HydroCobotics: SZTAKI researchers work on automation of environmentally friendly horticulture procedure

Hydroponics is a sustainable and profitable technique method for growing plants that only uses water and minerals and does not require soil, saving on the available space for growing plants and also enabling more kinds of plants to grow within a relatively small area.

The spread of such systems is slowed by the variety of plants, which makes the automation of quality assurance difficult, not to mention the fact that in most cases human intervention is required to ensure that packaging standards are met. To achieve effective automation, such a system would require the involvement of robots.

The project in question is coordinated by the industry robotics company Hepenix Kft., while Green Drops Farm Kft. a company specializing in hydroponics, is also a member. Within ELKH SZTAKI, the project is led by Research Laboratory on Engineering & Management Intelligence research fellow Imre Paniti.

The goal of this project is to integrate commercially available sensors with a robotic gripper and additional protective equipment designed for this new application, as well as to create and also validate a safety validation protocol for selected scenarios by applying a mobile robot platform with a cobot arm in a vertically designed hydroponic system.

The results from HydroCobotics may enhance the possibilities of hydroponic systems to make this already environmentally friendly and efficient plant production system even more popular. The nine-month long H2020 cascade project began on 1 January 2021.

Knowledge and technology transfer between ELKH and Hungarian innovation actors can be more efficient with the cooperation of MISZ and ELKH

The Hungarian Association for Innovation (MISZ) and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat signed a cooperation agreement on January 27, 2021. The common goal of the cooperating parties is to promote the economic and social utilization of the scientific findings generated at the research sites belonging to the ELKH research network, and to strengthen the cooperation between ELKH and other stakeholders interested in innovation. In addition to expressing their intention to cooperate, the parties developed a joint work plan for 2021 that set out the planned activities for the first year of the partnership.

Gábor Szabó, Chairman of MISZ, said: “Several of the ELKH institutes are also direct members of MISZ and play a key role, for example, in the operation of our R&D Department. We want to raise our previous institutional cooperation to a higher level through the agreement signed with the ELKH Secretariat, and based on an elaborated work plan. We believe that the process from basic research to the market can be further enhanced. This type of activity is also recognized separately within the framework of the Hungarian Innovation Grand Prize competition announced by MISZ every year.˝

Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH said in connection with the signing of the agreement: “Due to its size and high-quality research staff, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network is a key player of the Hungarian knowledge-based innovation activity. ELKH considers it its mission to strengthen and develop the Hungarian research network based on the principles of excellence, as well as to promote the relations of the research sector with other stakeholders in the economy and society. As a recognized and responsible Hungarian representative of matters relating to innovation, MISZ can support ELKH effectively in these activities, including enhancing the economic and social impact of scientific research, development and innovation.”

The cooperation of the parties will focus on boosting knowledge and technology transfer processes between domestic innovation stakeholders. In addition to utilizing the scientific results generated at the ELKH research sites for the national economy, the common goal of the two organizations is to contribute to the supply of young researchers and talent management, to strengthen regional knowledge bases building on cooperation between universities and the research network, and to increase the innovation and income-generating capacity of the Hungarian industry, agriculture and the service sector.

Knowledge and technology transfer between ELKH and Hungarian innovation actors can be more efficient with the cooperation of MISZ and ELKH

The Hungarian Association for Innovation (MISZ) and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat signed a cooperation agreement on January 27, 2021. The common goal of the cooperating parties is to promote the economic and social utilization of the scientific findings generated at the research sites belonging to the ELKH research network, and to strengthen the cooperation between ELKH and other stakeholders interested in innovation. In addition to expressing their intention to cooperate, the parties developed a joint work plan for 2021 that set out the planned activities for the first year of the partnership.

Gábor Szabó, Chairman of MISZ, said: “Several of the ELKH institutes are also direct members of MISZ and play a key role, for example, in the operation of our R&D Department. We want to raise our previous institutional cooperation to a higher level through the agreement signed with the ELKH Secretariat, and based on an elaborated work plan. We believe that the process from basic research to the market can be further enhanced. This type of activity is also recognized separately within the framework of the Hungarian Innovation Grand Prize competition announced by MISZ every year.˝

Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH said in connection with the signing of the agreement: “Due to its size and high-quality research staff, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network is a key player of the Hungarian knowledge-based innovation activity. ELKH considers it its mission to strengthen and develop the Hungarian research network based on the principles of excellence, as well as to promote the relations of the research sector with other stakeholders in the economy and society. As a recognized and responsible Hungarian representative of matters relating to innovation, MISZ can support ELKH effectively in these activities, including enhancing the economic and social impact of scientific research, development and innovation.”

