STA, 13 January 2020 - A senior Chemistry Institute researcher has received a EUR 150,000 follow-up grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to develop applications for a novel gene-editing method that had been discovered as part of an earlier ERC grant.
Roman Jerala, the head of the Chemistry Institute's synthetic biology department, had received the prestigious EUR 2.5 million ERC advanced grant for protein research in 2018 and his team have already discovered a novel way to use the popular CRISPR gene editing technique.
The new proof of concept grant that he received now is meant to facilitate the transfer of these scientific findings into practice, for forging partnerships, and for the initial phase of commercial deployment.
Last year the Chemistry Institute submitted a patent application for the improved CRISPR method, now the researchers plan to develop technologies for biotechnical use in plants, microorganisms and mammal cells.
The new project is called CCEdit and will last 12-18 months in cooperation with researchers from Oxford University and Cambridge University, links that are expected to improve the commercial potential of the technique.
Cell and gene therapy is one of the fastest-growing areas of medicine and provides new avenues for treatment of the most difficult diseases, including cancer.
Klemen Slakonja, the most successful Slovenian YouTuber, just came out with another potential hit. After a collection of music videos in which he impersonates famous people singing, his latest gem comes in a form of a tourist ad for Slovenia, presented by the American First Lady, Melania Trump.
Slakonja, who is an actor by profession, looks stunning while introducing Slovenia’s main tourist attractions, Melania’s home town of Sevnica included.
Last month Klemen Slakonja posted his new music video featuring Luka Dončić and Drake, which has since gathered close to a million views. His most popular YouTube video so far, with 28 million views, remains Putin Putout, posted in February 2016.
STA, 9 January 2020 - Jadran Lenarčič, the director of the Jožef Stefan Institute, the country's top research institution, was declared the Person of the Year 2019 by the newspaper publisher Delo as the award ceremony was held in Cankarjev Dom on Thursday evening.
Lenarčič is the long-serving head of Slovenia's largest and most important scientific institution, who has been successfully managing 500 doctors of science "who create the future of our country", the award jury said.
As a scientist, he is one of the pioneers in robot kinematics, biorobotics and humanoid robots, and today is among the most appreciated authors and lecturers in this scientific field, it added.
In the past year, Lenarčič held lectures at the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna and, as a member of a task force of the European Commission, participated in the drafting of a document on promising technologies.
Lenarčič, who was picked among ten nominees by Delo readers and editors, was also decorated with the insignia of chevalier in the French National Order of Merit in 2019.
He knows "how to listen to inspiration, which is the most important guide for him, because he says that ratio keeps a person in the same place, while it is only possible to take a step into the unknown with imagination."
Addressing the ceremony, which was attended by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, the award winner said he was glad that the title had been given to a scientist, and that he was a scientist at heart.
Lenarčič said that the Jožef Stefan Institute was a symbol of Slovenian science, research, technological progress, innovation and creativity and bore the name of "one of the greatest physicists of in history of mankind".
"Slovenia is small ... and we will be successful only if we are open, if we exchange and compete with people outside our borders," he said, adding that "science is like a parachute - it works if it is open."
He concluded by saying what he had told the prime minister as he visited the institute two months ago - "investing in science is not cheap, but it is not the most expensive thing in the world, not investing is science is."
Šarec said prior to the announcement that being the person of the year was an honour and responsibility. "This person must be aware that people follow them and admire them," he added.
Lenarčič succeeds Uroš Ahčan and Vojko Didanovič, the first surgeons to complete a full nose reconstruction from own tissue, who were declared the Person of the Year by Delo last year.
You can learn more about the Jožef Stefan Institute here.
STA, 8 January 2020 - The Female Engineer of the Year title for 2019 went to Aida Kamišalić Latifić, a researcher and professor at the Maribor Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics, as the award ceremony was held on Wednesday in the Cankarjev Dom arts centre. Kamišalić Latifić came to Slovenia as a Bosnian war refugee in 1992.
The judging panel considers the winner's life story "an inspiration for the young, encouraging them to follow their engineering dreams - even if the circumstances in which they dream are challenging".
Kamišalić Latifić's life motto is "they can take everything away from you, except knowledge". She already excelled as a student, receiving the faculty's commendation for her research work. In 2014, she acquired a doctoral degree in computer science and informatics.
