintain and promote the health of the environment, humans and animals - this year this topic is more relevant than ever.
Managed by: Prof. Dr. Matthias Erb
Co-managed by: Prof. Dr. Andrew Macpherson
9 research groups with expertise in microbiology, environmental sciences, plant and animal health, human medicine and bioinformatics
«Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies»
Despite the fact that conflicts with religious dimensions shape the past and the present, the significance of religion in social and political conflicts so far has not been conclusively identified or explained. The research cooperation strives for a context-sensitive understanding of the ambivalent role of religions in conflicts to be able to develop suitable coping strategies. The main objective of the project is to create analytical models which examine the different economic, social, psychological, cultural and political factors that contribute to conflicts, describing their relation to religious beliefs, religious rhetoric, religious motivations and actors. For this purpose, the 12 groups are researching past and current religious conflicts and coping strategies.
The content and the methodology of this IFK should make a significant contribution to two strategic areas of focus of the University of Bern: intercultural knowledge and sustainability.
Interim report after two years:
Since the start of the project, the IRC "Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies" has developed a model for the analysis of conflicts with religious dimensions, involving all disciplines involved. "The model can be applied in science as well as in politics, in religious communities, in international peace work. Media professionals can also use the model to achieve a differentiated presentation of conflicts with religious dimensions in their reporting," explains IRC Director Katharina Heyden.
Since 2018, the members of the IRC have published or submitted for publication a total of 83 scientific papers and organized numerous scientific conferences and workshops. In addition, an interactive educational video on the IRC's topic was also published this year. There are also plans for the future in research and teaching: "2021 will see, among other things, a doctoral school, a conference in cooperation with the platform versoehnt.ch, and of course our own annual conference under the title Gender Religion Conflicts," says Heyden.
Managed by: Prof. Dr. Katharina Heyden
Co-managed by: Prof. Dr. Martino Mona
12 interdisciplinary research groups from theology, law, science of religion, Islamic studies, Jewish studies, political science, history, sociology, psychology, media and communication studies, literature and philosophy
«Decoding Sleep: From Neurons to Health & Mind»
Sleep has remained almost unchanged in the course of evolution, which indicates its fundamental importance for survival. The research cooperation wishes to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms of sleep, consciousness and cognition with the three areas of "Brain – Mind – Body". Finally, sleep-wake disorders could be the first signs of illnesses such as Parkinson’s and dementia or depression. For this purpose, molecular and neurophysiological processes of sleep and sleep disorders and their link to brain damage, pain and infections is examined. In addition to this, with the aid of sleep, new insights should be gained into cognitive and neuroplastic processes. In this way, the importance of sleep for mental health, brain functions and physical performance in healthy and sick conditions are examined in animals and humans. New model calculations of sleep phases should be developed from the "big data" of individual project groups - with the aim of identifying new biomarkers for sleep and sleep disorders.
For this, the IRC can rely on the university center of excellence "Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory (CCLM)", the nationally operating "Bern Network for Epilepsy, Sleep and Consciousness (BENESCO)", internationally established networks and highly specialized infrastructures such as the "Sleep-Wake Epilepsy Center Bern", the "Center for Experimental Neurology" or the "Swiss Institute for Translational and Entrepreneurial Medicine (sitem-insel AG)". Thanks to its focus on personalized medicine and biomedical technology, it contributes to the reinforcement of Bern as a medical center.
Interim report after two years:
The IRC "Decoding Sleep" has used the last two years to reorient sleep research on a local level, involving various disciplines, and to link it internationally. Among the numerous research successes from the Bernese consortium, recent reports which highlighted that people can learn new vocabulary of a foreign language during deep sleep and that in animal models, recovery after a stroke can be promoted by influencing sleep, gained a lot of media attention. In addition, the IRC is strongly committed to supporting researchers` at all academic career stages. "In the future, we would like to give the IRC an even stronger international orientation and establish the University of Bern among the world's leading centers of interdisciplinary sleep research," says Claudio Bassetti, head of the IRC "Decoding Sleep".
Sleep-wake disturbances can be the first signs of diseases - such as Parkinson's, dementia or depression. "We contribute to a deeper understanding of what constitutes healthy sleep and how physical, psychological and mental well-being, performance and quality of life can be improved as a result. Not only patients but also the general public should be able to benefit from the findings of our research," says Bassetti.
Managed by: Prof. Dr. med. Claudio Bassetti
Co-managed by: Prof. Dr. Fred Mast
13 research groups from neurology, psychology, physiology, psychiatry and psychotherapy, pneumology, infectiology and informatics