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Top of the Press Pops 2022

Donated Livers, Dolphin Apothecaries and Dangerous Dishwashers

Evolution, health, and animal and human behavior were among the topics of the most popular 10 media releases from the University of Zurich in 2022. The communiqué with the greatest reach was about a damaged liver successfully treated outside of the human body and then used in a donor organ transplant.
Rita Ziegler


Bottlenose dolphins that rub against selected corals and sponges to alleviate skin conditions caused an international media stir in 2022.

The University of Zurich’s media desk issued 73 news releases during 2022, covering new research findings as well as institutional developments and exhibitions at the university’s museums. The range of subjects reflects the broad spectrum of a comprehensive university – from extreme heat events to children’s self-regulation, media reporting on the Ukraine war, heart attack symptoms in women and Albert Einstein’s doctoral certificate.

The 10 most successful media releases, covering anthropology, paleontology and medical research, among others, generated almost 5,000 reports in total in national and international media.

1. Donated liver treated in machine before transplantation

A damaged donated liver was treated outside the human body in a machine and the healed organ then implanted into a cancer patient. It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the Zurich research team of surgeon Pierre Clavien managed to pull it off in the real world. This world first was the subject of almost 1,000 news items on every continent. It was met with particular interest in the UK, where it was picked up by nearly all the major media outlets with around 300 reports. Media in Australia, the USA, Spain and the German-speaking countries also lauded this milestone achievement.
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2. Voracious giant shark

A primeval creature of epic proportions stirred imaginations around the world in 2022: the megalodon was 30 meters long, weighed over 61 tons, and consumed around 100,000 kilo calories every day. An international team including UZH paleontologist Catalina Pimiento Hernandez created a 3D model of the creature based on an unusually well-preserved fossil found in Belgium. Their research demonstrated that the giant shark was capable of devouring prey the size of modern killer whales. The voracious predator that ruled the oceans 18 million years ago made a splash in the international press: the pickings were especially rich in the USA and UK, where around 520 of the total 770 reports were published, including in The New York Times, the BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian.
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3. Coral slime for skin conditions

Our third most popular story was another ocean discovery: Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins rub against selected corals and sponges to alleviate skin conditions. These were the findings of an international research team including UZH anthropologist Angela Ziltener. When they examined the coral samples in the lab, the researchers found 17 substances with antimicrobial properties. The underwater apothecary story was picked up mainly in Germany, UK, Spain, Portugal and the USA, with around 600 reports in total.
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4. Vocal blindworms

Land vertebrates like birds and mammals are known to communicate acoustically, while reptiles, amphibians and fishes were often believed to be mute. However, in 2022 scientists found that they too have a broad and complex acoustic repertoire which could give clues to the evolutionary origins of vocal communication. These origins date from more than 400 million years ago, found UZH paleontologist Marcelo Sánchez and his team, using comparative analyses. The news spread quickly: around 580 media outlets worldwide reported it, including major titles such as Le Monde, El País, La Repubblica and the BBC, as well as important science magazines such as The Scientist and Science et Avenir.
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5. Commercial dishwashers destroy protective layer in gut

Residue from rinse agents left behind on dishes cleaned in professional-grade dishwashers can damage the natural protective layer of the gut and contribute to the onset of chronic diseases. This was demonstrated by immunologist Cezmi Akdis and his research team at the UZH-associated Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research using organoids. The findings were of interest not only to caterers and restaurant-visitors, but also the media: almost 600 reports were dedicated to the topic, mainly in local papers in the USA and Germany.
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6. Call of the wild

Chimpanzees are noisy hunters for good reason, found researchers Joseph Mine and Simon Townsend of the Department of Comparative Language Science. By making a specific call, they are able to recruit more group members for the hunt and thus have greater success catching their prey. Like humans, chimpanzees use communication to coordinate cooperative behavior. The findings indicate that the link between group cooperation and vocal communication has existed for at least 7 million years. The hunting call was heeded in over 400 reports, two thirds of them the UK.
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7. Nuts and stones instead of knives and forks

Similarly well received, also especially in the UK, was another story about our closest relatives – this time regarding their table manners. In a field experiment, UZH anthropologist Kathelijne Koops showed that chimpanzees learn from their fellow animals how to use tools to crack nuts, similarly to the way young humans learn how to use cutlery.
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8. Combined program for cancer prevention

A combination of high-dose vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and a home-based fitness program can cumulatively reduce cancer risk in healthy adults aged over 70 by 61 percent, showed the international DO-HEALTH study led by UZH gerontologist Heike Bischoff-Ferrari. This good news was reported 300 times around the world, in far-flung media such as the Beijing News, the Sydney Times and India TV, as well as closer to home in the Daily Express and Focus Online.
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9. New virus in Swiss ticks

Though it was more a month for snowboarding than summer hiking, the UZH media team had ticks on their mind in December 2022: UZH virologist Cornel Fraefel and his research group found the Alongshan virus, originally discovered in China in 2017, in ticks in Switzerland. The virus leads to similar symptoms to the tickborne encephalitis virus and seems to be at least as widespread. Despite the incongruity of the season, the media were still interested in the story: there were over 200 reports on it worldwide, more than half of them in Germany and – not surprisingly – Switzerland.
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10. More sleep thanks to school closures

The theory that early morning school start times are not in line with the biorhythm of many youngsters is oft reported in the press. Developmental pediatricians Oskar Jenni, Reto Huber and their team provided new ammunition for the argument: Covid-related school closures in spring 2020, despite having a negative effect on many young people’s mental health, also positively affected their physical health and quality of life, as they were able to sleep for longer. The study was taken up in all the large radio, TV and print media in Switzerland, as well as receiving attention in Germany and India.
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