Tisti, ki so jim blizu matematika, fizika, kemija, naj si upajo sanjati o takšnih poklicih, otrokom, ki se odločajo o svojem poklicu, sporoča inženirka leta 2019 dr. Aida Kamišalić Latifić.✨➡️https://t.co/DOysIUGQVN— Časoris (@CasorisUrednik) January 9, 2020
Her research has been recently focused on blockchain technology. She is an inventor and advocate for female-friendly working spaces at the Institute of Informatics, being a supporter of the Ladies in Informatics initiative.
Apart from busting gender myths in an occupation dominated by men, she also does that on the football field, playing for an all-women team.
Kamišalić Latifić was chosen among ten nominees who are all promoting engineering, science and innovation.
The title was awarded for the second time - last year it went to Dora Domanjko, an electrotechnology expert. The competition is organised by IRT3000, a magazine focusing on innovation, development and technology, Mediade, a company providing assistance with product development, and partners.
The event aims to promote women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In Europe, there is a gender imbalance in these areas, with only some 25% of such studies being undertaken by women.
In Slovenia, the situation looks somewhat more promising, with female STEM students accounting for about a third of all such students.
One of the main reasons why young women are not choosing STEM careers is also a lack of role models and inadequate explanation of the role of engineers in societal development, said the organisers.
Labour Ministry Ksenija Klampfer pointed out in her address at the ceremony that gender stereotypes were still present in society and urged putting an end to them.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Jernej Pikalo said that as long as gender discrimination and inequalities were not stopped, society needed positive discrimination and role models.
STA, 6 January 2020 - US First Lady Melania Trump remains the most influential Slovenian, according to a list compiled by the right-leaning magazine Reporter, ahead of PM Marjan Šarec and UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin.
The Reporter Top 100 list takes into account formal influence associated with the person's post or job, as well as their informal influence.
Reporter says that there is no doubt about Melania Trump being by far the most influential Slovenia, and that she will stay so as long as she remains in the White House.
All our stories on Melania Trump are here
PM Marjan Šarec this year replaced Aleksander Čeferin in second spot, with Reporter commenting that along with the powers associated with the executive post, Šarec has also gained informal influence.
Čeferin, who the magazine says as EUFA boss has access to both the Pope and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is followed by Slovenian President Borut Pahor and parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan.
The most influential aides of Šarec, according to the magazine, are Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj in 6th spot, and Šarec's national security adviser Damir Črnčec in 8th place.
Janez Lenarčič, the European crisis management commissioner, ranks 7th.
Rounding off the top ten are Janez Janša, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party (SDS), and the man widely perceived as his nemesis, Milan Kučan, Slovenia's first president.
Silvester Šurla, the Reporter editor-in-chief, writes that Kučan, who slipped from 6th place a year ago, wields the biggest informal power of all people on the list, along with Gregor Golobič, the former long serving secretary general of Liberal Democracy (LDS), the party that ruled Slovenia for more than a decade until 2004. Golobič ranks 11th on the list.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, "the main uncle working in the open and behind the scenes", as Šurla writes, is Janez Janša, his formal and informal power being greater than Kučan's.
"Janša has managed to politically subjugate virtually all of the right bloc, from [Marjan] Podobnik's SLS [People's Party] and [Matej] Tonin's NSi [New Slovenia] to a number of civil society organisations in the right ideological pole.
"As a former prime minister he still has a network of loyal people at state institutions and enterprises with millions of euro flowing in regularly from Orban's Hungary allowing him to manage his propaganda machinery, packed into (party) media," writes Šurla about Janša.
All our stories on Janez Janša are here
After Melania, the second highest ranked woman on the list is former PM Alenka Bratušek in 12th spot.
She is followed in 13th by Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the National Party (SNS), whose influence increased now that his party secures majority to the Šarec minority government.
The politician whose influence declined the most is Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, while the NBA superstar Luka Dončić climbed 50 spots to rank 50th in the biggest leap on the list since last year.
The list includes 22 new names, including Andrej Šiško, the leader of the paramilitary Štajeska guard, in 100th spot.
STA, 6 January 2020 - Physician and humanitarian worker Ninna Kozorog, who is heading an association which has campaigned for assistance to retirees living in poverty, is the recipient of the Slovenian Woman of the Year 2019 award by the women's magazine Jana/Zarja.
