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.


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  • The newly discovered plate boundary between Africa and the Iberian Peninsula could cause unanticipated large tsunamis (2022)

    Rodríguez Ranero, César (CSIC - ICM)

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    The newly discovered plate boundary between Africa and the Iberian Peninsula could cause unanticipated large tsunamis

    A new study led by the Institut de Ciències del Mar (CSIC) and ICREA has revealed the location of the boundary between the European and African tectonic plates in the Alboran Sea. The work also evaluates its potential capacity to produce large earthquakes that could trigger devastating tsunamis. The work defines for the first time the complex geometry of this active faults system and demonstrates that the system has absorbed most of the deformation from plate collision in this region during the last 5 million years. 

    Although the geological structure of the Alboran Sea subsurface has been extensively studied since the 1970s, until now the data were not sufficiently precise to understand the tectonics of the area. However, using modern methodologies has made it possible to characterize in detail a system of active faults that extends over 300 kilometers long and is now considered the most important, in terms of deformation accumulation, in the Iberian Peninsula. Until now, it was unknown whether the Alboran Sea had large active faults, as well as the exact location of the tectonic boundary where the European and African plates collide. This knowledge is key to reassess the seismic and tsunami risk to which the coastal areas of the western Mediterranean are exposed.

    In another study by the same group analyse the tsunamigenic potential of this plate boundary and suggest that this may be greater than previously thought. Most previous studies on seismic and tsunami risk did not correctly consider these large faults due to lack of data, so the risk had been underestimated. These new studies are a first appraisal of the seismic and tsunami potential of these large faults, which until now were almost completely unknown and must be thoroughly evaluated in future studies. 

  • The global circulation of books (2022)

    Roig Sanz, Diana (UOC)

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    The global circulation of books

    Globalisation has undoubtedly modified our academic and research practices and the traditional boundaries that have historically separated disciplines are now blurring to shed light on problems and challenges that cannot be exclusively examined from a disciplinary or national point of view. Book history and translation scholarship has also been confronted by the global turn, and researchers need to reconsider the place of literature and literary translation in our entangled world, as well as to understand the multiple methodological challenges arising from new disciplinary formations. Thus, this paper aims to contribute to an expanding array of research and conceptualize the growing field of global translation history and the discussion on the plural (histories) if we aim to introduce multiple voices and provide alternative narratives for encounters and translation flows which are not always related to political and well-defined territories, or to historically cultural centers. By proposing some theoretical and methodological insights, I offer an overview of this discussion, including the problems and pitfalls of previous perspectives, while presenting a more encompassing conceptual model for the study of global translation history(ies) in an entangled world society. This paper has been published in a still young, but already key journal in my field (Translation in Society, published by John Benjamins and edited by the very well-known scholar Luc Van Doorslaer), as this is the only journal which is fully focused on sociological approaches to translation.  

  • Structure and mechanism of an enzyme involved in the renewal of our intestinal mucus  (2022)

    Rovira Virgili, Carme (UB)

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    Structure and mechanism of an enzyme involved in the renewal of our intestinal mucus 

    Mucins are highly glycosylated proteins present in the mucus layers of most organisms (e.g. the intestinal mucus). They contribute to protect us from external microorganisms (e.g. pathogenic bacteria), avoiding that they reach the epithelial cells.

    Most bacteria that live in the intestinal mucus are able to eat fiber and starch, which they get from the food that we intake. Some of them can also consume sugars and mucins from our mucus. To do this they are equipped with specific enzymes, named mucinases, which break mucins into pieces before they can be correctly processed by the bacteria. These molecular scissors (mucinases) are not only important for the regeneration of our mucus, they also have a bad side, they are used by pathogenic bacteria, such as like enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, to penetrate in the protective mucus and reach the underlying epithelial cells.

    The molecular mechanisms of mucin degradation by mucinases, i.e. how they bind to mucins (recognition) and how they cut them into pieces (catalysis), remains unknown.  Recently, we have uncovered these mechanisms for AM0627, a mucinase secreted by the bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila, by means of a multidisciplinary work involving protein structure determination, synthetic biology and molecular simulations.

    Our results show that AM0627 is able to recognize two contiguous aminoacids (residues) that are glycosylated, with preference for each of them containing two sugars of N-acetylgalactosamine and galactose (GalNAc-Gal, or T antigen) versus them having a single GalNAc (or Tn antigen). Structural comparison among mucinases identified a conserved tyrosine engaged in sugar-π interactions as responsible for the common activity of these two mucinases with bis-T/Tn antigens. Once the enzyme binds to these specific glycosylation sites, it cleaves the peptide bond between the two glycosylated residues via a concerted mechanism relying on a nucleophilic water molecule.

    Our work illustrates how mucinases, through tremendous flexibility, adapt to the diversity in distribution and patterns of O-glycans on mucins and how they catalyze the chemical reaction at atomic detail.