The cooperation of the parties will focus on boosting knowledge and technology transfer processes between domestic innovation stakeholders. In addition to utilizing the scientific results generated at the ELKH research sites for the national economy, the common goal of the two organizations is to contribute to the supply of young researchers and talent management, to strengthen regional knowledge bases building on cooperation between universities and the research network, and to increase the innovation and income-generating capacity of the Hungarian industry, agriculture and the service sector.

Hungarian researchers found links between the clinical characteristics of COVID-19 and the deposition of SARS-CoV-2 in the airways

Hungarian researchers have demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 virions causing pneumonia originate from the upper airways of the same patient.  The work has been performed in a collaboration between the researchers of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research, the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics, the Semmelweis University and the County Institute of Pulmonology in Törökbálint. The study has recently been published in Scientific Reports. Based on the research it is very unlikely that virions directly reach the lungs, even if one inhales the air coughed out by a patient with COVID-19. The process leading to pneumonia can be divided into two phases. In the first phase, only the upper airways get infected. Then virions multiplied there and getting deeper cause pneumonia in the second phase. The authors point out what we can do at the beginning of the disease to avoid the worsening of the symptoms. These actions do not replace but can complement the present preventive measures, which focus on the first phase of the process.

One of the features of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the course and severity of the disease are very diverse. They strongly depend on the location of the cells which are infected by SARS-CoV-2 virions. Typical mild symptoms like coughing or the loss of smell and taste suggest an upper respiratory infection. Virions must get much deeper in order to cause pneumonia.

Therefore, it was important to investigate, where the virions go if we inhale air that originates from the cough of a patient with COVID-19. The authors of the study applied a computational model, which determines the deposition of virus carrier particles. Simulations showed that it is very unlikely that due to one inhalation a single virion reaches the deeper parts of the lung, because most of the virions deposit in the nasal and oral cavities, and in the throat.

This finding is in agreement with the clinical observation that COVID-19 pneumonia is preceded by upper respiratory symptoms. Based on this, the process leading to pneumonia can be divided into two phases. In the first phase, only the upper airways get infected. Then virions multiplied there and getting deeper cause pneumonia in the second phase. It means that those SARS-CoV-2 virions that cause pneumonia originate not from elsewhere but from the upper airways of the same patient.

Mass deposition fraction of inhaled particles (left axis) and deposited mass from a single inhalation (right axis) in the extrathoracic, bronchial and acinar regions of the lungs upon exposure to cough-generated droplets and aerosol particles. The insert shows the subdivisions of the intrathoracic airways

Can we do anything during the first phase to avoid the worsening of our symptoms? First of all, it is important to decrease the virus concentration in the air around us, which can be increased by our own cough. Therefore, frequent ventilation of the room and absorbing our own cough with a tissue is recommended even if we are alone at home.  Virions in our upper airways can infect not only the upper airways of someone else, but also our own lungs. In addition to that, the risk of clinical deterioration of the disease can be decreased by any agent applicable in the upper airways that reduces the viral load directly in the mucosa. These actions do not replace but can complement the present measures, which focus on prevention of the first phase of the process.

Further research is required to understand how virions reach the lungs from the upper airways. In addition, the team would like to study how the breathing mode affects the airway deposition of SARS-CoV-2, which can be particularly important with regards to the spread of COVID-19 among athletes and manual workers.

Further information:

Madas, B.G., Füri, P., Farkas, Á., Nagy, A., Czitrovszky, A., Balásházy, I., Schay, G.G., Horváth, A., 2020. Deposition distribution of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in the human airways upon exposure to cough-generated droplets and aerosol particles. Scientific Reports. 10, 22430.

An international research group including a CSFK GGI researcher examines the predictability of earthquakes based on atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances

Under the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) project, researchers have studied ionospheric disturbances in the context of large-scale earthquakes using a variety of methods. The research was aimed at examining changes in ionospheric parameters based on data from various atmospheric and European global navigation satellite systems in order to determine whether earthquakes can be predicted from atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances associated with earthquakes. From Hungary, Veronika Barta, a researcher at ELKH CSFK GGI, took part in the project. A study presenting the research findings was published in the Geosciences.

A group of researchers from Cyprus, Russia, Nepal, Hungary, Indonesia, Greece and Turkey studied ionospheric disturbances, using various methods, which occurred prior to and during three recent large-scale earthquakes in Mexico with magnitudes of 6.6, 8.2 and 7.1. A special feature of the dates of the earthquakes (21 January 2016, 8 and 19 September 2017) is that the second earthquake erupted precisely during the period of a solar flare-induced geomagnetic storm. This meant that the researchers also studied ionospheric changes in another 37 periods before an intensive (M> 4) earthquake, which also occurred in 2017.