Kozorog heads Humanitarček, an association for the promotion of humanitarian activity, whose activities include a project called Vida, which aims at highlighting the difficulties faced by the elderly people in remote areas.
"The Humanitarček association helps the homeless and elderly and all who are being lost in the riddles of life they are not able to solve on their own," the magazine said as the award was conferred for the 31st time on Sunday.
According to Jana/Zarja, Kozorog always makes sure that people keep their dignity, and what is very important, she and her colleagues do not assist with money, they jump in to help with exactly what people need.
"This may be advice when people fill in forms, warm socks or wood for an old stove," the magazine's website adds.
You can follow the group on Facebook here
The Slovenian painter Sašo Vrabič has been named as one of the seven winners of the Year of Rembrandt contest for his painting Girl at the Exit – shown at the top of this story and inspired by Anton Ažbe’s Zamorka (1895), on display at Slovenia’s National Gallery.
Top of The Crisis 2, oil on canvas, 4.6 x 6.5 feet
The artist at work
Vrabič is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, with a long list of exhibitions and other commendations, but since his works are among that blessed set that require no artist statement to appreciate we’ll just share some of them here.
Rest (2019), oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm
There Are Too Many Words (2017), acrylic and oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm
Ljubljana's Trees, A Boy With An Apple, Put in a Cloud, ASAP! (2016) (phase 1), acrylic on canvas, 100 cm x 150 cm
If you’d like to see more of his work then you can visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam next year, follow him on Facebook or visit his website, and if you’d like to buy some then check out his page on SLOART (with our story on this exciting and ambitious project to bring some trust and transparency to the Slovene art market here).
STA, 9 December 2019 – The British business newspaper the Financial Times has ranked the University of Ljubljana's School of Economics and Business among the 95 best business schools in Europe for the second consecutive time [at 89]. The faculty sees this achievement as a recognition of its quality in the international arena.
The Financial Times has thus put Slovenia on the map of top-quality business education, said the Ljubljana-based faculty when it first made the cut.
The ranking requires having at least one of the top international accreditations - the AACSB and EQUIS-accredited Ljubljana school has both as well as the AMBA accreditation, while its International Master in Business programme has been ranked as one of the best business programmes.
The faculty pointed out that its students had at their disposal exchange programmes at five foreign business schools which had also made the grade, including French KEDGE, Norwegian BI, French Audencia, Portuguese ISCTE and French ESSCA.
The Ljubljana School of Economics and Business also hosts a PhD summer school programme along with the Swiss St. Gallen University business school, which traditionally ranks among top four schools according to the Financial Times. It also takes part in the EUTOPIA partnership of six European universities.
STA, 6 December 2019 - Following years of efforts by researchers, a project was launched to design the first monitoring of the most important wild pollinators - wild bees - in Slovenia. Their role has long been neglected even if they are more effective pollinators than honeybees. Slovenian scientists would like to better understand them, and to do that they will apply machine learning methods.
Pollinators are key to both agriculture and the preservation of natural ecosystems. Although honeybees used to be considered the most important pollinators, it has become clear that it is crucial to have a variety of pollinators; wild pollinators such as bumblebees are for instance more efficient pollinators than honeybees.
Due to their short tongue, honeybees tend to avoid blossoms with a longer neck, which are pollinated by bumblebees. Bumblebees are particularly important for plants which require blossom shaking to be pollinated, for instance key crops such as tomatoes and blueberries, and another 16,000 plants. They are also indispensable for plants with very deep blossoms, which honeybees cannot pollinate with their short tongue, said Danilo Bevk from the National Institute of Biology.
Bumblebees are also special in that they fly around in bad weather, which is quite often the case when fruit trees are blossoming in the spring. "This is one of the reasons why we could say that they are the most important wild pollinators, although others, such as solitary bees, flower flies or butterflies are also important," said Bevk.
While beekeeping is a very popular pastime in Slovenia, bumblebee-keeping is much less widespread, with only slightly more than 180 people keeping bumblebees in their gardens. One of them is Janez Grad, a doctor of mathematics and retired professor emeritus of computer science of the Ljubljana Faculty of Economics, who has had bumblebees in his garden behind his home for 35 years.
Every year about seven species of bumblebees find their home in his garden. "Queen bumblebees fly back to their hives after hibernation, just like swallows come back to their nest," said Grad.
