The FERTIMANURE launch meeting brings together the 21 international partners in the livestock manure research project in Vic13.02.2020Representatives of the 21 partners in the FERTIMANURE project met in Vic on 9 and 10 January, at the meeting to launch this European research project led by the BETA Technological Center (Biodiversity, Ecology and Technology and Environmental and Food Management) at the University of Vic - Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC). The project, with a budget of 8 million Euros, is funded by the Horizon 2020 call for social challenges, one of the most competitive in this European Union programme. In addition to the BETA Technological Center, the participants in the project include the Government of Catalonia's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food (MALFFF), the Cooperativa Plana de Vic and the LEITAT Technology Centre.
For four years, until the end of 2024, FERTIMANURE will be developing innovative technologies to turn livestock manure into high value-added biological fertilisers (or biofertilisers), which are tailor-made for specific crops and competitive in today's market. The project will be working in two main areas: developing these technologies and processes, and creating business plans that enable them to be marketed and reach their final market, i.e. livestock farmers.
Last week's meeting, which took place at the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce offices in Vic, was an opportunity for all the partners to get to know each other, to present the various working areas within the project, and to lay the foundations together for the work that all of them will be undertaking, and the steps to be taken in the project's first months in particular.
Special emphasis was placed on how to be truly effective in rural development, in order to reduce pressure on the environment while at the same time improving the quality of life in these areas. The partners were also urged to work to make the project influence the definition of new European regulatory frameworks, such as the new Circular Economy Action Plan that the European Commission is working on.
"A perfect example of a circular economy"
The opening ceremony was chaired by the Catalan Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food, Teresa Jordà, who described FERTIMANURE as a "perfect example of a circular economy" which is closely connected with the land management model and the livestock manure that her Ministry is committed to. It is a model, she said, in which "manure is no longer treated as waste, and is considered a biological product that closes the agricultural and livestock production circle." Jordà said that this step represents a "paradigm shift and a new mental framework" and must "improve water and soil quality" but also "decriminalise a sector, pig farming, which has often had a bad reputation."
The event was also chaired by the rector of UVic-UCC, Josep-Eladi Baños, who emphasised the University's role as a key agent in meeting various needs in Catalonia outside the metropolitan area of Barcelona. In this respect, Baños described FERTIMANURE as a very clear example of how research gives "a response to a real problem that the country and its farmers in particular are suffering from." The rector also highlighted the importance of the Catalan government's involvement in the project, and described the BETA Technological Center as "the cornerstone of research at UVic-UCC, which helps improve the competitiveness and technological development of many companies based on sustainability criteria."
Turning a real problem into an opportunity
The director of the centre, Sergio Ponsá, said that FERTIMANURE "is the BETA's most important project," because "it is related to our mission to provide answers for our local society." Ponsá reminded the partners in the project that their goal is to "turn a real problem into a great opportunity" and to "achieve a major global impact". The Councillor for Economic Promotion, Employment and Trade of Vic City Council, Bet Piella, described the project as "a challenge that will provide new opportunities for our agricultural and livestock farmers and industry," and will help to create "a healthier city and region."
Livestock farms in Europe generate about 1,400 Mt of manure every year. More than 90% of this is returned to crops in the form of fertilisers. However, the use of this livestock manure as agricultural fertilisers is often inefficient or not sufficiently controlled, which leads to a problem of concentration of slurry, which is detrimental to crop yields and pollutes both soil and water.
The twenty European partners, and one from Argentina, cover the entire value chain, from livestock farmers to fertiliser production companies, by way of leading European universities and research centres, government agencies, clusters and associations.
Physical activity modifies how our DNA works, according to a study co-authored by Roberto Elosua 13.02.2020Physical activity is linked to changes in the structure of DNA without changing the sequence of letters in genes, their primary structure, according to a study by the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) with the participation of Roberto Elosua, coordinator of the IMIM research group and a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of UVic-UCC. The benefits are maximised if the physical activity is moderate to vigorous, in other words walking at a fast pace or doing some sport for at least 30 minutes every day. Changes in DNA act on one of the key elements in the metabolism of triglycerides, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease at high concentrations. They also influence how our genes are read and their level of expression.
