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Research by University of Malta Academic Features in Leading Biomedical Journal

Dr Neville Vassallo, Senior Resident Academic at the University of Malta’s Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, has been honoured by the nomination of one of his publications to be featured in “Editors’ Choice” of the international journal FEBS Letters. FEBS Letters is published by Elsevier on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies and is one of the world’s leading journals in the fields of molecular biosciences. 

The paper was hand-picked by Prof. Felix Wieland, Managing Editor of FEBS Letters and Director of the Heidelberg Biochemistry-Centre.

Dr Vassallo is senior lead author of the paper, entitled “Inhibition and disaggregation of alpha-synuclein oligomers by natural polyphenolic compounds” (Caruana et al., FEBS Letters, Volume 585, Issue 8 2011). The research was carried out together with Dr Mario Caruana, who at the time was a doctoral student, and in collaboration with the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. 

Essentially, an innovative, robust molecular screen was developed to identify aromatic compounds found in the Mediterranean diet that inhibit and/or destabilise the clumping of a protein called alpha-synuclein. Clumping, or aggregation, of alpha-synuclein in the brain is widely believed to underlie the neuropathological features of Parkinson’s disease. This paper thus formed the cornerstone of a treatment strategy aimed at developing new effective medicines for the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. 

Dr Vassallo’s research is supported by the University of Malta, the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and the Malta Council for Science and Technology. 

The full paper can be freely accessed here.

 

21 May 2015



The Seas They Are A Changin’

The Seas They Are A Changin’: Regular monitoring reveals biological changes in Maltese waters

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea of change. Its temperature, salinity and circulation patterns are primarily determined by the prevailing climate, which renders this sea highly susceptible to climatic fluctuations, both long and short term ones. Climate models indicate that the Mediterranean region is one of the hotspots of global climate change, and the Mediterranean Sea is already responding to these changes, as evidenced by an ongoing warming trend in both the surface and deep waters of this sea. Such environmental changes can have significant effects on Mediterranean marine biodiversity, such as enabling the entry and spread of non-indigenous species or leading to changes in the distribution and abundance of native species, but this can only be ascertained through regular biological surveys.

The Maltese Islands are ideally placed to monitor biotic changes in the central Mediterranean, particularly given their location within the Sicilian Channel, which serves as the chief passageway for species to extend their range from west to east or vice versa. Taking advantage of this fact, the Marine Ecology Research Group (MERG) at the Department of Biology of the University of Malta has been undertaking regular biological surveys to monitor changes in the status of marine species and habitats in Maltese waters. For instance, since 2008 this research group has been actively participating in the ‘Tropical Signals’ programme, which was launched by the Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM) with the aim of detecting, monitoring and understanding the effects of climate warming on Mediterranean marine biodiversity. In addition, MERG researchers also collaborate with local entities, such as the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, who are also concerned with monitoring local marine biodiversity.

Although long-term monitoring is needed to allow meaningful analysis, the regular surveys undertaken by MERG and its collaborators have already led to several notable findings. For instance, recently, two new alien seaweed species have been observed in Maltese waters. The first, the red alga Acrothamnion preissii, was observed in Cirkewwa and Dwejra in April 2014 during ‘Tropical Signals’ surveys, while the second, a variant of the green alga Caulerpa taxifolia, was initially observed at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq in June 2013 during surveys organised by MEPA’s as part of its participation in the MedPAN North Project, and was subsequently confirmed to have established populations at another two sites by the University researchers. Besides new introductions, the surveys have also revealed changes in the abundance of certain species. In particular, the alien rabbitfish Siganus luridus, which has been present in Maltese waters at least since 2002, but which was initially only sporadically sighted, now appears to have become well established with an increasing number of records in recent years. Similarly, the native alga Sargassum sp. seems to have become more abundant at certain sites, with a marked increase in frequency recorded in 2014 compared to previous years. Both these species are considered to have a warm-water affinity, that is they thrive in warmer waters, so their increasing abundance is likely linked to the warming trend of the central Mediterranean waters.

Although these findings are only preliminary they do portend further biological changes in Maltese waters, but such changes can only be detected through regular surveys, highlighting the need for ongoing monitoring of the local marine environment.

