Press releases


Jul 22 2021

Research team with Goethe University participation successfully proposes former quarry in Lower Saxony as Global Stratotype Section and Point 

"Golden nail" hammered in: Quarry near Salzgitter becomes global geological reference point

A team of scientists from Goethe University Frankfurt, the University of Warsaw, the State Authority for Mining, Energy and Geology (LBEG) in Hanover, and from other institutions world-wide, has found what researchers have been searching for worldwide for more than 20 years in Salzgitter-Salder: A geological formation that perfectly represents the transition from the Cretaceous Turonian to the Coniacian Age. The team has characterised the former limestone quarry so precisely that it is now considered a global reference point for the turn of the ages 89.4 million years ago. This was announced by the International Union of Geological Sciences, which awarded the stratotype profile the title "Global Stratotype Section and Point" (GSSP).

FRANKFURT/HANNOVER. The international team of geoscientists led by Prof. Silke Voigt from the Goethe University Frankfurt, Prof. Ireneusz Walaszczyk from the University of Warsaw and Dr André Bornemann from LBEG have thoroughly investigated 40 metres of the geological strata sequence in the former limestone quarry at Hasselberg. The researchers determined that this is only sequence in the transition between Turonian and Coniacian without gaps and it therefore represents a perfect rock sequence to serve geoscientists from all over the world as a reference for their research - a "Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP)" or, in the jargon of geosciences, a "golden nail".

Certain group of bivalve mollusks of the family Inoceramidae, first appeared in the Coniacian, and are found in large numbers in Salder. In Bed 46 of the quarry, the German-Polish scientific team found the oldest appearance of the Inoceramid species Cremnoceramus deformis erectus, which marks the time boundary. Careful studies also revealed other microfossils and a characteristic change in the ratio of the carbon isotopes 12C and 13C, a so-called negative anomaly in the carbon cycle.

"This means that variable geological sequences, such as marine shelf sediments in Mexico or the deep sea in the tropical Atlantic, can now be compared and classified in time," explains Prof. Silke Voigt. "This is important in order to be able to make an exact chronological classification even in the case of incomplete successions and ultimately to see, for example, what the climate was like at a certain time in the past in different places in the world."

Professor Ireneusz Walaszczyk says: "The sequence in Salzgitter-Salder prevails over other candidates, for example from the USA, India, Madagascar, New Zealand and Poland, because we have a perfect rock boundary sequence here over 40 metres, with a well-defined record of events which took place in this interval of geological time."

"The Zechstein Sea left behind massive salt layers in the North German Basin more than 250 million years ago," explains André Bornemann. "The rock layers deposited later exerted pressure on these salt layers, some of which bulged up into large salt domes, deforming younger layers in the process. Salder is located near such a salt dome, so that here the fossil-rich rock layers of the Cretaceous period are steeply upright, resulting in a wonderful profile that is very accessible for scientific investigations. That's why we at LBEG have designated this place as a geotope, and this is one of the most important geopoints of the Harz-Braunschweiger Land-Ostfalen UNESCO Global Geopark."

In the limestone quarry at Hasselberg near Salder in the north-east of the Salzgitter mountain range, limestone and marl used to be quarried for the cement industry and later for ore processing. Today, it is the location of a well-known biotope and geotope which is the property of the Stiftung Naturlandschaft (Natural Landscape Foundation) and established by the BUND regional association of Lower Saxony. While the care of the quarry site has been entrusted to the Salzgitter district group of BUND, the Harz-Braunschweiger Land-Ostfalen UNESCO Global Geopark looks after the geoscientific part of the quarry. The quarry is not freely accessible for nature conservation reasons, but guided walks are occasionally offered.

90 million years ago, in the second half of the Cretaceous, it was tropically warm on Earth: the ice-free poles ensured high sea levels, and Central Europe consisted of a cluster of islands. In the sea, ammonites developed a tremendous variety of forms, while dinosaurs reigned on land. The first flowering plants began to compete with horsetails and ferns. About 89.39 million years ago, the climate began to cool slightly, sea levels began sink, and a new period in Earth history, the Coniacian, replaced the Turonian.

