Cada año, un comité de expertos debe acometer una ardua tarea: de entre todas las publicaciones de ICREA, debe escoger unas cuantas que destaquen del resto. Es todo un reto: a veces los debates se acaloran, y siempre son difíciles, pero acaba saliendo una lista con las mejors publicaciones del año. No se concede ningún premio, y el único reconocimiento adicional es el honor de ser resaltado en la web de ICREA. Cada publicación tiene algo especial, ya sea una solución especialmente elegante, un éxito espectacular en los medios de comunicación o la simple fascinación por una idea del todo nueva. Independientemente de la razón, se trata de los mejores de los mejores y, como tales, nos complace compartirlos aquí.


Format: yyyy
  • Revisiting the Global Workspace orchestrating the hierarchical organisation of the human brain (2021)

    Deco, Gustavo (UPF)

    view details

    Revisiting the Global Workspace orchestrating the hierarchical organisation of the human brain

    It has been proposed that the human brain is similar to an orchestra in that it is hierarchically organised but that there is unlikely to be just a single conductor. In 1988 B Baars proposed the concept of a ‘global workspace’, where information is integrated in a small group of ‘conductors’ before being broadcast to the whole brain. This celebrated theory is an elegant solution to how hierarchical organisation allows the brain to orchestrate function and behaviour by organising the flow of information and the underlying computations necessary for survival. As such, this is a theory of consciousness as pointed out by neuroscientists S Dehaene and JP Changeux, who proposed the ‘global neuronal workspace’ hypothesis where associative perceptual, motor, attention, memory, and value areas interconnect to form a higher-level unified space where information is broadly shared and broadcast back to lower-level processors. Colloquially, the brain’s global workspace is akin to a small core assembly of people in charge of an organisation, like a group of many conductors leading an orchestra.

    It has not been known where and how this orchestration takes place in the brain. Now in ”Revisiting the Global Workspace orchestrating the hierarchical organisation of the human brain”, Nature Human Behaviour, researchers found the existence of a functional ‘rich club’ of brain regions incarnating this ‘global workspace’. This radical new discovery from Gustavo Deco and Morten L Kringelbach’s international collaboration is based on a large dataset of over 1000 human participants with fMRI recordings. The findings shed new light on the nature of consciousness.

    Deco: “To identify the global workspace, we determined the information flow between brain regions by means of a normalised directed transfer entropy framework applied to multimodal neuroimaging data from healthy participants. This revealed a set of unique brain regions orchestrating information from perceptual, long-term memory, evaluative and attentional systems across many different tasks. Also, we confirmed the causal significance and robustness of our results by systematically lesioning a generative whole-brain model”.

  • Want to tell 'blue' from 'green'? Avoid too much sun... (2021)

    Dediu, Dan (UB)

    view details

    Want to tell 'blue' from 'green'? Avoid too much sun...

    Not all languages "cut" the spectrum of visible light into words for colours in the same way. While some languages function perfectly well with just 2 or 3 basic colour terms (roughly "light", "dark", and "red"), others have more than 10. In particular, while languages such as English, French and Spanish have a single basic term for the 'blue' region of the visible spectrum ("blue", "bleu" and "azul", respectively) and some even distinguish two shades (such as Russian: light "goluboy"/"голубой" and dark "siniy"/"синий"), many other languages do not make the difference between 'blue' and 'green', using instead a single basic colour term roughly translatable as "grue". Why do these differences between languages exit?

    To answer, we used a massive database of 142 populations spread across the globe, speaking widely different languages, and we showed that the languages spoken by more people, closer to large lakes, or further away from the equator, have a higher chance of distinguishing 'blue' and 'green'. While the first factor really is just an imperfect proxy for more complex technologies (including dyeing techniques) and the second seems to intuitively make sense (not all lakes are always "poster card" blue, but they are very salient and important parts of life), the third supports an older but intriguing suggestion.

    Long exposure, throughout the lifespan, to lots of ultraviolet light, especially to the medium-wave or type "B" (UV-B), has negative effects on the lens of the eye, resulting in progressive "lens brunescence" and decreased sensitivity to blue light. This progressive loss of blue light perception, acquired through unprotected exposure to intense UV-B light, would explain why languages closer to the equator (where UV-B intensity is higher) tend to not distinguish 'blue' and 'green'. However, this is just one factor among many others, but it brings home the fact that languages "live" in the real world and are shaped by it in complex and fascinating ways. 

  • Use of quantitative models to predict gene expression (2021)

    Di Croce, Luciano (CRG)

    view details

    Use of quantitative models to predict gene expression

    Appropriate regulation of gene expression is necessary for correct development and homeostasis of organisms. Epigenetic mechanisms represent an additional layer of information, besides the genetic sequence, crucial for the correct functioning of each cell. Histone modifications, which modulate and are associated to transcriptional activation or repression, are a major epigenetic feature.

