|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Times Higher Education / September 12, 2016
Russian binary system "damaging" universities and science
The separation of science and medicine from universities is halting the country's progress, says international higher education scholar.
Российские университеты не станут конкурентоспособными на международном уровне, пока научная работа и медицинские исследования ведутся в специализированных учреждениях, за пределами университетов, которые сосредоточены лишь на преподавании. Таково мнение Филиппа Альтбаха, профессора Бостонского колледжа и члена Совета по повышению конкурентоспособности ведущих университетов Российской Федерации (Проект 5-100).
It will be "impossible" for Russia's universities to become internationally competitive as long as academic science and medical research take place outside universities in specialised academies.
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That is the steadfast view of Philip Altbach, research professor and founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, who said that the separation of science and medicine "deprives" the country's universities of funds for research and "inhibits" interdisciplinary work.
He said the latter was of "special importance" as the future of scientific research and development (R&D) in many fields "depends on an interdisciplinary approach".
In Russia, universities are traditionally tasked with teaching and have modest research budgets, while science research and medical education and research take place in separate institutions belonging to the Russian Academy of Sciences and the ministry of health respectively, he said.
In the paper "Two central obstacles to Russian academic excellence", published in the journal International Higher Education, Professor Altbach said: "Although Russia has a distinguished academic tradition, many talented academics, and government backing to join the top ranks of global research universities, there are two fundamental structural barriers to success - created by the traditional separation of 'academic science' and 'medical research' from the universities and placing them in specialized academies.
"There are many other challenges as well - but these two structural realities are deeply embedded in the Russian academic structure, and without changing them it will be impossible for Russian universities to be fully internationally competitive."
He added that the country's existing higher education system also means that "the aging academy has cut itself off from the younger generation of scientists" by their distance from universities.
"The damage to Russia's scientific system continues to be significant," he said.
The Russian government has invested significant funds to upgrade some of its top universities to compete with the world's best research institutions and for five of these to join the top 100 of global rankings by 2020, as part of its Project 5-100. But Professor Altbach said that the country's ambition to join the top of world university rankings "will not be fulfilled without solving these key organizational and related challenges".
Despite these concerns, Professor Altbach said that merging existing institutions with "quite different traditions and organizational patterns" would not be the solution.
"New and creative thinking concerning how to link different kinds of institutions and varying approaches to science and research are needed," he said.
He added that change may already be on the way, as Dmitri Livanov, former minister for education and science, "drafted a new federal law that will replace existing regulations, emphasising the role of university-based science and R&D - in relation to the role of the Russian Academy of Sciences - and reducing the bureaucracy governing science policy and implementation, currently a very serious problem for the higher education sector".
PR Newswire / Sep 13, 2016
ProQuest Selected by Russian Ministry of Education & Science
Partnership provides Russian researchers with top-notch scholarship via dissertations and theses.
Министерство образования и науки РФ намерено дать официальный доступ российским ученым к крупнейшей в мире базе данных диссертаций и тезисов ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
ANN ARBOR - ProQuest has been chosen over 30 other information and technology providers by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to support and enhance scholarship by supplying dissertations and theses to 50 Russian institutions.
The licensing of ProQuest® Dissertations & Theses Global (PQDT) follows an exhaustive selection process that began in 2015 after the Ministry sought to provide scholars with more and better-quality content to promote advanced research, and to increase visibility of Russian scholars' achievements in the global academic community. More than 30 information and technology providers from around the world competed to offer solutions to best serve the needs of the Ministry and its scholars. ProQuest set up a three-month trial period supported by several training sessions to introduce Russian institutions to PQDT Global.
"It was made clear from the start that the usage statistics of the trials would be an important decision criterion," said Austin McLean, Director of Scholarly Communication and Dissertation Publishing at ProQuest. "ProQuest beat out the competition through Russian scholars extensively utilizing the largest database of full text dissertations and theses."