Veronika Barta and her colleagues, representing the ELKH CSFK Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics, studied the temporal variation and spatial distribution of the Total Electron Content (TEC) derived from the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data in the vicinity of these earthquakes, and also carried out spectral analysis. In addition, special attention was paid to the temporal variation and regional distribution of a parameter derived from an atmospheric model, the so-called Atmospheric Chemical Potential (ACP).

In recent decades, a number of theoretical studies have focused on the possible physical mechanisms of pre-earthquake atmospheric disturbances, as well as magnetospheric and ionospheric disturbances. According to the Lithosphere – Atmosphere – Ionosphere – Magnetosphere (LAIMC) coupling model, before the earthquake, micro-cracks form in the Earth’s crust, through which radon gas is released. Increased radon concentrations ionise the air, creating water condensation nuclei, and the latent heat released during condensation can modify atmospheric temperature, humidity, and greenhouse effect.

Increased surface ionisation alters the electrical conductivity of the atmosphere, which can cause electron and ion plasma density anomalies in the ionosphere through the global atmospheric electrical circuit between the surface and the ionosphere, and this can be well clearly detected in changes in total electron content. Ionospheric disturbances are able to penetrate the magnetosphere along the Earth’s magnetic lines of force. Atmospheric chemical potential is a new, integrated parameter related to radon change, which is related to the latent heat released during the condensation of water molecules, when water molecules detach from water droplets. Ionization caused by an increase in radon concentrations prior to earthquakes releases latent heat, as the number of condensation nuclei increases. The atmospheric chemical potential is suitable for detecting just this excess heat.

According to the results of the study, atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances related to earthquakes can be detected simultaneously using several parameters and methods, even during periods that are geomagnetically active. The researchers detected large and short-term changes in total electron content in the few hours and days before the earthquakes that were studied. According to the spectral analysis of the electron content, short disturbances in the ionosphere with a period of 20–25 minutes developed over the epicenter of the earthquakes. In most cases, regional ionospheric disturbance was associated with an increase in the ACP parameter. In order to obtain a comprehensive and clear picture of the atmospheric and ionospheric changes before earthquakes, the researchers said it would be worthwhile to create a network of stations in seismically active regions that could simultaneously study temperature, relative humidity, radon, atmospheric electrical parameters, and changes in total electron content.

Ionospheric TEC changes during the outbreak of the M = 8 magnitude earthquake in Mexico on 8 September 2017. Along the abscissa are the Days Of Year 2017 (DOY) from August 24 (236) to September 25 (268). The ordinate indicates the local time. The 8.2 magnitude earthquake on September 8 occurred on the 251st day. The color scale shows the percentage deviations of total electron content (TEC) from the 15-day running average based on data from a UTON GNSS measuring station near the epicenter. A geomagnetic storm also took place before the earthquake (on the 7th and 8th).

More information:

Oikonomou, C.; Haralambous, H.; Pulinets, S.; Khadka, A.; Paudel, S.R.; Barta, V.; Muslim, B.; Kourtidis, K.; Karagioras, A.; Inyurt, S. Investigation of Pre-Earthquake Ionospheric and Atmospheric Disturbances for Three Large Earthquakes in Mexico. Geosciences 2021, 11 (1), 16.

In 2020, researchers of ATK NÖVI discover many new species and make a breakthrough by identifying several pests and pathogens in Hungary

The Plant Protection Institute of ELKH Centre for Agricultural Research (ATK NÖVI) has always played a significant role in the detection of emerging pathogens and pests, which can also be considered the first step in controling them. Research that requires serious classical and molecular methods and knowledge also involves getting to know close and distant relatives of pest groups, which results in the discovery of many new species for science every year. This article presents the first plant viruses and phytoplasmas, arthropod and mollusc pests detected by researchers at ATK NÖVI in Hungary in 2020, as well as the viral, snail, scale insect and mite species discovered by researchers for the first time in scientific history.

Plant pathogens detected for the first time in Hungary and described for scientific purposes

Narcissus is a popular spring plant Hungary and can be found in gardens or even planted in flower pots. Researchers of the Plant Protection Institute have detected the presence of three types of narcissus viruses for the first time in Hungary: the virus that causes late yellowing of the narcissus (Narcissus late season yellows virus), the latent narcissus virus (Narcissus latent virus) and the narcissus mosaic virus (Narcissus mosaic virus). In addition, the knight’s star mosaic virus was first detected on daffodils. They also reported, for the first time, the presence of the Rembrandt tulip breaking virus (Rembrandt tulip-breaking virus) that infects the popular spring flower, the tulip, which generates the characteristic pattern of the tulip’s flower. The grape hyacinth mosaic virus (Muscari mosaic virus) was first detected on our popular bulbous plant, the grape hyacinth, which also blooms in the spring. In addition, a potyvirus previously (Muscari chlorotic mottle virus) unknown to science was discovered and named grape hyacinth chlorotic spot virus.

