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Institute of Earth Systems Collaborates with International Organisations

Africa Mountain Atlas

The Institute of Earth Systems, together with the Centre for Environment and Development in the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recently held a meeting at the University of Malta in connection with the development of outreach materials for the recently-launched Africa Mountains Atlas. The Atlas is the most recent addition to UNEP’s Atlas of Our Changing Environment Publication Series. Through extensive use of mapping and satellite imagery taken over several years, the Atlas highlights the importance of Africa’s mountain ecosystems and of the services these provide, ranging from water provision to food security. The publication also highlights the extensive development challenges that many of these areas face, providing recommendations for strategic interventions and key actions. 

The Africa Mountains Atlas, which is freely available for online viewing and download, was prepared in cooperation with the African Union, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Government of Norway, the Austrian Development Cooperation, the United States Geological Survey, the University of Bern, and the Albertine Rift Conservation Society. 

Through its role as the Mediterranean Regional Office of CEDARE, the Institute of Earth Systems will, over the next months, be working with the main office of CEDARE in Cairo and with UNEP to prepare a range of materials that will be used to disseminate the key messages of the atlas to a variety of audiences in Africa and beyond. 

IES International Collaboration
Charles Sebukeera (UNEP), Dr Ahmed Abdellrehim (CEDARE), Prof. Louis F. Cassar and Dr Elisabeth Conrad (UoM)


06 July 2015

UoM Professor appointed UN Special Rapporteur


Joe Cannataci is UN's first ever Special Rapporteur on Privacy

Professor Joe Cannataci, Head of the Department of Information Policy & Governance in the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences at the University of Malta, has been appointed Special Rapporteur on Privacy by the UN's Human Rights Council during its meeting in Geneva on Friday 3 July, 2015. This is the first time that the UN has appointed a Special Rapporteur for Privacy and it is the first time that any Maltese has been appointed to the prestigious post of Special Rapporteur in the field of human rights.

Thirty candidates from across the globe were considered for the post including EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg (USA); Dutch Data Protection Authority Chairman Jacob Kohnstamm; former German Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar and former Polish Data Protection Commissioner Joana Kulesza. Candidates were judged on the basis of expertise in the field of the mandate, independence, impartiality, personal integrity and objectivity. 

The new Special Rapporteur is being appointed following world-wide concern raised about surveillance and privacy in the wake of the Snowden revelations and Prof. Cannataci is now expected to lead new global initiatives in improving the level of privacy on-line and elsewhere in an increasingly digital world. 

Prof. Cannataci has a long and distinguished career in privacy-related issues. Between 1992 and 1998 he was first Vice-Chairman and then Chairman of the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on Data Protection. He has held or currently holds research grants from the British Academy, the Council of Europe, COST, UNESCO and the European Commission. He has written books and articles on data protection law, liability for expert systems, legal aspects of medical informatics, copyright in computer software and co-authored various papers and textbook chapters on self-regulation and the Internet, the EU Constitution and data protection, on-line dispute resolution, data retention and police data. His latest book “The Individual & Privacy” was published by Ashgate in March 2015.  Since 2011, together with colleagues within the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences and especially those within the Department of Cognitive Science, Prof. Cannataci has designed and won several bids for privacy-related research projects, attracting over two million Euro in European Union’s 7th Framework and Horizon2020 programme funding to the University of Malta. 

Since the appointment was announced on Friday evening, several messages supporting Prof. Cannataci’s appointment have been published on the Internet. Twenty-three NGOs from around the world published an open letter welcoming his appointment. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg, a competing candidate for the post, expressed support for the selection. “The Human Rights Council has made a good decision. Mr. Cannataci is well qualified for this position. We look forward to working with him on this critical mandate” 

Should you wish to have further information, you may contact Prof. Cannataci on: Prof. Joe Cannataci please copy: Ms Laura Mifsud Bonnici


06 July 2015

New Mosaics Discovered in Synagogue Excavations in Galilee

Huqoq Theatre Mask
photo credit: Jim Haberman
This press release on the 2015 excavations at Huqoq (Israel) was first published on Dr Dennis Mizzi (Department of Oriental Studies, University of Malta) is an area supervisor and in charge of the publication of the stone and metal artefacts from the site.

Excavations this summer in the Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee, have revealed stunning new mosaics that decorated the floor.  

The Huqoq excavations are directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-directed by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. 

Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and work has continued each summer since then.

A mosaic discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle in 2013 and 2014 depicts three horizontal registers (strips) containing human and animal figures, including elephants. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two men, who perhaps are intended to represent Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. It was the first time a non-biblical story had been found decorating any ancient synagogue.

This summer, additional portions of this mosaic were uncovered, as well as the rest of a mosaic immediately adjacent to it, which is connected with a Hebrew dedicatory inscription that was uncovered in 2012. 

