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From the Publisher
August 26, 2010   
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Can a cat’s eye and a rat’s whisker help explain the mysteries of the human brain? For scientists, this sounds like a routine research question. For a layman it promises a journey into the fascinating world of scientific research and discoveries that have become possible thanks to new experiments and state-of-the-art equipment.

A new discipline called neuroinformatics is expected to speed up research on the physiological mechanisms of mental processes, according to Prof. Andrzej Wróbel, Neurophysiology Department head at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw. Scientists created this discipline by combining medicine, psychology and neurosciences with robotics, mathematics and computer science, says Wróbel, who is the special guest of this issue of The Polish Science Voice. He adds, “The modeling and analysis of these processes requires high-performance computers and Poland has such computers. We also have excellent computer scientists and mathematicians who ensure neuroinformatics can thrive here. Last but not least, we have good experimental labs that produce data for neurophysiology.”

Poland also has, of course, creative people like Wróbel who take part in major international research programs. According to Wróbel, neuroinformatics has been a priority in OECD member countries since the mid-1990s after it became evident that increased spending on neurobiological research during the 1990-2000 Decade of the Brain in the United States, Japan and Europe, would fail to produce the expected results.

Wróbel also discusses the medical and economic aspects of neuroinformatics research, no less fascinating than research into the secrets of the human brain itself.

If for Prof. Wróbel, a cat’s eye and a rat’s whisker may be the keys to unlocking the secrets of science, for Prof. Robert Hasterok, a cytogeneticist at the University of Silesia’s Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection in Katowice, such a key is Brachypodium distachyon, commonly called purple false brome, a model grass that enables researchers to more easily and thoroughly study temperate cereals, such as wheat, barley, rye and oats.

Hasterok, together with his Ph.D. student Dominika Idziak, were among over 100 researchers from 45 research centers across the world who formed an international consortium to study the Brachypodium distachyon genome. The project produced results, as reported by the prestigious international science journal Nature. One of the most important results will be better varieties of grains, in addition to stronger ties between Polish scientists and their colleagues in other countries.

Prof. Hasterok started out this adventure as the only Pole in a British research team, and he and Idziak were also the only Poles in the international team of some 100 researchers. Hopefully, Polish scientists will play a bigger role in such ventures in the future.

Meanwhile, another creative mind in Poland has designed a machine to help people build dikes in a flood emergency. This sandbag-filling machine is among the most efficient designs of its kind in the world today, according to the inventor. The invention has won praise at home and abroad.

In this issue of The Polish Science Voice, we also report on the Pomeranian Medical University (PAM) in the northwestern city of Szczecin, which is known internationally for its research on stem cells, genetics, biochemistry and pharmacology, in addition to training medical students. We also focus on some of the latest achievements of Polish medicine.
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