"ProQuest has been the leader in providing university researchers with unrivaled access to dissertations for over 75 years," McLean said. "Editors review each submission, assigning subject terms and keywords to ensure that precise, accurate search results are returned to users." By choosing PQDT, McLean added, "the institutions and libraries served by the Ministry join thousands of leading universities worldwide in providing their researchers with cutting-edge graduate research from top universities."
"Dissertations and thesis are an important source for scientists," said Galina Evstigneeva, Deputy Director of Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology. "We were impressed not only by vast number of works included in PQDT Global, but also by the wide range of features to use within the found results, such as Russian interface and translation of abstracts."
Evstigneeva finds that ProQuest's policy is "creating the most favorable conditions for cooperation with the Russian Ministry, which motivates researchers to submit their dissertations and theses for inclusion in PQDT," increasing the visibility of achievements of Russian science for the international academic society.
This partnership provides 50 Russian schools with access to the world's largest editorially curated graduate dissertations and theses database. With an ever-growing collection of international, regional and local content, PQDT offers access to 4 million graduate works, with 2 million in full text, from more than 3,000 institutions. In addition to being an invaluable tool for researchers of all fields in all countries, PQDT helps the global scholarly community disseminate their works, enabling them to contribute to the scholarly record and raise the profiles of institutions and their authors.
Copyright © 2016 PR Newswire Association LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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BBC / 13 September 2016
A Soviet scientist created the only tame foxes in the world
In the 1950s a Soviet geneticist began an experiment in guided evolution. He wanted to show how domestication works.
Генетик Дмитрий Беляев, первый директор Института цитологии и генетики СО РАН, начал свой эксперимент по одомашниванию лис в 1959 г. Целью было воспроизвести процесс исторического одомашнивания длиной в тысячи лет всего за несколько десятилетий и проследить эволюционный путь одомашненных животных.
From the richly-plumed red fox to the big-eared fennec fox, foxes look adorable. Because of this, people are sometimes tempted to keep them as pets. However, those who have tried have struggled. Unlike dogs and cats, the different species of fox have not been domesticated.
Domestication only happens over a long period of time through selective breeding. Cats and dogs were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago to be pets and companions. Sheep, goats and other animals were domesticated for food. But there may be more to it than that. People who have tried to simply tame individual foxes often speak of a stubborn wildness that is impossible to get rid of. This suggests that foxes harder to tame than other animals. However, one extraordinary experiment has found a way to domesticate foxes. This one study could help us understand how our ancestors domesticated other animals, and indeed what domestication is.
Biologist David Macdonald studied foxes at close quarters for years. For a time, he had foxes living at home, which he recounted in his 1987 book Running with the Fox. The foxes did not last long in Macdonald's house. He found that they would tear up the living area and create chaos. Others who have tried living with foxes report the same thing.
Richard Bowler, a wildlife photographer based in Wales, looks after a few foxes in a large outside space at his home. He reports that they are nervous and shy. The youngest fox, a vixen called Hetty, is extremely shy around people - even though she was captive-bred, and Bowler and his partner fed her through the night from when she was one week old. He describes the temperament of the foxes as "highly wired".
In the UK it is legal to keep a fox as a pet, but that does not mean it is a good idea.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) does not condone the keeping of foxes as pets. "Because foxes are wild animals and do not fare well as domestic pets, they should not be kept as such. Even the most experienced fox experts have had difficulty in keeping adult foxes successfully in captivity as they have very specific needs," it says. Occasionally people connected to wildlife rescue centres report that they have managed to tame foxes. However, usually these animals are recovering from toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that damages the brain, leaving the animals unafraid of human touch. Meanwhile, Britain's urban foxes are often described as being bold and brazen around humans, compared with their countryside cousins. They will stand and stare at passers-by on the streets and even approach people with food.
It is possible that human behaviour in towns and cities has altered the behaviour of individual foxes: if a fox grows accustomed to being fed by hand by one person, it may be more likely to approach another. However, this does not qualify them as tame.
So pet foxes are not generally a good idea. Unless, that is, the fox is from the only tame population in the world, an extraordinary scientific experiment that started life in Soviet Russia.