For the first time in Hungary, the institute’s researchers used molecular methods to identify the phytoplasma („Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris”) of aster yellowing on our popular horticultural ornamental plants, such as the blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata), the purple-leaved coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), the garden columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) and the campion (Lychnis flos-cuculi). The discovery and detection of new pathogens was carried out by the staff of the institute together with the researchers of Szent István University (Hungarian University of Agricultural and Life Sciences) and János Neumann University.

Figure 1: Symptoms caused by pathogens detected for the first time in Hungary. a), b) and c): combined symptom of narcissus latent virus and knight’s star mosaic virus on narcissus – a) green buds, b) in flowering state, c) after flowering in the open field; d): Rembrandt tulip breaking virus symptom on tulips; e): a potyvirus now discovered for science, a symptom of the grape hyacinth chlorotic spot virus on grape hyacinth; f), g) and h): symptoms of aster-yellowing phytoplasma a) on a coneflower, b) on a columbine, c) on a campion

Pests first detected in Hungary

In 2020, over the course of research two non-native species of slugs, namely the black-headed slug snail [Krynickillus melanocephalus Kaleniczenko, 1851] and the tandonia [Tandonia kusceri (Wagner, 1931)], were detected for the first time in Hungary by the institute’s researchers. Both species are already widespread throughout the country and, unfortunately, can be expected to cause harm. A species of mite introduced from East Asia [Aceria bambusae Channabasavanna, 1966] has also been found on popular and often planted bamboo plants. Two of the insects, a true bug species hitherto not known in Hungary, the common broom bug on papilionaceae [Arytaina genistae (Latreille, 1804)] and the yellow pear sucker damaging pears [Cacopsylla bidens (Šulc, 1907)], were found during exploratory work. The staff of the institute detected these pests in Hungary during their joint research with colleagues working at Szent István University (Hungarian University of Agricultural and Life Sciences), the National Food Chain Safety Office and the Hungarian Museum of Natural History.

Figure 2: Pests detected for the first time in Hungary.  a) Tandonia kusceri (Wagner, 1931); b) Krynickillus melanocephalus (Kaleniczenko, 1851); c) Aceria bambusae Channabasavanna, 1966; d) Cacopsylla bidens (Šulc, 1907); e) Arytaina genistae (Latreille, 1804)

Discovering new invertebrates for science

In 2020, a large number (30) of species previously unknown to science were discovered by researchers at ELKH ATK NÖVI, primarily in the framework of international collaboration. The largest number (21) of new terrestrial snail species were found, mainly during exploration work in Southeast Asia. The Institute discovered four species for scientific purposes from Myanmar [Landouria intha Páll-Gergely, Hunyadi & Hausdorf, 2020; Diaphera polita Páll-Gergely, 2020; Diaphera turbanophora Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; Sinoennea montawana Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020], ten species from Laos [Sinoennea angustistoma Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; Sinoennea infantilis Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; Sinoennea ljudmilena Páll-Gergely, 2020; Sinoennea otostoma Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; Sinoennea variabilis Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; Laoennea carychioides Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; Kontschania tetragyra Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; Clostophis obtusus Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; Clostophis infantilis Páll-Gergely, 2020; Clostophis multiformis Páll-Gergely & A. Reischütz, 2020], four species from Vietnam [Clostophis incurvus Páll-Gergely & Vermeulen, 2020; Clostophis koilobasis Páll-Gergely & Vermeulen, 2020; Clostophis platytrochus Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; Coptocheilus maunautim Bui & Páll-Gergely, 2020], two species from Thailand [Sinoennea panhai Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; Sinoennea sutchariti Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020] and one species from China [Diaphera lini Z.-Y. Chen & Páll-Gergely, 2020]. Insect research has also led to the discovery and description of a hitherto unknown species of scale insect from Peru. During the study of mites, eight hitherto unknown species from Africa were discovered. The Mahnertellina paradoxa, Kontschán 2020, Rotundabaloghia (Circobaloghiaolszanowskii, Kontschán 2020, and the  Origmatrachys mahnerti, Kontschán, 2020, from Zimbabwe the Bloszykiella rammsteini Kontschán & Ermilov, 2020, from Ruanda the Bloszykiella lindemanni Kontschán & Ermilov, 2020 species. From South-America, Peru, the Afrotrachytes peruensis Kontschán & Fridrich, 2020 and Formosaurella tertia Kontschán & Fridrich, 2020 species, from Jemen the Discotrachytes vanharteni Kontschán, 2020 species.