  • A novel 'wiring diagram' links physiological traits of wheat for yield potential (2022)

    Slafer Lago, Gustavo A. (UdL)

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    A novel 'wiring diagram' links physiological traits of wheat for yield potential

    As crop yields are pushed closer to biophysical limits, achieving yield gains becomes increasingly challenging. Traditionally, scientists have worked on the premise that crop yield is a function of photosynthesis (source), the investment of assimilates into reproductive organs (sinks) and the underlying processes that enable and connect the expression of both. Although the original source-and-sink model remains valid, it must embrace more complexity, as scientific understanding improves.

    As a group of international researchers we proposed a new wiring diagram to show the interrelationships of the physiological traits that impact wheat yield potential, published on Nature Food. By illustrating these linkages, it shows connections among traits that may not have been apparent, which could serve as a decision support tool for crop scientists. The wiring diagram can inform new research hypotheses and breeding decisions, as well as research investment areas.

    The diagram can also serve as a platform onto which new empirical data are routinely mapped and new concepts added, thereby creating an ever-richer common point of reference for refining models in the future.

    The new wiring diagram represents a milestone in deterministic plant breeding. It dovetails simpler models with crop simulation models. It takes into account how source and sink strengths may interact with wheat developmental stages to determine yield. For example, at the time of stem growth, spike growth or effective grain filling.

    This diagram can be used to illustrate the relative importance of specific connections among traits in their appropriate phenological context and to highlight major gaps in knowledge. This graphical representation can also serve as a roadmap to prioritize research at other levels of integration, such as metabolomic or gene expression studies. The wiring diagram can be deployed to identify ways for improving elite breeding material and to explore untapped genetic resources for unique traits and alleles

  • Stopping sound on its (nano) tracks (2022)

    Sotomayor Torres, Clivia Marfa (ICN2)

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    Stopping sound on its (nano) tracks

    Some sound barriers, like those along motorways in built up areas, have dimension in the metre scale and yet the operating principle is the same as the one of stopping sound in the micro- and nanometre range. The impact in smaller scales is relevant for dissipation mechanisms taking place in laboratory-scale devices used in, e.g., quantum technologies, highly sensitive position sensors as well as photo-acoustic devices used in medical imaging, all of which are usually affected by the thermal energy background arising from regularly vibrating atomic chains, called phonons.

    The idea is simple: design a structure with the right distribution of mass density in a judiciously designed pattern so that destructive interference of sound or mechanical waves cancels the unwanted frequencies. However, the physical realisation and study of such a structure is nothing but simple, requiring state-of-the-art nanofabrication and imaginative experimental methodology to extract the information needed to fully characterise the structures supporting a mechanical frequency gap.

    This is precisely what we have achieved: a design based on the geometry of etched clover leaves realised in a free-standing silicon membrane, measured by Brillouin light scattering following a novel methodology which yields unambiguously the spectrum of mechanical frequencies in the GHz range.

    The core concept is phononic crystals, a structure with a periodic distribution of masses and well-defined symmetry. By means of sound waves interference ranges of frequencies are selected forming a band structure which shows frequency gaps - the mechanical band gaps. No sound wave can travel in the material at those frequencies. In fact, our structure was a phononic waveguide supporting two modes in the gap, akin to optical modes travelling in an optical fibre, only that here the mechanical modes are in the hypersonic range. We are now turning to modes with minimum or no losses, in the jargon, topological protected modes.

    The results from the collaboration between the ICN2 and the Danish Technical University appeared in Nature Nanotechnology accompanied by a News and Views article highlighting the work.

  • How is implicit reasoning possible? (2022)

    Sturm, Thomas (UAB)

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    How is implicit reasoning possible?

    The idea that reasoning can be implicit, or that there are implicit inferences involved in reasoning, is as plausible as it is problematic. On the one hand, there are good reasons to think that not all (or even most) of the inferential steps in reasoning are explicit. On the other hand, the idea that there is implicit reasoning might be taken to embody an intellectualist or rationalist myth about how the mind really works that needs to be replaced by better accounts. These conflicting tendencies have a long history at the intersection between philosophy and psychology. We develop our argument by describing and evaluating some prominent accounts of the ways in which the notion of implicitness as applied to reasoning has been analyzed in the history of philosophy and psychology. Addressing views from Aristotle over Hume, Kant and Helmholtz up to current dual systems accounts such as Daniel Kahneman's, we discuss and clarify the meanings of 'implicit' and 'reasoning'. We show that the non-conscious and automatic nature of some cognitive processes does not preclude them from being reasoning processes, nor from being responsive to norms of rationality. Some implicit processes can indeed be instances of reasoning: because they can be made explicit and then also be evaluated critically just like standard, conscious or deliberate instances of reasoning.