In the late 1950s, a Russian geneticist called Dmitry K. Belyaev attempted to create a tame fox population.
Through the work of a breeding programme at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at Novosibirsk, in Russia, he sought to trace the evolutionary pathway of domesticated animals. His test subjects were silver-black foxes, a melanistic version of the red fox that had been bred in farms for the colour of their fur. Belyaev died in 1985, but the project is still ongoing. It is now overseen by Lyudmila Trut, now in her 80s, who started out as Belyaev's intern. The Russian fox farm was the first of its kind.
"There is archaeological data that people made individual attempts to domesticate the fox, but this process was not finished," says Anastasiya Kharlamova, one of Trut's research assistants. "Possibly the reason was that the cat was domesticated at a similar time, and supplanted the fox as a possible candidate to be domesticated."
Belyaev's experiment aimed to replay the process of domestication to see how evolutionary changes came about.
There are many unanswered questions relating to domestication. One is what traits or qualities Stone Age people selected for when they set out to domesticate animals. Belyaev believed that selection for just one trait - tameability - would be enough to create a domesticated population. It was a risky area of research.
The study of genetics had been essentially banned in the USSR, as the country's dictator Joseph Stalin sought to discredit the genetic principles set out by Gregor Mendel. Stalin's death in 1953 gave scientists more freedom, but in the early years Belyaev nevertheless worked under the cover that he was breeding foxes to make better fur coats.
First, Belyaev and Trut travelled to various fur farms in the Soviet Union, from Siberia to Moscow and Estonia. There, they chose foxes to take to their own farm in Novosibirsk. They selected the animals based on how they responded when their cage was opened. About 10% of the foxes displayed a weak "wild-response", meaning they were docile around humans.
"The main task at this stage of selection was eliminating defensive reactions to humans," Trut wrote in 1999. Animals that were friendlier and tolerant to human touch, even to a small degree, were picked out. Those that hid in the corner or made aggressive vocalisations were left in the farm. Of those friendly foxes, 100 vixens and 30 males were chosen as the first generations of parents. When the cubs were born, the researchers hand-fed them. They also attempted to touch or pet the foxes when they were two to two-and-a-half months old, for strictly measured periods at a time.
If the cubs continued to show aggressive or evasive responses, even after significant human contact, they were discarded from the population - meaning they were made into fur coats. In each selection, less than 10% of tame individuals were used as parents of the next generation.
"As a result of such rigorous selection, the offspring exhibiting the aggressive and fear avoidance responses were eliminated from the experimental population in just two to three generations of selection," Trut wrote in a study published in 2009. The foxes at the fox-farm were never trained to become tame. They lived in cages and had minimal contact with humans. Belyaev's aim was to create a genetically-distinct population, so he simply selected for particular behavioural traits.
"Belyaev had one main goal at the beginning of experiment: to reproduce the process of historical domestication at the experiment, during a short time," says Trut. "This goal didn't change. But during the experiment the understanding of evolutionary process changed."
By the fourth generation, the scientists started to see dramatic changes. The cubs were beginning to behave more like dogs. They wagged their tails and "eagerly" sought contact with humans. They whined, whimpered and licked researchers just like puppies would. The process was surprisingly quick. "By intense selective breeding, we have compressed into a few decades an ancient process that originally unfolded over thousands of years," wrote Trut in 1999.
These foxes were called the "elite of domestication", and as the generations passed the proportion of these elite cubs grew. By 2005-2006, almost all the foxes were playful, friendly and behaving like domestic dogs. The foxes could "read" human cues and respond correctly to gestures or glances. The vocalisations they made were different to wild foxes.
"The proudest moment for us was creating a unique population of genetically tame foxes, the only the one in the world," says Trut.
Brian Hare is associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and author of the 2013 book The Genius of Dogs. He travelled to Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad to visit the farm, in order to compare fox cubs with dog puppies for a study published in 2005.