Figure 3: Newly discovered snail species for science. a) Clostophis incurvus Páll-Gergely & Vermeulen, 2020; b) Clostophis infantilis Páll-Gergely, 2020; c) Clostophis koilobasis Páll-Gergely & Vermeulen, 2020; d) Clostophis multiformis Páll-Gergely & A. Reischütz, 2020; e) Clostophis obtusus Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; f) Clostophis platytrochus Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; g) Kontschania tetragyra Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; h) Coptocheilus maunautim Bui & Páll-Gergely, 2020; i) Laoennea carychioides Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; j) Diaphera lini Z.-Y. Chen & Páll-Gergely, 2020; k) Diaphera polita Páll-Gergely, 2020; l) Diaphera turbanophora Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; m) Sinoennea angustistoma Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; n) Sinoennea infantilis Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; o) Sinoennea ljudmilena Páll-Gergely, 2020; p) Sinoennea montawana Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; r) Sinoennea otostoma Páll-Gergely, A. Reischütz & Maassen, 2020; s) Sinoennea panhai Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; t) Sinoennea sutchariti Páll-Gergely & Hunyadi, 2020; u) Sinoennea variabilis Páll-Gergely & Grego, 2020; v) Landouria intha Páll-Gergely, Hunyadi & Hausdorf, 2020

Figure 4: Newly discovered insect and mite species for science. a) Ripersiella incarum Kaydan & Szita, 2020; b) Formosaurella tertia Kontschán & Fridrich, 2020; c) Afrotrachytes peruensis Kontschán & Fridrich, 2020; d) Discotrachytes vanharteni Kontschán, 2020; e) Origmatrachys mahnerti Kontschán, 2020; f) Mahnertellina paradoxa Kontschán, 2020; g) Bloszykiella lindemanni Kontschán & Ermilov, 2020; h) Bloszykiella rammsteini Kontschán & Ermilov, 2020; i) Rotundabaloghia (Circobaloghiaolszanowskii Kontschán, 2020

Researchers from ÖK and ELTE use public iPhone mobile tracking data to study the effects of spring COVID measures in nine European countries

Researchers at ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (ÖK) and Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), in collaboration with their Australian colleagues, have examined the relationship between the spring COVID measures and people’s behavior based on public mobile phone mobility data in relation to mortality rates in nine European countries – Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden. The research study has established that the timing and severity of lockdowns, as well as the cooperation of people and the observance of social distancing, had a crucial influence on the number of deaths. The fast and clear instruction to ‘Stay Home!’ saved many lives where it was taken seriously by the people. The research study was published in Scientific Reports on 18 January 2021.

After a new type of coronavirus spreading from China had led to the global epidemic in March 2020, in the absence of vaccines or effective drug treatment, countries around the world had only one tool to use: to lock down or limit their borders, their economies and the daily lives of the general population. Given that there had been no pandemic of this magnitude in the last 100 years, there was no knowledge available on the impact that the drastic measures that had to be introduced would have on the mobility of people and subsequently on the evolution of the pandemic. However, evaluating the effectiveness of lockdowns could be vital, as responsible decisions can only be made in the future based on the findings of this evaluation.

Researchers have found that Apple’s publicly released mobile phone mobility data are a surprisingly good predictor of the extent to which face-to-face encounters would decline. The reliable mobility data made available in this way were compared by the researchers with the dates of official lockdowns and the shape of mortality curves. (Case numbers were not used as an indicator because they are highly dependent on the amount and methodology of testing, whereas mortality data are much more reliable.)

It is clear from the mobility data that the mobility of iPhone owners began to fall around the lockdown and then settled to a much lower level. As the number of iPhone owners in Europe is quite significant, these data can effectively characterize the mobility of the whole society.

Daily mortality and mobility data for the nine European countries studied (a – i). Time 0 corresponds to the day when a country first reported ≥ 5 deaths per day. Top: the red and blue lines indicate the growth and decay phases. Vertical line: national lockdown date. Bottom: mobile phone tracking data, normalized to pre-epidemic averages (M1).

“We examined whether there was any correlation between the number of deaths and the official start of the lockdown and the actual lockdown affecting the people. The delay in lockdown was calculated based on the time that elapsed between the date of death of the fifth patient who died in the country and the date of the lockdown. It turned out that there is no strong correlation between the official lockdown date and the number of all fatalities in the spring wave,” said István Scheuring, one of the authors of the study, a member of ELKH’s Evolutionary Systems Research Group at the Centre for Ecological Research and of the MTA-ELTE Theoretical Biology and Evolutionary Ecology Research Group. “At the same time, we realised that the number of deaths – and the number of those infected – strongly correlates with the severity of the lockdown. This, in turn, can be estimated on the basis of how much people’s mobility decreased compared to the usual rate of mobility.”

The mobility data of iPhones clearly shows the differences between the lockdowns in each country. The two endpoints were Italy and Spain (where drastic measures were taken) and Sweden (where people’s lives were nowhere near as severely restricted). Countries also differed in how quickly people’s mobility declined after the start of the pandemic. The onset of the pandemic also varied by state, presumably influenced by the structure of local communities, the mobility of local people and social life. While in Italy, for example, in many places several generations of families live together, in Sweden 40 percent of households have only one person.