    We develop quantitative models to characterize the relationship of gene expression with histone modifications at enhancers or promoters. We use embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which contain a full spectrum of active and repressed (poised) enhancers, to train predictive models. As many poised enhancers in ESCs switch towards an active state during differentiation, predictive models can also be trained on poised enhancers throughout differentiation and in development. Remarkably, we determine that histone modifications at enhancers, as well as promoters, are predictive of gene expression in ESCs and throughout differentiation and development. Importantly, we demonstrate that their contribution to the predictive models varies depending on their location in enhancers or promoters. Moreover, we use a local regression (LOESS) to normalize sequencing data from different sources, which allows us to apply predictive models trained in a specific cellular context to a different one. We conclude that the relationship between gene expression and histone modifications at enhancers is universal and different from promoters. Our study provides new insight into how histone modifications relate to gene expression based on their location in enhancers or promoters.

  • The Profit Paradox (2021)

    Eeckhout, Jan (UPF)

    view details

    The Profit Paradox

    In an era of technological progress and easy communication, it might seem reasonable to assume that the world’s working people have never had it so good. But wages are stagnant and prices are rising, so that everything from a bottle of beer to a prosthetic hip costs more. Economist Jan Eeckhout shows how this is due to a small number of companies exploiting an unbridled rise in market power—the ability to set prices higher than they could in a properly functioning competitive marketplace. Drawing on his own groundbreaking research and telling the stories of common workers throughout, he demonstrates how market power has suffocated the world of work, and how, without better mechanisms to ensure competition, it could lead to disastrous market corrections and political turmoil.

    The Profit Paradox describes how, over the past forty years, a handful of companies have reaped most of the rewards of technological advancements—acquiring rivals, securing huge profits, and creating brutally unequal outcomes for workers. Instead of passing on the benefits of better technologies to consumers through lower prices, these “superstar” companies leverage new technologies to charge even higher prices. The consequences are already immense, from unnecessarily high prices for virtually everything, to fewer startups that can compete, to rising inequality and stagnating wages for most workers and severely limited social mobility.

    A provocative investigation into how market power hurts average working people, The Profit Paradox also offers concrete solutions about how to fix the problem it and restore a healthy economy.

  • The Completion of the Latin Talmud Edition  (2021)

    Fidora Riera, Alexander (UAB)

    view details

    The Completion of the Latin Talmud Edition 

    In the midst of a turbulent trial against the Talmud in Paris, during the 1240s a group of Christian scholars set out to prepare a Latin translation of large parts of the Talmud, the so-called Extractions of the Talmud, which have come down to us in two versions. After publishing the first of these two versions in 2019, the LATTAL group, led by Alexander Fidora, has now completed the critical edition of the second version, based on the analysis and transcription of four medieval manuscripts. The long-awaited edition and study of this monumental corpus is a landmark in the study of Christian-Jewish relations during the Middle Ages, as it was the basis for the final condemnation of Rabbinic Judaism in 1248.

    As with the first version, this second edition is accompanied by an English introduction and comprehensive indexes. Altogether, the two volumes, which conclude the edition of the Latin Talmud, funded by the ERC and the MICINN, add up to more than 1,300 pages.

  • Crossing paths to drug resistance (2021)

    Gabaldón Estevan, Toni (BSC-CNS)

    view details

    Crossing paths to drug resistance

    It is estimated that 80% of women will suffer from vaginal candidiasis at least once in their lives. In addition to superficial infections, which can be oral or vaginal and do not usually have a serious prognosis, fungi of the Candida  genus can cause systemic diseases in immunocompromised individuals and these are fatal in 40% of cases. Drugs are available to treat these conditions, but doctors are increasingly encountering varieties of fungi that have developed resistance to treatments, thus making candida infection a serious global health problem. In this work, Gabaldón and co-workers have studied the resistance mechanisms developed by the species Candida glabrata upon exposure to various drugs and have identified eight genes that, when mutated, are responsible for allowing the fungus to adapt and survive treatment. To date, only half of these genes were known as candidates to confer drug resistance.

    To perform this study, the researchers cultured independent populations of the fungus Candida glabrata and administered a variety of drugs available on the market that have different mechanisms of action. They then analysed the resistance developed and the genomes of the distinct populations to correlate the mechanisms with the genetic differences.The strains that have been generated in this work, which combine resistance to several drugs, can serve as a study model in the search for new treatments. In addition to resistance to the treatment administered, the researchers observed that exposure to one particular drug (fluconazol) also caused resistance to another type of drug (equinocandina) in 50% of the cases, although these populations had never been exposed to the second drug.