Voigt S, Püttmann T, Mutterlose J, Bornemann A, Jarvis I, Pearce M, Walaszczyk, I (2021) Reassessment of the Salzgitter-Salder section as a potential stratotype for the Turonian–Coniacian Boundary: stable carbon isotopes and cyclostratigraphy constrained by nannofossils and palynology. Newsl Stratigr, 54/2, 209–228,

Walaszczyk, I., Čech, S., Crampton, J.S., Dubicka, Z., Ifrim, C., Jarvis, I., Kennedy, W.J., Lees, J.A., Lodowski, D., Pearce, M. Peryt, D., Sageman, B., Schiøler, P., Todes, J., Uličný, D., Voigt, S., Wiese, F., With contributions by, Linnert, C., Püttmann, T., and Toshimitsu, S. (2021) The Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the base of the Coniacian Stage (Salzgitter-Salder, Germany) and its auxiliary sections (Słupia Nadbrzeżna, central Poland; Střeleč, Czech Republic; and El Rosario, NE Mexico). Episodes 2021; 44(2): 129-150l.

Images for download:

Salzgitter-Salder: A perfect rock boundary sequence over 40 metres. (Photo: Silke Voigt, Goethe University Frankfurt)

GSSP in Salzgitter-Salder: Layer 46 marks the transition from the Cretaceous Turonian to the Coniacian Age. Photo and montage: Silke Voigt, Goethe University Frankfurt. Fossil: Walaszczyk et al. (2010)

Further information
Professor Silke Voigt
Goethe University Geocentre
Tel: +49 69 798-40190

Professor Ireneusz Piotr Walaszczyk
Institute for Historical and Regional Geology and Paleology

Dr André Bornemann
May be contacted through
Eike Bruns
LBEG, Communications office
Tel.: +49 511 643-2274

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Department, Tel: -49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,  


Jul 20 2021

Researchers at Goethe University find small molecules as binding partners for genomic RNA of the coronavirus

SARS-CoV-2: Achilles’ heel of viral RNA

Certain regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome might be a suitable target for future drugs. This is what researchers at Goethe University, together with their collaborators in the international COVID-19-NMR consortium, have now discovered. With the help of dedicated substance libraries, they have identified several small molecules that bind to certain areas of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that are almost never altered by mutations.

FRANKFURT. When SARS-CoV-2 infects a cell, it introduces its RNA into it and re-programmes it in such a way that the cell first produces viral proteins and then whole viral particles. In the search for active substances against SARS-CoV-2, researchers have so far mostly concentrated on the viral proteins and on blocking them, since this promises to prevent, or at least slow down, replication. But attacking the viral genome, a long RNA molecule, might also stop or slow down viral replication.

The scientists in the COVID-19-NMR consortium, which is coordinated by Professor Harald Schwalbe from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Goethe University, have now completed an important first step in the development of such a new class of SARS-CoV-2 drugs. They have identified 15 short segments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that are very similar in various coronaviruses and are known to perform essential regulatory functions. In the course of 2020 too, these segments were very rarely affected by mutations.

The researchers let a substance library of 768 small, chemically simple molecules interact with the 15 RNA segments and analysed the result by means of NMR spectroscopy. In NMR spectroscopy, molecules are first labelled with special types of atoms (stable isotopes) and then exposed to a strong magnetic field. The atomic nuclei are excited by means of a short radio frequency pulse and emit a frequency spectrum, with the help of which it is possible to determine the RNA and protein structure and how and where small molecules bind.

This enabled the research team led by Professor Schwalbe to identify 69 small molecules that bound to 13 of the 15 RNA segments. Professor Harald Schwalbe: “Three of the molecules even bind specifically to just one RNA segment. Through this, we were able to show that the SARS-CoV-2 RNA is highly suitable as a potential target structure for drugs. In view of the large number of SARS-CoV-2 mutations, such conservative RNA segments, like the ones we've identified, are particularly interesting for developing potential inhibitors. And since the viral RNA accounts for up to two thirds of all RNA in an infected cell, we should be able to disrupt viral replication on a considerable scale by using suitable molecules." Against this background, Schwalbe continues, the researchers have now already started follow-up trials with readily available substances that are chemically similar to the binding partners from the substance library.

Publication: Sridhar Sreeramulu, Christian Richter, Hannes Berg, Maria A Wirtz Martin, Betül Ceylan, Tobias Matzel, Jennifer Adam, Nadide Altincekic, Kamal Azzaoui, Jasleen Kaur Bains, Marcel J.J. Blommers, Jan Ferner, Boris Fürtig, M. Göbel, J Tassilo Grün, Martin Hengesbach, Katharina F. Hohmann, Daniel Hymon, Bozana Knezic, Jason Martins, Klara R Mertinkus, Anna Niesteruk, Stephen A Peter, Dennis J Pyper, Nusrat S. Qureshi, Ute Scheffer, Andreas Schlundt, Robbin Schnieders, Elke Stirnal, Alexey Sudakov, Alix Tröster, Jennifer Vögele, Anna Wacker, Julia E Weigand, Julia Wirmer-Bartoschek, Jens Wöhnert, Harald Schwalbe: Exploring the druggability of conserved RNA regulatory elements in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, Angewandte Chemie International Edition,

About the COVID-19-NMR consortium
Worldwide, over 40 working groups from 18 countries with a total of 230 scientists are conducting research within the COVID-19-NMR consortium. In Frankfurt, 45 doctoral and post-doctoral candidates have partly been working in two shifts per day, seven days a week, since the end of March 2020.