“The success of the lockdowns depended on three things: how quickly the pandemic had spread before the lockdown, how quickly the lockdown was introduced by the authorities, and how strict it was. All this can be clearly seen in the mobile phone tracking data, so this information will be used in the future to check the effectiveness of measures,” István Scheuring argued.

The results show that after the peak of the pandemic, the more people stayed at home, the faster the number of deaths began to decrease. In addition, the pandemic peak occured much closer to the date of the lockdown in countries where people took the need to stay home more seriously. The number of people who died at the time of the pandemic peak was higher in countries that were late in introducing the lockdown.

“The speed of the decision on lockdown is very important. The growth of a pandemic is exponential, and exponential processes are insidious: the initial, seemingly minor growth turns into a steep rise from one moment to the next, so a delay of a few days results in more lost lives,” István Scheuring summed up the conclusions of the research.

The whole article can be found here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-81308-2

Researchers from ÖK and ELTE use public iPhone mobile tracking data to study the effects of spring COVID measures in nine European countries

Researchers at ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (ÖK) and Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), in collaboration with their Australian colleagues, have examined the relationship between the spring COVID measures and people’s behavior based on public mobile phone mobility data in relation to mortality rates in nine European countries – Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden. The research study has established that the timing and severity of lockdowns, as well as the cooperation of people and the observance of social distancing, had a crucial influence on the number of deaths. The fast and clear instruction to ‘Stay Home!’ saved many lives where it was taken seriously by the people. The research study was published in Scientific Reports on 18 January 2021.

After a new type of coronavirus spreading from China had led to the global epidemic in March 2020, in the absence of vaccines or effective drug treatment, countries around the world had only one tool to use: to lock down or limit their borders, their economies and the daily lives of the general population. Given that there had been no pandemic of this magnitude in the last 100 years, there was no knowledge available on the impact that the drastic measures that had to be introduced would have on the mobility of people and subsequently on the evolution of the pandemic. However, evaluating the effectiveness of lockdowns could be vital, as responsible decisions can only be made in the future based on the findings of this evaluation.

Researchers have found that Apple’s publicly released mobile phone mobility data are a surprisingly good predictor of the extent to which face-to-face encounters would decline. The reliable mobility data made available in this way were compared by the researchers with the dates of official lockdowns and the shape of mortality curves. (Case numbers were not used as an indicator because they are highly dependent on the amount and methodology of testing, whereas mortality data are much more reliable.)

It is clear from the mobility data that the mobility of iPhone owners began to fall around the lockdown and then settled to a much lower level. As the number of iPhone owners in Europe is quite significant, these data can effectively characterize the mobility of the whole society.

Daily mortality and mobility data for the nine European countries studied (a – i). Time 0 corresponds to the day when a country first reported ≥ 5 deaths per day. Top: the red and blue lines indicate the growth and decay phases. Vertical line: national lockdown date. Bottom: mobile phone tracking data, normalized to pre-epidemic averages (M1).

“We examined whether there was any correlation between the number of deaths and the official start of the lockdown and the actual lockdown affecting the people. The delay in lockdown was calculated based on the time that elapsed between the date of death of the fifth patient who died in the country and the date of the lockdown. It turned out that there is no strong correlation between the official lockdown date and the number of all fatalities in the spring wave,” said István Scheuring, one of the authors of the study, a member of ELKH’s Evolutionary Systems Research Group at the Centre for Ecological Research and of the MTA-ELTE Theoretical Biology and Evolutionary Ecology Research Group. “At the same time, we realised that the number of deaths – and the number of those infected – strongly correlates with the severity of the lockdown. This, in turn, can be estimated on the basis of how much people’s mobility decreased compared to the usual rate of mobility.”

The mobility data of iPhones clearly shows the differences between the lockdowns in each country. The two endpoints were Italy and Spain (where drastic measures were taken) and Sweden (where people’s lives were nowhere near as severely restricted). Countries also differed in how quickly people’s mobility declined after the start of the pandemic. The onset of the pandemic also varied by state, presumably influenced by the structure of local communities, the mobility of local people and social life. While in Italy, for example, in many places several generations of families live together, in Sweden 40 percent of households have only one person.

“The success of the lockdowns depended on three things: how quickly the pandemic had spread before the lockdown, how quickly the lockdown was introduced by the authorities, and how strict it was. All this can be clearly seen in the mobile phone tracking data, so this information will be used in the future to check the effectiveness of measures,” István Scheuring argued.