New digging has revealed that the inscription is in the centre of a large square panel with human figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it, Magness said. These include winged putti (cupids) holding roundels (circular discs) with theatre masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath encircling the inscription. Putti and masks are associated with Dionysus (Bacchus), who was the Greco-Roman god of wine and theatre performances, she said.

This summer’s excavations also brought to light columns inside the synagogue that are covered with plaster and painted ivy leaf designs. 

“The images in these mosaics — as well as their high level of artistic quality — and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other ancient synagogue,” Magness said. “These are unique discoveries.”

In 2012, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was first discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. The next summer, a second mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3).
“It is not clear if there is a thematic connection between the Samson scenes and the other mosaics in the east aisle,” Magness added.

Sponsors are UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, the University of Toronto in Canada and the University of Wyoming. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools participated in the dig. Financial support for the 2015 season was also provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council and the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, and the Loeb Classical Library Foundation.

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation, and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2016.


03 July 2015

Econetique Sponsors Engineering Projects at University of Malta

During academic year 2014-15, the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering of the University of Malta’s Faculty of Engineering has further strengthened its collaboration with Econetique Ltd, a Maltese renewable energy company. 

Ing. Emmanuel Francalanza and Ing. Paul Refalo have together supervised two final year engineering students, Ms Katya Bezzina and Mr Julian Cefai, whose projects were sponsored by Econetique. Both projects aimed at supporting Econetique in the manufacturing of an innovative vertical axis wind turbine. Ing. Ryan Xuereb, managing director of Econetique, commented that 'such collaboration provides the opportunity for industry to work closely with academia, and for the students to apply their studies to a real case scenario.'

Ms Bezzina focused on process selection and factory layout design while Mr Cefai applied sustainable manufacturing strategies to the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machining of the metal components of the turbine.  

Econetique sponsors Engineering Projects at University of Malta
left to right:
Ms Katya Bezzina, Ing. Emmanuel Francalanza, Ing. Ryan Xuereb, Mr Julian Cefai, Ing. Paul Refalo


03 July 2015

University of Malta-led study pins down the real culprit of childhood motor neuron disease

Scientists at the University of Malta and the Institut de Génétique Moléculaire de Montpellier (CNRS/Université de Montpellier) have shown that fruit flies and brewer’s yeast, which are genetically and biologically similar to humans, can reveal clues about the cause of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the most common genetic killer of infants.

SMA is a devastating neuromuscular disorder that robs children of their ability to walk, eat, or breathe. Mostly caused by an inherited flaw in the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) gene, SMA is presently without a cure. A key reason is the lack of detailed information on the workings of the SMN protein, in living organisms.

Using extensive genetic manipulations, the research team found that SMN forms an alliance with a set of diverse proteins known as Gemins. So incredibly fragile is this alliance that it can be broken if the perfect balance in protein levels is upset. The consequences are catastrophic and range from lethality to flies with muscles that are too weak to support flight. The breakthrough discovery, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, strengthens the fight against SMA.

'Our study is the first to show that the special relationship between SMN and Gemins exists in a living model system,' said the study’s lead author Dr Ruben Cauchi, a senior lecturer at the University of Malta Faculty of Medicine & Surgery. 'Furthermore, what we see in Game of Thrones is intriguingly true in cells. Upsetting the delicate balance of power leads to grave repercussions,' he added with a smile.

SMN in partnership with Gemins is thought to have a role in assembling the constituents of the gigantic machine that edits messenger RNA, the genetic mail carrier of instructions for building proteins. Whether a fault in this process is to blame for the neuromuscular problems experienced by patients is still an open question.

Cauchi’s team recently showed that a selective deficiency of Gemins within the motor system results in manifestations that are reminiscent of those uncovered when SMN levels are reduced. These findings coupled with those in the present study, indicate that a collapse of the SMN-Gemins alliance is responsible for SMA.

Right now the researchers are hunting for friends and foes of the alliance mostly because these open lines of therapeutic attack. 'Current therapies in development for SMA are based on boosting SMN levels. Broadening the therapeutic targets is essential for an effective treatment. Model organisms hold the key for the successful implementation of this strategy,' remarked Dr Rémy Bordonne, CNRS Principal Investigator and study co-author.

The study entitled 'Genetic Interactions between the Members of the SMN-Gemins Complex in Drosophila' by Rebecca M. Borg, Rémy Bordonne, Neville Vassallo & Ruben J. Cauchi was funded by the University of Malta Faculty of Medicine & Surgery Dean’s Initiative, the Malta Council for Science & Technology through the National Research & Innovation Programme 2012 (R&I-2012-066), the Embassy of France to Malta, and a Malta Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (part-financed by the EU’s European Social Fund). The paper can be obtained online.