"The fox farm experiment was crucial, in that it told us that domestication can happen relatively quickly in the right circumstances," he says. "The fact that in fifty generations, they were wagging their tails and barking, this is really incredible."
The key point is that the experiment offers a hint as to the stages by which domestication takes place.
"Before, we knew that dogs and wolves were descended from the same ancestor, but we didn't know how," says Hare. "What came first? The fox experiment showed that just by selecting for friendliness, all these other changes, including an increase in social skills, happened by accident."
In fact, Belyaev and Trut soon found that it was not just the foxes' personalities that were changing. Their bodies were too.
"The main surprise was that, together with changing of behaviour, many new morphological traits in tame foxes start to appear from the first steps of selection," said Trut.
The domesticated foxes had floppier, drooping ears, which are found in other domestic animals such as dogs, cats, pigs, horses and goats. Curlier tails - also found in dogs and pigs - were also recorded.
What's more, "in only a few generations, the friendly foxes were showing changes in coat colour," says Hare.
The process seems to be ongoing. "At the more advanced steps of selection, changes in the parameters of the skeletal system began to arise," Trut wrote. "They included shortened legs, tail, snout, upper jaw, and widened skull."
The foxes started looking more delicate and, put simply, "cute". Their reproductive habits also changed. The domesticated foxes became sexually mature about a month earlier than non-domesticated foxes. Their mating season was longer and they could breed out of season. On average, their litters had one more cub. All these changes were brought on by selecting for one trait: tameability. This gives us a big clue to how domestication works.
The physical traits Belyaev and Trut found, like the floppy ears, were those you would expect in a juvenile. But the domestic foxes carried them through into adulthood, suggesting the selection process had slowed down aspects of their development. This might have something to do with chemicals in their bodies. Belyaev reasoned that selecting for tameability changed the mix of hormones and neurotransmitters the foxes' bodies made. He believed behavioural responses were "regulated by a fine balance between neurotransmitters and hormones at the level of the whole organism". For example, the drooping ears of the domesticated foxes might be a result of slowing down the adrenal glands. This could arrest the cells before the ear has time to stand to attention.
"Selection has even affected the neurochemistry of our foxes' brains," wrote Trut. One example she described was a drop in the "hormone-producing activity of the foxes' adrenal glands."
Domestic foxes also had higher levels of serotonin than farm-bred foxes. That is intriguing, because serotonin is "thought to be the leading mediator inhibiting animals' aggressive behaviour." Serotonin, like other neurotransmitters, is critically involved in shaping an animal's development from its earliest stages.
The project continues to this day. As of August 2016, there are 270 tame vixens and 70 tame males on the farm. However, it has run into financial problems.
"The current situation is not catastrophic, but not stable at the same time," writes Kharlamova. "The main reason of instability is of course the expense of this experiment."
In the 1990s, the institute supported itself by selling fox pelts. At the end of the 1990s, they started to sell the foxes as house pets. At present, a Florida-based company called the Lester Kalmanson Agency Inc imports foxes for those who want to keep them as pets. Each fox costs $8,900, because of the delivery costs. With the foxes now tame, the researchers are trying to identify the genes that change under selection for tameness. "The main current goals are focused on molecular-genetics mechanisms of domestic behaviour," says Trut. Belyaev and Trut's experiment may even tell us something about our own evolution.
In particular, one under-appreciated point about our species is that we have, essentially, domesticated ourselves. This is borne out in our behaviour. While we have committed our fair share of atrocities, on the whole we are far less aggressive and violent than our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. This suggests that human evolution selected for cooperation, tolerance and gentleness - and not, necessarily, for intelligence.
"We always assume that intelligence is responsible for our success," says Hare. "That humans became smarter, which… allowed us to invent wheels and agriculture and iPhones. But what if that wasn't what happened?"
Hare suspects that, "like the foxes, and like dogs, we became friendlier first, and then got smarter by accident. This would mean that our prosocial skills, the skills that allow for cooperation and friendliness, were what made us successful."
We do not know if that is true. But it is a rather encouraging thought.