Earlier press release: “Folding of SARS-CoV2 genome reveals drug targets – and preparation for “SARS-CoV3"

Scientific contact:
Professor Harald Schwalbe
Institute for Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Center for Biomolecular Magnetic Resonance (BMRZ)
Goethe University
Tel +49 69 798-29137

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Department, Tel: -49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531, E-Mail:


Jul 1 2021

Goethe University study on student learning outcomes during COVID-19-related school closures in spring 2020

Effects of remote learning during first lockdown comparable to summer vacation

How effectively do children and teenagers learn in remote classes from home? The issue has been the subject of intensive discussions, not only among experts. A systematic review from the Department of Educational Psychology at Goethe University provides a sobering answer for the spring of 2020. The situation seems to have later improved. 

FRANKFURT. Despite diverse efforts to continue school operations as far possible with the help of remote learning and digital options during COVID-19-related schools closures, large deficits came about in the learning progress of many students. This was shown by a systematic review from Education Psychology at Goethe University. In the course of this systematic review, scientific databases were used to identify studies worldwide that examined the effect of COVID-19-related school closures on student achievement. 

“We only included publications with appropriate research methods that allow evidence-based conclusions about the effect of COVID-19-related schools closures on student achievement, and that used testing instruments that are suitable for measuring student achievement," explains Professor Andreas Frey, who teaches Educational Psychology with a focus on consulting, measurement and evaluation at Goethe University, and is one of the authors of the study. This showed that, compared to pre-COVID-19 in-person teaching, average student achievement was significantly lower during school closures. “The average student achievement during the school closures in the spring of 2020 is best designated as stagnation, with a tendency toward losses comparable in size to the effect of summer vacation," says Frey. Observed losses in learning were particularly distinct for students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes. “The empirical evidence supports previous assumptions: The gap between rich and poor widened even more during the first COVID-19-related school closures," concludes Frey. However, there are also initial indications that the effects of the later school closures from winter 2020/21 onwards may not necessarily be as drastic. Online teaching has improved in many places, which seems to mitigate the negative effects. 

The systematic review written by Svenja Hammerstein, Christoph König, Thomas Dreisörner and Andreas Frey is available as an open access preprint at The work is part of the project "Identifying and Reducing COVID-19-related Educational Disadvantages" (CoBi), which is funded by the Beisheim Foundation and the Goethe Coronavirus Fund. In the CoBi project, an online screening tool is being developed to identify particularly at-risk secondary school students, who are then supported by the MainKind counselling centre at Goethe University. 


Further information 

Professor Andreas Frey
Educational Psychology with a focus on consulting, measurement and evaluation

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science and Humanities Editor, International Communication, PR & Communication Department, Phone: +49 69 798-13066, Fax  +49(0)69 798-761 12531,


Jun 24 2021

Screening of multiple gene mutations is also applicable for complex nervous and immune diseases

New technique for studying cancer mutations – approaches for future therapies

An extended application of the CRISPR-Cas technology has been made possible by Dr Manual Kaulich's team at Goethe University: the new 3Cs multiplex technique allows the effect of genetic changes in any two genes to be studied simultaneously in cell cultures. This can provide important clues for the development of therapies to treat cancer or diseases of the nervous and immune systems.

FRANKFURT. Cancer and many other diseases are based on genetic defects. The body can often compensate for the defect of one gene; it is only the combination of several genetic errors that leads to the clinical picture. The 3Cs multiplex technique based on CRISPR-Cas technology developed at Goethe University Frankfurt now offers a way to simulate millions of such combinations of genetic defects and study their effects in cell culture. These "gene scissors" make it possible to introduce, remove and switch off genes in a targeted manner. For this purpose, small snippets of genetic material ("single guide RNA") are used as "addresses" that guide the gene scissors to specific sections of the DNA, where the gene scissors then become active.

The scientists from the Institute of Biochemistry II at Goethe University have expanded the 3Cs technique that they developed and patented three years ago. 3Cs stands for covalently-closed circular-synthesised, because the RNA elements used for CRISPR-Cas are generated with the help of a circular synthesis and are thus distributed more uniformly. With a whole library of such RNA rings, any gene in a cell can be specifically addressed in order to change it or switch it off.