The groups working on the study Physical Activity and Genome-wide DNA Methylation: The REGICOR Study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, were the Epidemiology and Cardiovascular Genetics Group at the IMIM, the Biomedical Research Networking Center on Cardiovascular Diseases (CIBERCV), the Biomedical Research Center Network of Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP), the Centro de Investigación Biomèdica en Red Cáncer (CIBERONC), the Josep Carreras Research Institute and the Faculty of Medicine at UViC-UCC. Roberto Elosua, coordinator of the IMIM research group and an author of the study, says that "we know that lifestyle has an impact on how the information in our genes is expressed, and we wondered whether physical activity would be related to any changes in one of these biological mechanisms: DNA methylation."
The importance of DNA methylation
DNA methylation is a chemical change in the DNA molecule which does not alter the sequence of letters that determines the level of the genes' expression, i.e. their ability or otherwise to generate proteins. The level of DNA methylation has been linked to various diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
"In our analyses, we observed that people who engage in more moderate-vigorous physical activity have lower levels of methylation at two places in their DNA," says researcher Alba Fernández Sanlés, one of the lead authors of the study. In fact, this type of activity is recommended to the general population as a measure for good health, and it is where the greatest benefit is obtained, according to the study. Methylation is a mechanism that regulates the ability of genes to express themselves, or in other words, whether they produce proteins or not.
Alba Fernández Sanlés says that "one of the genes that we found with changes in its methylation marks is related to triglyceride metabolism. We know that physical activity reduces its levels, so our data suggest that methylation of this DNA site could be a mediating mechanism for how physical activity affects them." The researchers analysed data from two western populations, one from Catalonia RECIGOR group (the Girona COR Register) and the other from the United States (the Framingham Offspring Study).
They were able to work with the data for physical activity of a total of 2,544 people between the ages of 35 and 74, using questionnaires validated by the international scientific community. Their DNA methylation was studied using blood samples from the volunteers, and more than 400,000 DNA markers for each of these individuals were analysed.
The researchers believe that lifestyle affects our DNA methylation, and that these changes may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. "Previous studies have also shown that smoking alters DNA methylation levels," says Dr Elosua, who highlights "the importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity in preventing cardiovascular diseases." The project was funded with grants from the Government of Catalonia and the Carlos III Health Institute.
Photo: Alba Fernández Sanlés and Roberto Elosua
The European DestiMED+ project begins in Malaga with the participation of the BETA Technological Center13.02.2020The researchers Joan Colón and Mercè Boy-Roura of the BETA Technological Center at UVic-UCC attended the launch meeting of the DestiMED+ European project in Malaga on Wednesday and Thursday. This research initiative is funded by the Interreg MED program and focuses on sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean, especially in protected areas. At this initial meeting, the fourteen institutions involved, of which nine are regional governments, shared some ideas to promote ecotourism and to establish an innovative methodology for assessing the socio-economic impact of this type of tourism.
The BETA Technological Center will contribute to this project by analysing the sustainability of the proposals made, in a process that will take simultaneously into account their environmental, economic and social impact. The work of the UVic-UCC research centre will be to monitor, evaluate and promote the development of more sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean.
The DestiMED+ project has created a consortium of regional government dedicated to the conservation of the region, with members from Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Belgium, France and Albania. Catalonia is represented by the Ministry of Territory and Sustainability of the Government of Catalonia. The BETA Technological Center is the only research centre that is part of this team, which includes important international organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund.
Research links sedentary lifestyles to urinary incontinence in older women13.02.2020Researchers in the Ageing Well research group at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), working with the coordinator of the Methodology, Methods Models and Outcomes of Health and Social Science research group (M3O) at the University of Vic - Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC), Javier Jerez-Roig, have found the first direct link between sedentary lifestyles and urinary incontinence among older women, after analysing data from 459 women over 60 years old suffering from different types of incontinence.