Copyright © 2016 BBC.
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Phys.Org / September 14, 2016
Cold plasma will heal non-healing wounds
Учёные из Московского физико-технического института, Объединённого института высоких температур РАН и ГУ НИИ эпидемиологии и микробиологии имени Н.Ф.Гамалеи РАМН обнаружили, что воздействие холодной плазмы на клетки кожи способствует их регенерации и может быть использовано для лечения незаживающих ран.
Russian scientists have found that treating cells with cold plasma leads to their regeneration and rejuvenation. This result can be used to develop a plasma therapy program for patients with non-healing wounds. The paper has been published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.
Non-healing wounds make it more difficult to provide effective treatment to patients and are therefore a serious problem faced by doctors. These wounds can be caused by damage to blood vessels in the case of diabetes, failure of the immune system resulting from an HIV infection or cancers, or slow cell division in elderly people. Treatment of non-healing wounds by conventional methods is very difficult, and in some cases impossible.
Cold atmospheric-pressure plasma refers to a partially ionized gas - the proportion of charged particles in the gas is close to 1 percent, with a temperature below 100,000 K. Its application in biology and medicine is possible through the advent of plasma sources generating jets at 30-40°C.
An earlier study established the bactericidal properties of low-temperature plasma, as well as the relatively high resistance of cells and tissues to its influence. The results of plasma treatment of patients with non-healing wounds varied from positive to neutral. The authors' previous work prompted them to investigate the possibility that the effect of plasma treatment on wound healing could depend on application pattern (the interval between applications and the total number of applications).
Two types of cells were used in this study: fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) and keratinocytes (epithelial cells). Both play a central role in wound healing.
The effect of plasma treatment on cells was measured. In fibroblast samples, the number of cells increased by 42.6 percent after one application (A) and by 32 percent after two applications (B), as compared to the untreated controls. While no signs of DNA breaks were detected following plasma application, an accumulation of cells in the active phases of the cell cycle was observed, alongside a prolonged growth phase (30 hours). This means that the effect of plasma could be characterized as regenerative, as opposed to harmful.
The proliferation of cells that had been treated daily over a period of three days (group C) was reduced by 29 percent relative to the controls. Keratinocytes did not show noticeable changes in proliferation.
The researchers also performed an assay of the senescence-associated в-galactosidase, which is measured at pH 6.0. The concentration of this enzyme in a cell increases with age. Plasma treatment significantly reduced the content of this substance in the samples. This, together with a prolonged exponential growth phase of the culture, suggests a functional activation of cells - their rejuvenation.
"The positive response to plasma treatment that we observed could be linked to the activation of a natural destructive mechanism called autophagy, which removes damaged organelles from the cell and reactivates cellular metabolic processes," says Elena Petersen, a co-author of the paper and the head of the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Technologies at MIPT.
The scientists are planning additional research into the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of plasma on cells. They also aim to determine the influence of a patient's age on the effectiveness of plasma therapy.
© Phys.org 2003-2016, Science X network.
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Phys.Org / September 23, 2016
Researchers figure out how to improve centrifuge efficiency
В МИФИ вывели формулу, описывающую разделительную способность прямоточной газовой центрифуги, используемой при обогащении урана для атомных электростанций. Это может повысить эффективность создаваемых устройств - при условии, что найденная формула является универсальной.
MEPhI researchers have created the world's first formula to describe the separative power of a concurrent centrifuge for binary mixture, which will improve the devices' efficiency.
Russia's leadership in the global production of inexpensive enriched uranium for nuclear power plants is based on a technology that was developed in the mid-20th century. The modern gas centrifuge method for uranium enrichment requires no more than 2 percent of the energy consumed by the previously used diffusion method.