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The Marine Ecology Research Group welcomes reports of any unusual or new marine organisms. Please contact the Group Leader, Prof. Patrick J. Schembri, at the Department of Biology, University of Malta on +356 2340 2272 or by email.


The Seas They Are A Changin’: Regular monitoring reveals biological changes in Maltese waters

(a) Fronds of Caulerpa taxifolia var disticophylla, first recorded from Malta in June 2013 [Image by Sandro Lanfranco]; (b) photomicrograph of Acrothamnion preissii, first recorded from Malta in April 2014 [Image by Veronica Farrugia Drakard]; (c) fronds of Sargassum sp., a native alga that seems to be increasing in abundance [Image by Julian Evans]; (d) the Dusky Spinefoot, Siganus luridus, an alien fish that also appears to have become more common [Image by Reno Micallef].

 

20 May 2015



Education Research Monograph Series - Volume 1

Publication of Volume 1 in the new Education Research Monograph Series (ERMS) edited by Prof. Carmel Borg

Winning People’s HeartsWinning People’s Hearts: How social inclusion and exclusion informed the 2013 Malta General Election campaign is the title of the first monograph in the new Education Research Monograph Series (ERMS), a peer-reviewed, monograph series edited by Prof. Carmel Borg from the Faculty of Education.

Authored by Prof. Paul A Bartolo, and published by Malta University Publishing, the study is a first discursive exploration of Maltese election campaigns and provides an important contribution to the understanding of the potential significance of inclusion and exclusion processes in political campaigns. It also gives rise to a discussion on social inclusion as an essential process of democracy. 

It has been welcomed as 'a fascinating, unique and insightful monograph' by Prof. Peter Farrell from the University of Manchester. Prof. Ian Reifowitz from the State University of New York described it as 'a fascinating analysis of how the language of inclusion and unity influenced the most recent national elections in Malta. … This is the kind of engaged scholarship that connects theory and political practice.' For Prof. Ramon Flecha from the University of Barcelona, the monograph 'deepens the analysis of the processes of social and political participation in this path towards better inclusive societies, recognising participation in society as a fundamental human right and doing a concrete analysis of how this process has taken place in the particular political context of Malta.' Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino saw the monograph as 'a valuable addition to the select scholarly literature that critically examines the contemporary fortunes of Maltese political parties.'

The study is an attempt to explain the historic results of the Maltese General Election of March 2013: with a total valid vote of 91.75%, the Labour Party (PL) won a landslide majority with 54.83% of the vote, while the Nationalist Party (PN) obtained 43.34%, and the Democratic Alternative (AD) 1.8%. There has been wide acceptance among political commentators in Malta that this election was not lost and won mainly on the usually assumed grounds of economic wellbeing. This study looked for other explanations within social inclusion theories. It is based on a qualitative analysis of the discourse of the two major parties that won all the seats in the election with references to the third party (AD). The main data consisted of the media reports and political commentary around particular inclusive and exclusive incidents during the nine-week election campaign as evidenced mostly in the two main English language newspapers published in Malta.  

 

08 May 2015



Europe's World

Europe’s World is the only independent Europe-wide policy journal, produced in association with some 100-plus leading European think tanks and academic institutions. Since its launch in 2005 it has become the premier ideas platform for new thinking on political, economic and social issues, read by over 100,000 of the most influential decision makers and opinion formers across Europe.

Published every 4 months, Europe’s World’s objective is to stimulate the much needed debate over topical policy issues by encouraging citizens and stakeholders within civil society, media, academia, business and government, to engage in a series of genuine and informed political debates which reach beyond the Brussels village.

To date over 300 authors, including Heads of State, corporate chiefs, top academics, leading NGO activists or policymakers, have contributed articles, firmly cementing Europe’s World’s reputation as a platform for new thinking and ground-breaking ideas.

Europe’s World’s newly extended website, EuropesWorld.org, is designed to further promote debate on the policy challenges facing Europe. It spans articles and reactions to articles published in Europe’s World, but is not limited to the journal since it also features studies and reports from think tanks throughout Europe.

Its aim is to give readers direct access to the latest in policy thinking across the EU, and encourage visitors to submit their own reports and comment on any of the contributions featured on the website. 

 

06 November 2009



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