The researchers recommend that women spend less time sitting and use simple techniques to solve bladder control problems instead of immediately using compresses, as they should only be used when treatment has failed and as a last resort. There are three major bladder control disorders among women; the first is stress incontinence, which is often related to childbirth and muscle weakness leading to leakage. The second is incontinence urgency, where people are unable to reach the toilet in time due to a bladder control problem, and the third is a mixture of both (the mixed type), which is most common among older women.
The women who participated in the study were part of a cohort of 5,500 people randomly selected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the United States, who were given an accelerometer, a device for measuring physical activity, to wear 24 hours a day for five days. The author of the research paper, published in the journal PLOS ONE (The Public Library of Science ONE), Professor Joanne Booth, explains that: "We know that physical activity can help bladder problems but this is the first time we have looked at the link between sedentary behaviour and incontinence in a big cohort."
"Sit less - move around more"
The M30 coordinator, Javier Jerez-Roig, who spent six months at the GCU working with the Ageing Well researchers after being awarded the José Castillejo mobility grant for young researchers, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, emphasises that "sitting down less and moving around more" is essential, as well as "dividing time spent sitting into periods of less than 18 minutes." He also says that "we know that sitting down is bad for this group, but to date no evidence has been found that it could be associated with urine losses when these sedentary periods are prolonged. The specific type of incontinence that appears to be most closely related is urgency incontinence, so I advise women to spend less time sitting and to move around more."
The study shows that women with urinary incontinence spend 19% more time sitting than those who do not. "Now that we know that there is a direct link with urgency incontinence and sitting too long, we need to look for additional mechanisms for dealing with it. The solution is not going to be simply telling women to do pelvic floor muscle exercises but also that moving more and reducing time spent sitting may help them, particularly with urgency incontinence," says Professor Booth.
Solutions to the problem of incontinence
In the near future, GCU's Ageing Well team is considering developing new health technologies to provide women with more accurate information on how to maintain bladder control.
There are currently various options to relieve the problem of short-term incontinence, such as medication, diapers, etc. The researchers have found that "you get more urgency as you get older, and it may be that if you are not as sedentary that might improve. Certainly we know that sitting for a long time isn't going to help the situation." However, they warn that medication should be used only as a last resort after all other avenues (physiotherapy, behavioural measures, etc.) have been explored.
Furthermore, she has noticed that "more women are buying incontinence pads than ever before. Supermarket shelves are crammed with them. This never used to happen," said Booth. "All the advertising around incontinence pads and pants materials on our TV screens is normalising the wearing of them as a solution to incontinence. The messages that are being put out are that you can be sexy even if you're wearing a pad, but it's not normal to leak - it is common, but not normal."
Training is another basic method, as according to Professor Booth, "three-quarters of women can be helped or cured by very simple techniques like bladder training or pelvic floor muscle exercises, moving more and changing fluid intake."
Italian healthcare professionals and faculty from the University of Siena take part in a tailor-made course on intercultural health competencies at UVic-UCC 13.02.2020A delegation from the University of Siena took part in a tailor-made training course organised by UVic-UCC on intercultural competences in healthcare this week. The students on the course - six professionals from different healthcare fields linked to the Italian university - attended a series of sessions focusing on dealing with the phenomenon of migration in their profession. The issues covered included cultural and religious competencies, mediation and legislation, and access to the public health system.
As an example, the course also highlighted the case of the Catalan Health System and its management of multiculturalism and immigration. During the event, Xavier Gómez-Batiste, director of the chair in Palliative Care, presented the Vic Ciutat Cuidadora [Vic Caring City] project, which aims to make Vic a benchmark for caring for the most vulnerable people.
The first two day sessions, Monday and Tuesday, covered theoretical aspects, and were held in the hall of the Board of Trustees of the Faculty of Medicine. Those giving classes included Joan Masnou, an expert in interculturality and the analysis of cultural models, and a lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Communication Studies, Carles Blay, a doctor and lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine, and the dean of the centre, Ramon Pujol.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the training moved to two different health centres for a look at the situation on the ground and their operation in situ: the Vic Sud Primary Healthcare Centre on Wednesday, and Vic University Hospital on Thursday. Various professionals from these centres were present, and taught classes to the students on the course. Also on Thursday, the students visited the Centre for Health and Social Care Research (CESS) and its coordinator, Marina Geli, and the laboratories at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Welfare (FCSB).