At present, the cost of Russian uranium is dramatically lower than the equivalent U.S. fuel. However, to stay ahead, Russia constantly needs to improve the technology, the scientists note. The gas centrifuge method for uranium enrichment is based on the separation of uranium isotopes in strong centrifugal fields. It is important to determine the dependence of the optimal separation capacity of a centrifuge on the parameters of the centrifuge and the gas used. In other words, professionals need to understand how changing the parameters of the centrifuge - the rotor speed, length, diameter, etc. - will change the effectiveness of the isotopic mixture separation. The team at the MEPhI Molecular Physics Department has derived a formula that describes the separative power of a centrifuge that is optimized for a variety of parameters. It is a simplified model - the concurrent centrifuge with a direct gas flow (the gas flows in on one side and flows out on the other).
Until recently, scientists had only published experimental information obtained for Russian 0.5 meter countercurrent gas centrifuges. They struggled to find a theoretical basis for the available experimental results. Even worse, these results were directly contrary to theoretical approaches.
The formula for a simple concurrent centrifuge of arbitrary length and an arbitrary binary mixture will help professionals understand what measurements must be taken to develop the most effective devices, said MEPhI Molecular Physics Department professor, Sergei Bogovalov. According to Bogovalov, the resulting formula is applicable to natural gas stripping in centrifugal fields with large amounts of gas pumped through. The results were published in the leading scientific journal Nuclear Engineering and Technology.
"It became clear why the separative power increased as a velocity squared, not velocity to the fourth power, which follows from simple parameters. The formula tells us how we can influence the design to change this correlation," he told.
The scientist noted that the resulting formula is consistent up to the numerical factor with the published experimental data for countercurrent gas centrifuges.
"This is the most surprising thing, actually, because the nature of the gas flow in concurrent and countercurrent centrifuges is fundamentally different. We are now investigating why the formula coincides so well with the experiments. In addition, we are not yet sure if the formula is universal. We're working on this now," Dr. Bogovalov added.
© Phys.org 2003-2016, Science X network.
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Russia Direct / Sep 28, 2016
An MIT professor explains why Russia fails to innovate its educational system
Интервью с известным историком науки Лореном Грэхемом о том, что мешает российским университетам продвигаться по пути инноваций и их последующего успешного внедрения. По мнению профессора Грэхема, менять надо не столько университетскую систему, сколько правовую, политическую и экономическую. А также менталитет общества в целом.
RD Interview: Loren Graham, a professor of the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), explains what Russia needs to do to make its university system more innovative and entrepreneurial.
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Loren Graham, a professor of the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the author of the book "Lonely Ideas," discusses with Russia Direct the challenges that prevent Russia from innovating its economy and educational system.
"Most discussions of reforming education and innovation centers in Russia concentrate on institutional reform," he argues. "The main problem of education and innovation in Russia is not institutional (although that is also a problem) but political and societal."
Although Russian scientists and engineers are very talented, they live in a society that does not provide a nurturing environment for innovation, he argues. To change their society in a way that would foster innovation, the whole political, legal, economic, and social system would have to be reformed.
"The political system needs to be more democratic, the judicial system needs to protect intellectual property and provide a venue in which the accused stands a chance of being found innocent, the economic system needs to be much more open and provide opportunities and incentives for investors, the social system needs to be more mobile and welcoming to entrepreneurs," he told Russia Direct.
"Also, the mentality of the Russian society needs to change. Business is not dirty; it is the way societies advance. Scientists do not demean themselves when they become interested in business; instead, they are aiding their society to become healthier and more prosperous. Without these sorts of deep basic changes, institutional reform by itself will not accomplish its goals," Graham added.
Russia Direct: To what extent is the University 3.0 model, which seeks to make universities more entrepreneurial and innovative, viable in Russia?
Loren Graham: The University 3.0 model is, in principle, viable in Russia, but not likely to be successful in practice because of the reasons given above. Also, the categories of "research institution," "education center" and "enterprise" should not be seen as separate categories. In particular, research and teaching should be seen as one activity, not two.
Many undergraduates at MIT have published scientific and technical articles in leading journals before they graduate. Research and teaching should not be seen as two separate functions of a leading university but one fused function (a combination of research and teaching).