The results show that after the peak of the pandemic, the more people stayed at home, the faster the number of deaths began to decrease. In addition, the pandemic peak occured much closer to the date of the lockdown in countries where people took the need to stay home more seriously. The number of people who died at the time of the pandemic peak was higher in countries that were late in introducing the lockdown.

“The speed of the decision on lockdown is very important. The growth of a pandemic is exponential, and exponential processes are insidious: the initial, seemingly minor growth turns into a steep rise from one moment to the next, so a delay of a few days results in more lost lives,” István Scheuring summed up the conclusions of the research.

The whole article can be found here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-81308-2

The Institute of World Economics, CERS organised a successful conference on the varieties of capitalism

Even the pandemic could not impede the sixth instalment of “The Role of State in Varieties of Capitalism” conference series organised by ELKH Centre for Economic and Regional Studies’ Institute of World Economics. These events typically explore the state’s relation with economic, political, and social development. Moreover, they have provided a platform to discuss the so-called varieties of capitalism approach through international comparisons. In 2020, participants analysed the development paths of emerging economies. It is impossible to provide a short overview of all the keynote lectures, book launches, and the nearly forty presentations, spanning numerous different topics; that is why, in this short report, we will  only present a handful of new research results and future directions of work.

In the first keynote lecture, Béla Greskovits (Central European University, AT–HU) offered novel insights on latecomer economies’ development trajectories by focusing on the period since the Global Financial Crisis and the ensuing Great Recession. The lecture was especially original, since Professor Greskovits did not present the results of research he had completed, but invited the audience to think about these issues together. In doing so, he provided some guidance to explore different levels of analysis and the ways in which continuities and changes could be identified. He then highlighted the intellectual and conceptional changes related to development and catching up. These showed that there is a rise in scepticism towards the need for an intensified integration of latecomer countries into the world economy. And in contrast to former, more optimistic views, dominant path dependency approaches have to be replaced by more dynamic and volatile models.

The keynote speaker also stressed that since Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) models have focused on the supply-side (i.e. firms), analyses have to include the demand-side to be able to reflect recent changes. This can lead to more eclectic analyses and result in hybrid models; which, however, may better resemble reality. Béla Greskovits provided a critical presentation and analysis of basic new models that describe the dependent development of emerging economies, and also indicated new research avenues and possibilities.

The second keynote speaker, Tomasz Mickiewicz (Aston University, UK) presented a new, alternative theoretical framework for resurgent institutional analysis. This presentation was also path-breaking, as it explicitly aimed to go beyond the critical analysis of existing theories and approaches. Professor Mickiewicz’ starting point was the argument that in order to better understand institutions, one has to better understand human behaviour first. For this, he posits that Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s capability approach might be especially useful, given its focus on the value of freedom and the freedom of choice, which Mickiewicz incorporated into development which he sees as a process of enhancing people’s capabilities by expanding their freedom.

Research in the special sections related to the  “From developmental states to new protectionism: changing repertoire of state interventions to promote development in an unfolding new world order” (FK_124573) project financed by the of the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NRDIO) in Hungary has been investigating the possibilities available to the 21st century’s developmental states. Christopher Wylde (St Mary’s University, UK) argued for a new theoretical framework, which goes beyond the conventional state–market and domestic–international dichotomies, while taking into account the dynamic changes of power relations among different interest groups. In a similar vein, Mustafa Kutlay (University of London, UK) and his co-author analysed the possibilities and limitations of a development-oriented foreign policy, by considering the example of Turkey.

From the side of the host institute (Institute of World Economics, HU), Judit Ricz critically analysed new industrial policies in Brazil, while Zsuzsánna Biedermann looked at the role of international power dynamics in structural transformation, based on the case study of Botswana. Finally, Michael Schedelik (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, DE) and his co-authors took a somewhat different approach and aimed to broaden the conventional VoC framework in order to better understand recent state-led capitalist experiments. In their new theoretical framework, they incorporated the analysis of growth regimes and social coalitions into the institutional analysis of state-led varieties of capitalism.

Several presentations raised the question if there were alternative models of development for Central and Eastern Europe to the one determined by European Union membership. Miklós Szanyi (Institute of World Economics, HU) called attention to the fact that historically three different development models influenced the region and their imprints are still visible. The Western part of the region joined the EU and, with this action, opted for the “Atlantic model”. In the case of the Balkans and the Post-Soviet region, the impact of the Atlantic model has always been counterbalanced by the strong influence of the two alternatives: the Ottoman-Balkan and the Russian development models. This difference is reflected in the social and economic processes of the 21st century as well.