The new 3Cs multiplex technique now even allows the simultaneous manipulation of two genes in one cell. Dr. Manuel Kaulich explains: "We can produce 'address' RNA libraries for all conceivable two-gene combinations. This allows up to several million combinations to be tested simultaneously in one experiment."

Until now, the cost and effort of such experiments was very high; the research group's new technique reduces it, including costs, by a factor of ten. This is because the team can produce the address libraries very uniformly and in high quality thanks to the new 3Cs multiplex technique. "Due to the mediocre quality of the CRISPR-Cas libraries previously available, very large experiments always had to be carried out to statistically compensate for any errors that arose," says Kaulich.

Using the example of various genes involved in degradation processes, the research group demonstrated the potential of the new 3Cs multiplex technique: they examined almost 13,000 two-way combinations of genes that are responsible for recycling processes (autophagy) in the cell. With their help, the cell breaks down and recycles "worn-out" cell components. Disturbances in autophagy can trigger cell proliferation.

"Using the 3Cs multiplex technique, we were able to identify, for example, two genes involved in autophagy whose switching off leads to an uncontrolled growth of cells," explains Kaulich. "These are precisely the autophagy mutations that occur in every fifth patient with squamous cell carcinoma of the lung. In this way, we can search very efficiently in cell culture experiments for genes that play an important role in cancer, and also in diseases of the nervous and immune systems, and that are suitable as possible targets for therapies."

The Goethe University research group has applied for a patent for its developments through the university's technology transfer subsidiary Innovectis. The start-up company Vivlion GmbH, spun off from the Institute of Biochemistry II with the participation of Manuel Kaulich, is already offering the use of this technology on the market.

Publication: Valentina Diehl, Martin Wegner, Paolo Grumati, Koraljka Husnjak, Simone Schaubeck, Andrea Gubas, Varun Jayeshkumar Shah, Ibrahim H Polat, Felix Langschied, Cristian Prieto-Garcia, Konstantin Müller, Alkmini Kalousi, Ingo Ebersberger, Christian H Brandts, Ivan Dikic, Manuel Kaulich, Minimized combinatorial CRISPR screens identify genetic interactions in autophagy. Nucleic Acids Research, gkab309,

Further information:
Dr Manuel Kaulich
Institute for Biochemistry II
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel: +49 69 6301-6295

Dr Kerstin Koch
Institute for Biochemistry II
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 696301-84250

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Department, Tel: -49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Jun 10 2021

German Research Foundation funds new CRC Transregio 326 „Geometry and arithmetic of uniformized structures” – CRC 1039 on medical signal path research enters third funding period – Goethe University involved in two further CRC-Transregios

Funding decision on four collaborative research centres at Goethe University: new CRC for basic research in mathematics

Researching intricate geometric and arithmetic objects is the goal of the new Collaborative Research Centre Transregio 326 (TRR 326), coordinated by Goethe University. On 25th May, the German Research Foundation (DFG) announced that the TRR 326 would be funded with 9.2 million euros for the next four years. The CRC 1039 “Signalling by fatty acid derivatives and sphingolipids in health and disease", for which Goethe University is spokesperson, will be continued and receive 9.6 million euros for the third funding period. Two other TRRs in which Goethe University is involved will also be funded by the DFG: In the TRR 211 “Strongly interacting matter under extreme conditions", the spokesperson will switch from Goethe University to the Technical University of Darmstadt (9.2 million euros). Finally, scientists from Goethe University are also significantly involved in TRR 301 "The tropopause region in a changing atmosphere" (spokesperson: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, €12.3 million).

FRANKFURT. Professor Enrico Schleiff, President of Goethe University Frankfurt, congratulates the scientists on their success: "Goethe University's commitment, particularly in the Transregio Collaborative Research Centres, demonstrates our excellent scientific networking in the region, especially in the natural sciences and medicine. The association of the Rhine-Main universities of Frankfurt, Mainz and Darmstadt, have given this regional cooperation a framework: There are now more than 30 research associations and networks in this strategic alliance, and last year we established the RMU degree programme so that talented students can also benefit from RMU."