Accomplished researchers do the best teaching, and undergraduates should feel that they participate in research as well as go to class. "Enterprise" is somewhat different, since universities should not be converted into private businesses. But they should be friendly to business, work closely with it and spin off businesses readily.
Russia went too far in separating research (Russian Academy of Sciences) and teaching (universities). I know that efforts are being made to change this, but so far, not nearly enough.
RD: What are the odds of Russia being able to innovate its universities and educational system in general given the current situation, with underdeveloped institutions and an increasing brain drain?
L.G.: The odds are not good in the present political situation. Many teachers and researchers feel that the government does not support them, that it is afraid of independent people who might get powerful enough (e.g. through entrepreneurship) to challenge them.
Brain drain is not so much the cause of the decline of Russian science as a symptom of it. Why do talented scientists and engineers want to leave Russia? It is not just because they think that science and innovation are not funded sufficiently in Russia (although that is certainly true), but because many of them do not want to raise their children in Russia as it currently exists.
RD: So, what major challenges should Russia overcome to implement the University 3.0 model?
L.G.: An institutional challenge is that it is difficult to raise the prestige of Russian universities when the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences are more prestigious. In research terms, the universities feel that they are in second place.
I know that the Academy is being reformed, and that its institutes have been taken away and put in the Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations (FASO), but the system of institutes still exists, largely separate from the universities.
RD: You said that Russia should raise the prestige of Russian universities, which implies they don't get the highest positions in the world's rankings. And this is the case despite the fact that Russia's scientists, professors and students are talented, with a lot of potential. How can you account for this?
L.G.: Many Russian scientists publish little, and when they do, they often publish in Russian-language journals with low impact-factor ratings, and therefore Russian universities do not get high rankings in the international rating systems (Times, Shanghai, etc.).
Russian scientists and engineers are not members of the international communities of science and engineering to the extent they should be. (China is much more integrated, surprisingly). And some current Russian laws discourage such integration, putting Russian scientists and engineers who cooperate with their Western colleagues under suspicion of betraying secrets.
RD: How can the American experience be useful for Russia (specifically, the experience of MIT)?
L.G.: At the present moment, the American experience may not be as relevant to Russia as the German and French experience. After all, both Germany and France have systems of research institutes separate from the universities (Max Planck Gesellschaft and CNRS, respectively), and therefore they also are having trouble getting many universities that rank high in world rankings [CNRS is the French National Center for Scientific Research - Editor's note].
Germany, in particular, is making a major effort right now to reform this system and to get more leading innovative universities, so the German experience is particularly relevant to Russia. The United States has never had a prestigious system of research institutes separate from the universities.
RD: What can be done to implement the University 3.0 concept in Russia? What would you recommend based on your experience?
L.G.: The first change is a change to the legal system to make it fair in general, and protective of intellectual property rights in particular. The second change is to recognize that research universities are the greatest intellectual and innovative engines in the world. That means giving them more money and elevating their position in society. Research universities create knowledge economies.
RD: How do you assess Russian science and its scientists?
L.G.: Russians are a very creative people. It would be entirely possible for Russian technology to occupy the position in the world that Russian literature, mathematics, and music currently do. But that cannot happen so long as the present political regime continues. Music, mathematics, and literature are mental creations and can survive and even flourish in bad political times. Technology is a material creation and cannot prosper unless the government provides a sustaining environment (legal, economic, political) for it.
RD: What Russian universities do you find the most promising?
L.G.: The most promising Russian universities are St. Petersburg State University, Novosibirsk State University and Tomsk State University. Moscow State University is also obviously very good, but it is so entangled with political issues that it cannot fulfill its potential.
RD: Russia is going to implement the University 3.0 model through the government. Do you think that the top-down approach is really effective in innovating the country's educational system?
L.G.: The top-down approach is particularly ineffective at a time when many Russian professors and researchers have such a low opinion of their government.
RD: Ok, in this case do you think that the top-down approach can co-exist with the grassroots approach in the sphere of innovation?
L.G.: The top-down approach combined with a healthy grassroots approach could work if the government and the teachers and researchers trusted and respected each other. At the present moment, however, they do not.
