Press releases – April 2021

 

Apr 23 2021
11:15

Goethe University researchers investigate oxidative stress in mice

How oxygen radicals protect against cancer

Oxygen radicals in the body are generally considered dangerous because they can trigger something called oxidative stress, which is associated with the development of many chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. In studies on mice, scientists at Goethe University Frankfurt have now discovered how oxygen radicals, conversely, can also reduce the risk of cancer and mitigate damage to the hereditary molecule DNA. (PNAS, DOI 10.1073/pnas.2020152118).

FRANKFURT. Originally, oxygen radicals - reactive oxygen species, or ROS for short - were considered to be exclusively harmful in the body. They are produced, for example, by smoking or UV radiation. Because of their high reactivity, they can damage many important molecules in cells, including the hereditary molecule DNA. As a result, there is a risk of inflammatory reactions and the degeneration of affected cells into cancer cells.

Because of their damaging effect, however, ROS are also deliberately produced by the body, for example by immune or lung epithelial cells, which destroy invading bacteria and viruses with ROS. This requires relatively high ROS concentrations. In low concentrations, on the other hand, ROS play an important role as signalling molecules. For these tasks, ROS are specifically produced by a whole group of enzymes. One representative of this group of enzymes is Nox4, which continuously produces small amounts of H2O2. Nox4 is found in almost all body cells, where its product H2O2 maintains a large number of specialised signaling functions, contributing, for example, to the inhibition of inflammatory reactions.

Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt, led by Professor Katrin Schröder, have now discovered that by producing H2O2, Nox4 can even prevent the development of cancer. They examined mice that were unable to produce Nox4 due to a genetic modification. When these mice were exposed to a carcinogenic environmental toxin (cancerogen), the probability that they would develop a tumour doubled. Since the mice suffered from very different types of tumours such as skin sarcomas and colon carcinomas, the researchers suspected that Nox4 has a fundamental influence on cellular health.

Molecular investigations showed that the H2O2 formed by Nox4 keeps a cascade going that prevents certain important signalling proteins (phosphatases) from entering the cell nucleus. If Nox4 and consequently H2O2 are absent, those signalling proteins migrate into the cell nucleus and as a consequence, severe DNA damage is hardly recognised.

Severe DNA damage - e.g. double strand breaks - occurs somewhere in the body every day. Cells react very sensitively to such DNA damage, setting a whole repertoire of repair enzymes in motion. If this does not help, the cell activates its cell death programme - a precautionary measure of the body against cancer. When such damage goes unrecognised, as occurs in the absence of Nox4, it spurs cancer formation.

Prof. Katrin Schröder explains the research results: "If Nox4 is missing and there is therefore no H2O2, the cells no longer recognise DNA damage. Mutations accumulate and damaged cells continue to multiply. If an environmental toxin is added that massively damages the DNA, the damage is no longer recognised and repaired. The affected cells are not eliminated either, but multiply, sometimes very quickly and uncontrollably, which eventually leads to the development of tumours. A small amount of H2O2 thus maintains an internal balance in the cell that protects the cells from degeneration."

Publication: Valeska Helfinger, Florian Freiherr von Gall, Nina Henke, Michael M. Kunze, Tobias Schmid, Flavia Rezende, Juliana Heidler, Ilka Wittig, Heinfried H. Radeke, Viola Marschall, Karen Anderson, Ajay M. Shah, Simone Fulda, Bernhard Brüne, Ralf P. Brandes, Katrin Schröder: Genetic deletion of Nox4 enhances cancerogen-induced formation of solid tumors. PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2020152118

Further information
Professor Katrin Schröder
Institute for Cardiovascular Physiology
Faculty of Medicine
Goethe University Frankfurt
Phone +49(0)69-6301-83660
schroeder@vrc.uni-frankfurt.de
http://www.vrc.uni-frankfurt.de



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

 

Apr 15 2021
09:00

Scientists at Goethe University and University of Bristol (UK) find traces of beeswax in prehistoric pottery of the West African Nok culture

3500 year-old honeypot: oldest direct evidence for honey collecting in Africa 

Before sugar cane and sugar beets conquered the world, honey was the worldwide most important natural product for sweetening. Archaeologists at Goethe University in cooperation with chemists at the University of Bristol have now produced the oldest direct evidence of honey collecting of in Africa. They used chemical food residues in potsherds found in Nigeria. (Nature Communications, DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-22425-4)

FRANKFURT. Honey is humankind's oldest sweetener – and for thousands of years it was also the only one. Indirect clues about the significance of bees and bee products are provided by prehistoric petroglyphs on various continents, created between 8,000 and 40,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian reliefs indicate the practice of beekeeping as early as 2600 year BCE. But for sub-Saharan Africa, direct archaeological evidence has been lacking until now. The analysis of the chemical residues of food in potsherds has fundamentally altered the picture. Archaeologists at Goethe University in cooperation with chemists at the University of Bristol were able to identify beeswax residues in 3500 year-old potsherds of the Nok culture.