The training was organised jointly by the UVic-UCC International Programmes Unit and the Faculty of Medicine, and coordinated by Joan Masnou and Carles Blay. This course was also the step prior to the signing of a framework agreement between UVic-UCC and the University of Siena, which the rector, Josep-Eladi Baños, has signed this week and will lead to future collaborations. Two lecturers from the Italian university also accompanied the students on the course at UVic-UCC: Carlo Orefice, a lecturer in General and Social Pedagogy, and Alessandra Romano, a researcher in General Didactic and Special Pedagogy.
The European Green Growth community coordinated by the BETA Technological Center meets at UVic-UCC at the beginning of its second phase13.02.2020The members of the Green Growth European community are meeting to launch the second phase of this project at UVic-UCC this Thursday and Friday. The community is coordinated by the BETA Technological Center under the auspices of the Interreg MED programme, and shares and creates synergies between institutions, organisations and companies in the Mediterranean working towards the region's sustainable development, in fields as diverse as the food industry, smart cities, waste management and obtaining funding. The foundations of their combined efforts over the next three years will be laid at the meeting at the Casa Convalescència in Vic.
During this period, which will continue until June 2022, the members coordinated by the BETA Technological Center will be organised in four main working groups, covering four major subject areas aligned with European environmental policies: efficiency in the use of natural resources; green and intelligent management of public services; waste management and reduction, and competitiveness and innovation. The aim of the initiative is to act as an umbrella for various projects to have a real and significant impact on the territory.
In its first three years, from November 2016 until last October, the project was named Synggi (Synergies for Green Growth Initiatives) and it focused on shaping and launching the community, which is now operating at full capacity. Apart from UVic-UCC, which is the leading member through the BETA Technological Center, the other members of the community are an Italian consortium that includes most Italian universities working on industrial and managerial economic issues (CUEIM), the Centre for Energy, Environment and Resources (CENER21) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the companies Dynamic Vision from Greece and REVOLVE Mediterráneo from Barcelona, the French network ANIMA Investment, and the European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN) in Belgium.
Last autumn, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) endorsed the Green Growth community, giving it a seal that is awarded to projects that the 43 countries in this intergovernmental organisation unanimously believe are important for the future of the territory.
Researchers at UVic-UCC develop a best practices guide for teachers to reduce early school leaving in post-compulsory education06.02.2020The Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CEIG) at UVic-UCC has just launched Crossroads, a European research project that fosters the exchange of social and educational practices aimed at reducing early school leaving, i.e. students dropping out of post-compulsory education, such as higher secondary education vocational training programmes, and university, after completing secondary education. The project will provide methodologies and share similar experiences to respond to this problem that have been developed in other European countries, which is mainly due to the impact of various factors of inequality such as gender, origin, social class, ethnicity and gender.
The coordinating team, made up of researchers from various UVic-UCC research groups, consists of Gerard Coll-Planes of GETLIHC, Mar Binimelis-Adell of TRACTE and Núria Simó-Gil of the GREUV. The CEIG director and researcher Gerard Coll-Planas and Gloria García-Romeral are coordinating this project, with partners in Croatia, Poland, Belgium and Spain.
The ultimate objective of Crossroads is to produce a guide of best practices and a range of tools and methodologies that will be made available to teachers, aimed at empowering young people in different situations of risk to enable them to continue their post-compulsory education. The research team will carry out four different initiatives to achieve this: internal training to assess the procedures and exchange learning; a project with teachers and at-risk youth groups to obtain first-hand knowledge of the various experiences and stories behind early school leaving; a seminar on best practices, and various activities to disseminate the results in the four participating countries.
