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After the First World War, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland emerged as young independent states and new political subjects recognised by the world community. Despite some political differences, these countries sought joint discussion and actions in building progressive societies and enhancing the well-being of their people. Intellectuals, scientists, and professional leaders of these countries understood this need and encouraged mutual cooperation.
The first conference on intellectual cooperation of the Baltic countries was held at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas in 1935 and supported the idea of the establishment of academies of sciences in the Baltic countries. In Estonia, the Academy of Sciences was established in 1938. In Latvia and Lithuania, public institutions – the Latvian Institute of History and the Antanas Smetona Institute of Lithuanian Studies, respectively – which later developed into national academies of sciences, were founded before the Second World War. They were instrumental in organising research on a national scale.
The tradition of a number of conferences organised before the Second World War was revived after the Baltic countries regained their independence in 1990. A series of conferences with a focus on various issues of research and its development are organised in one of the three Baltic countries or Finland every second year. The themes and issues addressed during the recent decade included the following: diffusion of research and the relationships of the research community and the general public (2010, Vilnius); the role of small countries in the European research space (2013, Tallinn); activities of academies of sciences in initiating and stimulating research and innovation (2015, Riga); research-based teacher training in the Baltic region (2017, Helsinki). The 2019 conference is held in Lithuania again.
Participants of these conferences are academies of sciences of these countries and representatives of the academies of sciences of the Baltic region.
The famous Human Genome Project, launched in 1990 and accomplished in 2013, was a major challenge, a great achievement, and a fascinating part of the never-ending human quest for knowledge about ourselves. Although the 1990s was the time when national research systems of the Baltic countries were facing extreme challenges, new exciting opportunities were there as well.
Nowadays genetics permeates biomedical research in the Baltic countries. Genetic identification of historic persons, modification of genes for selection and biodiversity, genetic medical diagnostics, development of gene modification tools are commonly performed tasks. Our proximity to world-class science here is an indicator of what we have achieved.
This year’s conference in Vilnius is mostly focused on biomedical sciences, but it will not be confined just to them. The presentations of the first day of the conference will focus on the impact of modern genetics and genomics on plant selection, medical practice, and the emergence and development of novel scientific disciplines. The ways of how the latest achievements in genetics and genomics are changing the perception of the history of human populations will be demonstrated on the example of Lithuania on the second day of the event.
The latest technologies of biomedical research – bioinformatics, medical biotechnologies, genome editing tools for the analysis of the human genome – enable research into and the development of ethnogenesis-related issues. Studies into variations in DNA sequence make it possible to reconstruct the evolutionary history, origin, and structure of the human populations and to detect differences and similarities between individuals or populations. Demographic changes leave a trace in a population by changing its genetic diversity. Therefore one can assert that our history is encoded in a DNA sequence. Modern ethnogenetic research is developed by collating archaeological, genomic, and linguistic data. Comparison of results produced by separate branches of science is interesting to the general public as it facilitates a better understanding and clarification of the theory of the origin of nations.