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Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Research for a better future

Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

At the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Maribor, we conduct research activities with the help of specialized laboratories and a computer team. Using machine learning methods and automated computer algorithms, we conduct computationally intensive research in biology, ecology, biophysics, physics, mathematics, and computer science, and develop biophysical models supported by data mining and Big Data analyses.

Within the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science, we also conduct research in several areas of applied mathematics. This includes some research in discrete mathematics, data mining, network analysis, and computational mathematics. In other areas of (theoretical) mathematics, we also occasionally use the following equipment as part of our assumption testing: a computer cluster with 2 IBM x3850 M2 servers, 48 Intel Xeon X7460 processors, 32 SAS disks connected to RAID 10.

The Biological Systems Modelling Laboratory is primarily devoted to mathematical modelling and simulation with the goal of describing, analysing, and studying the underlying mechanisms of various biomedical systems at various temporal and spatial scales. We pay the most attention to the creation of cell oscillator models, working closely with experimental groups from Slovenia and abroad. In close collaboration with health institutions (ZD dr. Adolfa Drolca Maribor, UKC MB, UKC LJ, SB Slovenj Gradec and ZZZS) we also perform analyses of large amounts of data in the laboratory. We use methods of data mining, machine learning, network science, nonlinear time series analysis and advanced methods for text analysis. An important focus of the work is interdisciplinary research combining computational physics, complex systems, and medicine, following modern trends in biomedical research. Experimental collaboration is primarily based on multicellular confocal fluorescence microscopy. Occasionally, we use a computer cluster for more complex calculations and analyses.

In the morphometry laboratory, we perform quantitative analyses of the shape and size of biological objects, which we record in two- and three-dimensional space using a variety of instruments and software. The objects of analysis are various morphological structures at the level of cells, organs and the whole organism. Most often, these are skeletal elements such as skulls, mandibles or teeth of mammals, fossil remains and other biological objects. We also perform analyses and evaluations of anatomical measurements using various morphometric approaches and the most sophisticated statistical tools. Morphological variability is explained by various factors, for example, environmental adaptations and selection pressures.

In the Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology Laboratory, we study microorganisms in terms of their genetic and metabolic diversity and their ability to produce various industrially useful products such as nanocellulose and acetate-like polysaccharides. We use classical microbiological approaches, molecular biology methods, especially whole genome sequencing with the latest technologies, metagenomic analysis and nucleotide sequence analysis with various bioinformatics tools.

In the ethology laboratory, we are expanding the existing knowledge of behavioural mechanisms and adaptations to changes in the environment and identifying the mechanisms of species existence and coexistence. The model organism of the research is sedentary predator bound to specific habitats, on which we test the influences of biotic and abiotic factors in the environment. They are interested in intraspecific and interspecific interactions, vibrational communication, and prey localization. Research also includes beetle ecophysiology and ethology. Behaviour is analysed using professional behaviour analysis software and statistical tools. Within the laboratory, we are also expanding the collection of the Neuroptera group at the level of Slovenia and the Balkan Peninsula and identifying the biodiversity patterns and processes in this group.

In the Plant Physiology and Botany Laboratory, we are developing in vitro methods for propagation, protection and storage by freezing rare, protected or endangered plant species. We are investigating the phytoremediation potential of various aquatic plants in tissue culture for the uptake of heavy metals and other trace elements. We are investigating the influence of selenium on plants in culture and the possibility of plant protection with this element. Aquatic plants are used in toxicity tests for water. We are investigating the phytoremediation potential of fast-growing terrestrial plants. Analysis of hormonal status of plants by bioassays for plant hormones auxins and cytokinins.

In the laboratory, we grow and study the production of secondary metabolites in bioreactor systems. We are exploring the production of biomass and astaxanth in bioreactor systems. Two bioreactor systems for the cultivation of microalgae are installed, equipped with systems for regulating various ecological parameters: Pumps, filters, cultivation vessels, CO2 supply system, pH maintenance, LED illumination, with the possibility of setting different combinations of wavelengths, intensity and illumination time.

The molecular laboratory focuses on the analysis of the effects of genetic depletion on the viability of small populations of rare species in Slovenia. Evolutionary processes in populations can be explained by genealogies of nucleotide DNA sequences and ecological studies. To perform these analyses we use the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Laboratory of Botany with the following equipment: PCR apparatus, electrophoresis, dust-free chamber, thermoblock, lyophilizer, centrifuge, pure water system, steam sterilizer, mechanical cell breaker and microscope.

In the GIS laboratory, the research group deals with the criterion of spatial perception. The research covers biodiversity from species to ecosystem level, taking into account the temporal component and environmental parameters. This includes taxonomic studies, flora of higher plants, vegetation patterns, agricultural land use, landscape structure, all depending on geographical factors, environmental parameters as well as socio-economic causes. Special attention should be paid to the dynamics of changes over time, the reasons for the dynamics, and prediction (modelling) for the future. We link biodiversity data at all levels with environmental and social parameters and place them in a concrete spatial framework. Sensors for ecological measurements are installed in the field, from grasslands to forests to cave ecosystems. The application of results is important for open conservation questions, concrete conservation problems in individual regions and in different ecosystems, from grasslands, wetlands, forests and caves. The results and modelling are useful for spatial localization of interventions in sensitive Natura 2000 areas in Slovenia and beyond. The laboratory includes the following equipment: GNSS equipment, equipment for long-term data collection – temperature and humidity, weather station, thermal imaging camera with high-frequency imaging, software tools (TerrSET, GIS).

In the Animal Physiology Laboratory, we are continuing research on wolf vibration communication, i.e., determining which components of the vibration signal are important for detecting the direction (localization) of prey, which causes subsurface vibrations as they move along the ground. We also plan to conduct research on beetles on: (i) ecophysiology of beetles, i.e., the influences of abiotic factors on the choice of microhabitat of the species Ips typographus; (ii) research on digestive enzymes, especially cellulases, in beetles and other saproxylic insects, which can make an important contribution to biotechnology.