Medical Xpress / September 28, 2016
Scientists discover how to stop the spread of metastasis
Исследователи из Института биоорганической химии РАН, Института высокомолекулярных соединений РАН и канадского Университета Куинс обнаружили, что сиаловые кислоты могут влиять на силу сцепления раковых клеток друг с другом и таким образом понижать вероятность образования метастазов.
A group of researchers from the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Queen's University (Canada), in conjunction with the Institute of Macromolecular Compounds of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has studied the role of sialic acid in cancer development. The results of their research show that cancer cells can be manipulated by properly adjusting the acid's levels, and this can possibly halt the spread of metastases. Their findings were published in the Oncotarget magazine.
Tumor cell surfaces are often filled with large quantities of sialic acid. This acid gives cell membranes a negative charge, and due to the repulsive forces thus created, contributes to their separation from the primary tumor. As a result, tumor cells can spread throughout the body, forming secondary lesions of the disease in a process called metastasis.
However, until now, an important aspect of this process, which involves the role that sialic acid plays in the biochemistry of cancer cells, was not yet clear. Under the direction of Elena Arnoldovna Markvicheva, researchers at the M.M.Shemyakin and Yu.A.Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with scientists from Queen's University (represented by Ronald J. Neufeld, Myron R. Szewczuk), were able to clarify the role that sialic acid plays in the development of cancer and in the interaction of cancer cells with each other.
"We looked at two different ways in which sialic acid can be attached to cell surfaces - either via α-2,3 or α-2,6 linkages," explains Roman Akasov, junior researcher at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry's "Polymers for Biology" Laboratory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the authors of the article. "Both of these linkage options are present in the cells, and despite the fact that their structures appear similar, even a slight difference may be important for the cell itself. We decided to carry out an experiment on tumor spheroids. Tumor spheroids are dense, bead-like substances from cells that simulate the growth and behavior of the actual tumor cells. To this end, my colleagues and I developed a method that we can use to create such spheroids. Their formation is not associated with physical strength, but with the changes in cell behavior - a small amount of a special peptide is added to them as they begin to migrate, and they independently stick together in neat little balls, each of which consists of several hundred individual cancer cells. Since this method does not require mixing the environment or any other severe physical intervention in a cell's life, it is well suited for studying the very minute biochemical factors that influence the cells' ability to form spheroids."
Roman and his colleagues found that increasing the number of α-2,3 linkages and reducing the level of α-2,6 sialic acid linkages leads to a greater adhesion of cells in spheroids. Within the human body, this is most likely a good sign, since the stronger the tendency of cells to fuse together, the less likely that one of them will break away and begin forming new tumors. If, under these conditions, the enzymes that the sialic acid gets rid off are suppressed, the cells are also more likely to stick together.
This is exactly how the oseltamivir antiviral drug acts. Queen's University researchers demonstrated that this drug affects the formation of metastases. In an experiment that involved a very malign, highly dangerous type of breast cancer, they injected the drug into the blood of mice in order to block the enzymes that remove sialic acid from the cell surface, and managed to suppress the formation of secondary tumor lesions. Interestingly, everyone is skeptical about osetalmivira's antiviral effect (Osetalmivira can be bought at any local pharmacy under the brand name Tamiflu) because it has not yet been conclusively proven that it can deal with cancer.
In another method that involves manually removing the acid from the surface of a cell, or blocking its linkages, the tumor spheroids are not formed.
"In this way, we learned that by adjusting the total amount of sialic acid on the surfaces of cancer cells and changing the ratio of α-2,3 and α-2,6 linkages, we can manipulate the cells to achieve either their aggregation (i.e. sticking to the balls) or suppression. For cancer treatment, we will probably need to enhance the aggregation of cells to prevent the formation of metastases," concludes Roman.
Using tumor spheroids as a testing system will be essential in searching for and developing new drugs that will be used to modulate cell aggregation. This will bring us closer to understanding the biology of cancer.
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