The mathematical exploration of complicated geometric and arithmetic spaces with the help of uniformization is the research topic of TRR 326 "Geometry and arithmetic of uniformized structures - GAUS". Together with coordinator Goethe University Frankfurt, the Technical University of Darmstadt and Heidelberg University successfully applied for TRR 326; associated institutions are the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Technical University of Munich. The concept of uniformization goes back to ideas of Felix Klein and Henri Poincaré from the 19th century and seeks a uniform description of certain geometric objects. A very simple example uniformization can be illustrated with the slinky, a metal spiral toy which is able to "run" down a staircase doing "somersaults". When pressed together, it has - seen from above - the geometry of a circle. This circle can be uniformized by pulling the metal spiral apart. It becomes particularly simple when the spiral is completely unwound and, geometrically, is only a simple wire. In order to preserve the information of the slinky, each spiral turn on the wire is marked with a colour dot, which gives the wire a shifting symmetry (you change levels in the spiral). A globally complicated geometric space (in our example, the circle of the slinky) is replaced by a much simpler space (here a straight line) without changing the local structure. The original complexity is described by internal symmetries (illustrated in the example by periodic markings) of the simpler space.

In TRR 326 GAUS, mathematicians deal with uniformization of very complicated geometric spaces - this includes modern geometric concepts, in particular tropical and p-adic geometries - and with analogous applications of the uniformization technique to arithmetic (number-theoretic) questions. Here, the researchers try to identify fundamental connections, for example to moduli spaces, automorphic forms, Galois representations, and cohomological structures. Professor Jakob Stix, mathematician at Goethe University and GAUS spokesman, says: "With the SFB Transregio GAUS, we are building on the extremely successful collaboration between TU Darmstadt and Goethe University in the LOEWE priority 'Uniformed Structures in Arithmetic and Geometry' and the DFG research group 'Symmetry, Geometry and Arithmetic' at TU Darmstadt and Heidelberg University. I am very much looking forward to doing joint research with so many outstanding colleagues."

The Collaborative Research Centre 1039 "Signalling by fatty acid derivatives and sphingolipids in health and disease," which Goethe University is now continuing together with the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim, is entering its third funding period. The scientists are studying a group of poorly water-soluble biomolecules, the lipids. As lipid bilayers, they prominently form the membranes that surround our cells and also divide the interior of the cells. As fats, they serve as energy storage for our bodies.

However, CRC 1039 is investigating a function that is still comparatively under-researched: Lipids are part of many signalling pathways through which cells regulate growth and metabolism and communicate with their environment. Dysregulated lipids are apparently decisively involved in the development and progression of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases. After fundamental work in the first two funding periods, the third funding period focuses on understanding the whole organism. Professor Josef Pfeilschifter, pharmacologist at Goethe University and spokesman of SFB 1039, explains: "We want to understand the lipid signalling network as a whole and thus develop innovative ways to diagnose and treat a wide variety of diseases related to dysregulated lipids. In doing so, we can rely on a long-standing and broad expertise in 'lipid signalling', which is also founded on the establishment of sophisticated analytical methods based on mass spectrometry."

Scientists from Goethe University are significantly involved in two other CRC Transregios:

How matter behaves under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature, in which atoms overlap and fuse with each other is being investigated by TRR 211 "Strongly interacting matter under extreme conditions", which is entering its second funding period. For extremely short periods of time, such states of matter can be created in particle accelerators, revealing something about the strong interaction that holds atomic nuclei together. In the cosmos, such extreme states of matter occur when, for example, neutron stars collide with each other. BesidesGoethe University, the Technical University of Darmstadt, which is the new host university, and Bielefeld University are also involved in this collaborative research centre.

In the new TRR 301 "The tropopause region in a changing atmosphere", atmospheric scientists will study the tropopause region: the zone in the atmosphere that separates the lower "weather layer" (troposphere) from the stratosphere above. The research focus is on the physical and chemical processes of this region and their influence on planetary circulation and climate. The main locations are the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (spokesperson) and Goethe University Frankfurt. Also involved are the Technical University of Darmstadt, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, the Jülich Research Centre and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Image for download:

Caption: Using the mathematical technique of uniformization, complicated geometric spaces (here: the j-invariant as an automorphic function on the uniformization of the moduli space of elliptic curves) can be represented as highly symmetric geometric patterns. Credit: Michaelis Neururer

Further information:

Professor Jakob Stix
Spokesman TRR 326 „GAUS“
Institute for Mathematics
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel: +49 69 798-28998

Professor Josef Pfeilschifter
Spokesman SFB 1039 “Signalling by fatty acid derivatives and sphingolipids in health and disease"
Institute for General Pharmacology and Toxicology
Goethe University Frankfurt 
Tel. +49 69 6301-6950

TRR 211 „Strongly interacting matter under extreme conditions“

TRR 301 „The tropopause region in a changing atmosphere“