Bumblebee hives in Grad's garden are empty in the autumn, as the animals go into hibernation, which usually lasts seven months. Only bumblebee queens from the past season survive winter, having dug into soil in the woods, away from people, animals and light, hibernating until early spring when new bumblebee families, worker bees, male bees and new bumblebee queens emerge.
The development of a bumblebee family depends on weather. If spring arrives early, new bumblebee families can appear at the end of February. But an early and warm spring followed by a cold spell disaster. In this case bumblebee queens leave their nest, leaving behind their brood. Once they return after the cold spell is over, it is often too late. This year May was cold and rainy, which Grad, one of the greatest experts on bumblebees in Slovenia, said would be felt next year.
Climate change is one of the most serious threats to bumblebees and will affect the majority of bumblebees in Europe. Researchers expect that as a result of anticipated climate changes, almost half of all bumblebee species could lose 50-80% of their territory by 2100, said Bevk.
"However, for some species changes will be an opportunity. A Mediterranean bumblebee spread here a decade ago probably due to climate change. Climate change will of course have a negative impact on pollination, so it is even more important to preserve a high degree of diversity of pollinators."
Various diseases, and some birds which eat bumblebee queens in spring, are another threat to bumblebees. However, Grad said that people are enemy No. 1 of bumblebees, destroying their habitat with intensive agriculture, frequent and early grass cutting, and with the use of pesticides.
Sixty-eight species of bumblebees have been discovered in Europe, of which a quarter are at risk of extinction. Half the populations are in decline, Bevk explained. There are 35 species in Slovenia, and while some of them have not been noticed for quite a while, their extinction cannot be proved because there has been no wild bee monitoring in Slovenia yet.
In November, after five years of efforts by researchers, a project was launched to design the monitoring of wild bees - solitary bees and bumblebees - in Slovenia.
"The project aims to develop a methodology of wild bee monitoring, launch test monitoring at selected locations, assess the situation of wild bees and draft guidelines for sustainable monitoring of wild pollinators in Slovenia," explained Bevk.
The National Institute of Biology, which is in charge of the project, believes this will enable them to gather hard data about the movement of bumblebee and solitary bee populations in our country, which is of key importance in designing adequate measures to protect and monitor the efficiency of these important pollinators. Regular monitoring could make Slovenia a leader in this field in Europe, the institute said.
An important contribution to better understand bumblebees has been made over the past few years by researchers from the Jožef Stefan Institute's department for intelligent systems, which has been researching buzz sound and temperature in close collaboration with Professor Grad.
Grad contacted the Jožef Stefan Institute a few years ago asking for help in analysing the bumblebee buzz which he had recorded in previous seasons, explained researcher Anton Gradišek. With the help of Grad's recordings, the institute developed an app which draws on machine learning and which, using advanced computer methods, recognises which bumblebee species makes which buzz sound, and whether the sound is made by a queen or worker bee.
Researchers at the institute are not the first to study bumblebees, but their research is different in that it is carried out in nature, in Grad's garden rather than in a controlled lab environment. Gradišek said the garden proved to be an excellent natural laboratory, enabling them to study not just a few of the most interesting species but a number of different ones.
The institute is researching different aspects of bumblebees, including sound and temperature. Sound research has resulted in a new simple method to record bumblebee flight to establish when bumblebees are more active, which depends on the species.
As part of the research into temperature, small temperature sensors and thermometers are put in hives to monitor how well bumblebees can keep temperature, which is important for the development of larvae. If the temperatures is adequate, the larvae develop properly, whereas an environment too hot or too cold affect the development of the colony.
"The research has shown that we can recognise different species of bumblebees quite well, which is important for further studies of biodiversity. The temperature research is interesting from the aspect of climate crisis and its impact on the development of bumblebees," said Gradišek.
The researchers would also like to study communication in the nest, for instance how bumblebees let others know the location of the food in the nest, which bees do with waggle dance. They would also like to know how changes in temperatures in the nest and its surroundings affect their activity.
If you’re in the euro zone and have some coins then there’s a chance you’ve got some icons of Slovenia in your pocket. This is because the EU allows countries to choose their own designs for the reverse sides of coins, and back in 2004 and 2005 Slovenia chose eight, one for each denomination. (Although if this comes up on quiz night, note that the country didn’t start using the currency until 1 January 2007.)