The UVic hosted the launch meeting for the project last Thursday and Friday, which was attended by representatives of all the member partners to begin work. Jordi Collet, the Vice-Rector for Research and Knowledge Transfer at UVic-UCC, opened the symposium of this project, which is coordinated by the team at the CEIG, and led by Gerard Coll-Planas.
Crossroads is being financed by the European Commission's Erasmus+ call, and is scheduled to continue until October 2021. The project is linked to the Camins mentoring programme, which promoted successful educational histories among young girls of Moroccan extraction in the Osona region, and ended in 2019.
Early school leaving in Catalonia
According to IDESCAT (2018), the percentage for early school leaving is higher in Catalonia (17%) and in Spain (17.9%) than the European Union average (10%). As far as the causes are concerned, Núria Simó explains that "various studies show that there are factors associated with the cumulative nature of academic failure which the education system renders chronic among students who do not successfully complete compulsory education, since repeating school years and streaming by level have been shown to be ineffective solutions." Simó highlights the lack of inclusive options in compulsory education: "It isn't working when almost 20% of young people are expelled or do not reach post-compulsory education. These situations have an impact on the subjectivities of young people who experience schooling as an insurmountable obstacle or school as something that they cannot relate to."
Gloria García says that the solutions are very complex: "More engaged education policies are needed, because the countries that have reduced their rates of early school leaving have made a clear commitment to investing in education within more inclusive education systems. The message must also clearly be conveyed that early school leaving is not an individual problem for the boys and girls who leave, but instead there are factors linked to young people's experiences in their educational careers that we can improve, and we have a responsibility and a lot of work to be do in this respect."
New evidences of Aphelocheirus aestivalis in Catalonia, an aquatic insect present in European rivers04.02.2020Aphelocheirus aestivalis, a waterbug found in mid and high sections of well-oxygenated and preserved rivers in the European continent, has been found for the first time in Catalonia ?specifically in rivers Ter and Llobregat- according to an article published in the journal Limnetica. This discovery confirms the presence of this insect from the Aphelocheiridae family in the Iberian Peninsula and enables the incorporation of a new family of Heteroptera in the Catalan fauna.
The new study is led by the lecturer Marta Goula, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona. Other authors included in the new study are the experts from the Freshwater Ecology, Hydrology and Management (FEHM) research group of the UB Narcís Prat, Cesc Múrria and Pau Fortuño, Marcos Roca-Cusachs (UB-IRBio) and Laia Jiménez, Núria Sellarès and Marc Ordeix, from the Center for the Study of Mediterranean Rivers (CERM) of the University of Vic?Central University of Catalonia.
With this new finding on the species in the Catalan water systems, researchers can complete the current map of the peninsular distribution of the Aphelocheiridae family, which was so far represented by two endemic species ?A. murcius and A. occidentalis- described in other autonomous communities of Spain.
Actually, the previous scientific bibliography noted that citations of A. aestivalis in the Iberian Peninsula could be wrong, and will probably correspond to any of the already described endemisms or to others yet to be described.
The new specimens of this waterbug ?an insect with a high habitat specificity? were found in in two sections of the river Llobregat and the Ter that were spaced thirty-six kilometers. According to the study, these insects show some differences in male internal genital structures compared to other specimens that were found in other European areas. The restricted and fragmented distribution of the species together with its biological requirements ? mainly a good ecological quality of water systems- are factors that put in danger its future conservation and require to take urgent measures to preserve the natural habitat, experts warn.
The findings of A. aestivalis show the research effort made on ecology and biology of water ecosystems carried out for more than twenty-five years by the experts from the Freshwater Ecology, Hydrology and Management (FEHM) research group of the UB and CERM of UVic-UCC in the water basins of the rivers Llobregat and Ter.
Roca-Cusachs, M.; Goula, M.; Múrria, C.; Fortuño, P.; Jiménez, L.; Sellarès, N.; Marc Ordeix, M.; Prat, N. "New evidences on the presence of Aphelocheirus aestivalis in the Iberian Peninsula, its ecology and description of two northeastern Iberian populations". Limnetica, 2020 Doi: 10.23818/limn.39.11