Piotr Kozarzewski (Marie Curie-Sklodowska University Lublin, PL) demonstrated the impact of the Russian model through the example of Belarus. This is characterized by an authoritarian political system and the dominance of state sector in the economy. In the era of curtailed competition and bourgeoning state intervention, this country’s economy can function only due to the immense support it receives from Russia. Péter Mihályi (Corvinus University of Budapest, HU)  analysed what he sees as the most important institution of the two Eastern development models: rents. Although rents are created in all countries, including those following the Atlantic model, their hindrance on the economy depends on their relative size and prominence. The role of rents is more important in authoritarian regimes. Rents connect business and politics and are therefore the hotbeds of corruption, which is the main reason for the modest performance potential of rent-based economies.

Anita Pelle and her co-authors (Szeged University, HU) conducted an empirical study on the European varieties of capitalism based on new data. An interesting result of theirs is that Ireland represents a stand-alone, successful type of capitalism. A further key finding is that Czechia, Estonia, and Hungary form a separate group, which can be characterised by strong openness, high investment rates, and exceedingly active government intervention. Thus, we have the hope in the Eastern part of Europe for a successful catching-up, but this process should be based on intense investment activity and trade openness.

The changing role of the state was the topic of several presentations. Andrei Yakovlev (Higher School of Economics, Moscow, RU) and his co-authors analysed the state subsidies manufacturing companies received in times of crisis through the case of Russia. They showed that subsidies are extended in exchange for specific services. Katalin Antalóczy and Magdolna Sass (Budapest Business School and Institute of World Economics, HU) compared the role of the Hungarian and Indian governments in supporting pharmaceutical companies’ internationalisation process. They highlighted that instead of direct state ownership, the state facilitated the process as a regulator and actor by influencing the operational environment. These governments’ room for manoeuvring is simultaneously largely influenced by the international environment as well as their memberships in international organisations and integration with other states.

One of the roundtable discussions organised at the conference focused on a recent publication to which numerous researchers of the Institute of World Economics, HU contributed. Edited by Ágnes Szunomár and published by Palgrave Macmillan (https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030551643#aboutAuthors), the volume, Emerging-market Multinational Enterprises in East Central Europe, is the culmination of a four-year-long research process financed by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, which analysed the activities of emerging market multinationals in East Central Europe. During the roundtable, those who contributed to the book discussed a wide range of questions pertaining to the activities of these companies: what explains the interest of emerging market multinationals to take capital investments in East Central Europe? Why do they choose this region in particular, and in what sense do their motivations differ from those of their more developed counterparts? Last but not least, how, if at all, can regional countries such as Hungary profit from the local presence and activities of these companies?

Overall, the two-day conference clearly dispelled the notion that the online format is not suitable for meaningful and intensive academic discussions and exchanges. Hosted by the Institute of World Economics of the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, the conference drew participants from almost twenty countries. As successful as it was, the organisers hope that next year’s conference will return in a live format.

ATK NÖVI researchers study the phenomenon of information dissemination within animal populations using network analysis and simulations

Social information mediated by the presence and behavior of other individuals not only influences individual behavior, but can also generate changes at the level of the general population. According to researchers at the ELKH Centre for Agricultural Research (ATK), even in the absence of a social way of life among a species, the spread of social information can still develop and have similarly important consequences on population dynamics as in the case of animal species which form into groups. From the perspective of pest control, this phenomenon may have hitherto unrecognized significance in terms of the relationship between pollinators, pests and natural predators, and competing pest species.

In a summarizing article, the ELKH ATK NÖVI Department of Zoology has argued that the dissemination of social information between individuals is not necessarily limited to species that live in groups, and may be much more prevalent in the animal kingdom than previously assumed. In their study, the researchers collected experimental work that has demonstrated the ability to use social information in non-group-forming species in recent years, as well as conditions that may play an important role in creating the dissemination of social information between individuals. In addition, a method for studying and analyzing the phenomenon has also been proposed for species that do not form groups.

In a further publication, it was also demonstrated by computer simulation that replicating predator avoidance behavior by fellow members of the same species in prey populations of randomly moving individuals fundamentally affects the dynamics of both the prey and predator populations. These findings indicate that the use of social information in a prey population may lead to a weakening of predator-prey interaction and the cessation of fluctuations between the two populations.

The studies were published in the December issues of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution and Evolutionary Ecology.

Individual examples of the studied predator-prey dynamics. The population sizes indicated by the green dots are from a time series (M2) where the prey does not display any predator avoidance behavior. In this scenario, both populations are characterized by high-amplitude fluctuations. When predators avoid predator behavior (M3), cyclicality decreases in both populations (dots marked in blue), and the average population size of predators stabilizes at a lower value compared to the previous scenario. If prey animals are able to respond to predatory avoidance behaviors belonging to members of the same species with similar behavioral changes (i.e., using social information indicated by breeders; M4), both the prey and predator population sizes (orange dots) show significantly lower variance compared to their previous scenarios, the cyclical nature of their interactions ceases, and there will also be a reduced level of interdependence of the two population sizes.