Each design represents something from Slovenian culture, which we’ll present below should you decide to take an interest in numismatics and want to collect the whole set, or find yourself left to your own devices, without a phone, friend or book, and only a pocketful of change for entertainment.
France Prešeren, the 19th century poet, appears on the two euro coin, as befits the man whose words would go on to become the Slovenian national anthem. Since there’s no attested authentic portrait of the man, despite the images of him you’ll often see, and the statue that stands in his namesake square in Ljubljana, his face is only shown in silhouette. However, the first line of the poem that’s used in the Slovenian anthem is shown in his handwriting: Žive naj vsi narodi (May all nations live).
Primož Trubar (1508 – 1586) is the other literary figure shown on Slovenian coinage, the author of the first two books printed in the Slovene language, Catechismus and Abecedarium, a religious work and one to help people learn the alphabet, respectively. Along with the man’s portrait the coin bears the words Stati inu Obstati (To exist and persevere).
Triglav is the tallest mountain in Slovenia, and “all true Slovenes” are supposed to climb it at least once in their lives. The triple peak, which is easier to see in stylized representations that real life, was used as a symbol by those fighting against occupation in World War 2 and can be seen on the Slovenian flag. Also shown on the coin, above the peak, is the constellation of Cancer, the sign of zodiac under which the nation finally achieved independence, on 23 December 1990. The inscription reads Oj Triglav moj dom (Oh Triglav, My Home).
While Austria makes a claim to Lipizzaner horses, because they served the imperial court under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were (and are) bred and trained in Lipica. The 20-cent coin shows two of them at play. The inscription says Lipicanec, or Lipizzaner.
Jože Plečnik is the architect mostly closely associated with Ljubljana, responsible for the Triple Bridge, Križanke, the Central Market, the Arcades, the National University Library and more (although not Dragon Bridge). The 10-cent coin shows one of his many unrealised and perhaps overambitious works – a structure formally known as the Slovene Acropolis or Cathedral of Freedom (Slovenska akropola / Katedrala svobode), with that latter name appearing along with the image. You can see more of Plečnik’s unrealised works for the city here.
The five-cent coin shows a man sowing seeds in a field, which – according to the Bank of Slovenia – represents the moment when a farmer is closest to God. The design is based on a famous painting called The Sower (Sejalec) by the Slovene impressionist Ivan Grohar, with can be found in the National Gallery.
This unassuming looking stump is in fact “the Prince’s Stone” (knežji kamen), the reversed base of an ancient Ionic column, thought to be from the Roman city of Claudium Virunum (today’s Zollfeld, Austria), which was used in the ceremony for the coronation of the Dukes of Carinthia.
The stork shown on the humble one-cent coin is a vestige of Slovenia’s pre-euro currency, the tolar, which lasted from 8 October 1991 to 1 January 2007. This motif originally appeared on the 20 tolar coin.
Related: A brief history of money in Slovenia
STA, 3 December 2019 - Three Slovenian projects developing research infrastructure for international competitiveness of Slovenia have won a total of EUR 8.4 million in subsidies from EU funds. The projects are related to the priority areas of the research infrastructure development of the national smart specialisation strategy.
LifeWatch, a EUR 3.3 million project intended for the purchase of equipment which will enable international research projects for monitoring and projecting the effects of global changes on biodiversity to be continued, will get EUR 2.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund.
The research infrastructure will enable the collection, processing and storage of data on biodiversity, the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy said in a press release on Tuesday.
A bank of tissue samples, an analytical centre and a molecular laboratory with software for analysis of genetic diversity and genomics and biotechnology instruments will also be established as part of the project.
Eatris, a EUR 2.4 million project aimed at modernising research infrastructure serving for early phases of development of pharmaceuticals and development of the latest diagnostic methods and therapeutic approaches, will get EUR 1.6 million in EU funds.
The projects includes genome and metabolome technologies which are, due to their application-oriented nature, also called translational research. This will improve Slovenia's competitiveness as part of the European Research Area and European research infrastructures.
Also receiving EUR 4.2 million from the European Regional Development Fund is Elixir, a EUR 5.3 million project intended for boosting the national research capacity in life sciences. It will provide infrastructure for a more efficient transfer of new knowledge to healthcare and industries related to biological processes.
The infrastructure enables effective integration of consortium partners with related partners in other national infrastructures in natural sciences, life sciences and advanced computer technologies, the government office said.