The real culprit of childhood motor neuron disease
University of Malta-led study bolsters the fight against SMA, the leading genetic killer of newborns.


30 June 2015

Prestigious Appointment for Professor Godfrey Baldacchino

At its latest meeting held at Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, the Governance Committee of RETI - the excellence network of island universities - appointed Professor Godfrey Baldacchino as the Head of its Scientific Board. 

The current members of the Scientific Board are Dr Jim Randall (University of Prince Edward Island, Canada), Ms Linda Stewart (University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, UK), Professor Ioannis Spilanis (University of the Aegean, Greece) and Professor Baldacchino.

With 26 universities (including the University of Malta) currently as its members, RETI (Reseau d'Excellence des Territoires Insulaires) was set up following the initiative of the University of Corsica, France, in 2010. It promotes cooperation amongst small island-based universities and institutes of higher education.

A RETI symposium and school focusing on island tourism is planned to be held in Valletta in November 2016, with the University of Malta's Centre for Labour Studies and the Institute for Tourism, Travel and Culture as hosts.

Further information on RETI at

Governance Committee of RETI
RETI Governance Committee meeting in progress; Prof. Baldacchino is second from left.


30 June 2015

Malta Neuroscience Network Delegation at the 5th MNS Conference

Malta Neuroscience Network delegation at the 5th Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Conference 

A delegation from Malta Neuroscience recently joined leading neuroscientists from Mediterranean countries, Northern Europe and Canada for the 5th Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Conference, in Pula, Cagliari Italy. This biennial conference draws together a broad collection of voices from leaders across the different neuroscience disciplines, including biology, medicine, genetics and psychology, who work together to explore the best approaches to help build and develop a Mediterranean Neuroscience Community.

Malta was represented at the 5th Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Conference by University of Malta academics Professor Giuseppe Di Giovanni, coordinator of the Malta Neuroscience Network Programme and Dr Neville Vassallo from the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry. The delegation also included, Dr Roberto Colangeli, Massimo Pierucci and Caitlin Davies members of the laboratory led by Prof. Di Giovanni.

At the conference, Dr Vassallo gave a paper entitled 'The Amyloid-lipid membrane interaction: a novel target for neurodegeneration'. Prof. Di Giovanni chaired two symposia on serotonin research and gave a paper on the role of serotonin in epilepsy. Massimo Pierucci talked about nicotine addiction and the role of the lateral habenula, Dr Colangeli on cannabinoids and epilepsy and Ms Davies on the role of lateral habenula in nicotine-induced anxiety-like behaviour. All of the oral communications by the Maltese delegation were warmly welcomed by the international scholars present at the conference.

Ms Caitlin Davies was the winner of the best Early Stage Researcher presentation award by the European COST Action CM1103. 

The 6th Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Conference will be held in Malta in 2017 and will be organised by the Malta Neuroscience Network.

For more information about the Malta Neuroscience Network send an email to Prof. Giuseppe Di Giovanni.

Malta Neuroscience Programme Delegation at 5th MNS Conference
Maltese Delegation at the 5th Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Conference: Caitlin Davies, Giuseppe Di Giovanni, Philippe De Deurwaerdere (France), Massimo Pierucci and Roberto Colangeli.

Malta Neuroscience Programme Delegation at 5th MNS Conference
Ms Caitlin Davies, with her poster in the background 
Malta Neuroscience Programme Delegation at 5th MNS Conference
Dr Roberto Colangeli presenting his poster


25 June 2015

Professor Peter Mayo Keynote Speaker at the University of Thessaly, Greece

Professor Peter Mayo was keynote speaker at the conference, 'Adult Education and Local Society' held by the Hellenic Adult Education Association in conjunction with the Municipal Government of Larissa at the University of Thessaly, Larissa campus, Larissa, Greece.

The title of Professor Mayo's talk was 'Engaging the Glocal in Adult Education. The EU's Lifelong Learning Mantra and a small Member State's National Strategy'.  

This was a four hour interactive session held on Saturday 20 June in the afternoon.


24 June 2015

Book by Faculty of Education Academics Published in Hungarian


Following two editions in English and Turkish, Valencian and Spanish translations, the book by Faculty of Education academics at the University of Malta — Carmel Borg, Mario Cardona and Sandro Caruana, titled Social Class, Language and Power. 'Letter to a Teacher': Lorenzo Milani and the School of Barbiana (Sense Publishers, 2013) — has just been published in Hungarian.


24 June 2015

Paper by Michael Briguglio on Hunting Referendum published in Environmental Politics

Michael Briguglio's paper 'The Bird Hunting Referendum in Malta' has been published in influential Routledge journal 'Environmental Politics'. The paper is available online.

Dr Briguglio lectures at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts.


17 June 2015


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