The Nok culture in central Nigeria dates between 1500 BCE and the beginning of the Common Era and is known particularly for its elaborate terracotta sculptures. These sculptures represent the oldest figurative art in Africa. Until a few years ago, the social context in which these sculptures had been created was completely unknown. In a project funded by the German Research Foundation, Goethe University scientists have been studying the Nok culture in all its archaeological facets for over twelve years. In addition to settlement pattern, chronology and meaning of the terracotta sculptures, the research also focussed on environment, subsistence and diet.

Did the people of the Nok Culture have domesticated animals or were they hunters? Archaeologists typically use animal bones from excavations to answer these questions. But what to do if the soil is so acidic that bones are not preserved, as is the case in the Nok region?

The analysis of molecular food residues in pottery opens up new possibilities. This is because the processing of plant and animal products in clay pots releases stable chemical compounds, especially fatty acids (lipids). These can be preserved in the pores of the vessel walls for thousands of years, and can be detected with the assistance of gas chromatography.

To the researchers' great surprise, they found numerous other components besides the remains of wild animals, significantly expanding the previously known spectrum of animals and plants used. There is one creature in particular that they had not expected: the honeybee. A third of the examined shards contained high-molecular lipids, typical for beeswax.

It is not possible to reconstruct from the lipids which bee products were used by the people of the Nok culture. Most probably they separated the honey from the waxy combs by heating them in the pots. But it is also conceivable that honey was processed together with other raw materials from animals or plants, or that they made mead. The wax itself could have served technical or medical purposes. Another possibility is the use of clay pots as beehives, as is practised to this day in traditional African societies.

“We began this study with our colleagues in Bristol because we wanted to know if the Nok people had domesticated animals," explains Professor Peter Breunig from Goethe University, who is the director of the archaeological Nok project. “That honey was part of their daily menu was completely unexpected, and unique in the early history of Africa until now."

Dr Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol, first author of the study says: “This is a remarkable example for how biomolecular information from prehistoric pottery in combination with ethnographic data provides insight into the use of honey 3500 years ago."

Professor Richard Evershed, Head of the Institute for Organic Chemistry at the University of Bristol and co-author of the study points out that the special relationship between humans and honeybees was already known in antiquity. “But the discovery of beeswax residues in Nok pottery allows a very unique insight into this relationship, when all other sources of evidence are lacking."

Professor Katharina Neumann, who is in charge of archaeobotany in the Nok project at Goethe University says: “Plant and animal residues from archaeological excavations reflect only a small section of what prehistoric people ate. The chemical residues make previously invisible components of the prehistoric diet visible." The first direct evidence of beeswax opens up fascinating perspectives for the archaeology of Africa. Neumann: “We assume that the use of honey in Africa has a very long tradition. The oldest pottery on the continent is about 11,000 years old. Does it perhaps also contain beeswax residues? Archives around the world store thousands of ceramic shards from archaeological excavations that are just waiting to reveal their secrets through gas chromatography and paint a picture of the daily life and diet of prehistoric people."

Publication: Julie Dunne, Alexa Höhn, Gabriele Franke, Katharina Neumann, Peter Breunig, Toby Gillard, Caitlin Walton-Doyle, Richard P. Evershed. Honey-collecting in prehistoric West Africa from 3500 years ago. Nature Communications https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22425-4

Images for download:

http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/100070440

Traces of beeswax were detected in 3500 year-old clay pots like this (photo: Peter Breunig, Goethe University Frankfurt)

http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/100070081

Dr Gabriele Franke, Goethe University archaeologist during the documentation of excavated clay pots at the Nok research station in Janjala, Nigeria in August 2016. Traces of beeswax were detected in clay pots like these (photo: Peter Breunig, Goethe University Frankfurt)

http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/100070175

Still popular today: excavation workers enjoy freshly collected wild honey (photo: Peter Breunig, Goethe University Frankfurt)

http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/100070146The Nok culture is known in Nigeria today for its terracotta figurines  (photo: Peter Breunig, Goethe University Frankfurt)

Further information:
Professor Katharina Neumann
Institute for Archaeological Sciences
Goethe University Frankfurt
Phone: 069 798-32292
k.neumann@em.uni-frankfurt.de
http://araf.studiumdigitale.uni-frankfurt.de


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

 

Apr 14 2021
09:00

Deutsche Börse Capital Markets Academy uses LiveX trading simulation developed by Goethe University Frankfurt – a stock market simulation unique to Europe

Realistically simulating the stock market

FRANKFURT. Various German and international stock exchanges use it and numerous top European universities also use it: we are talking about the LiveX stock market simulation, unique in Europe, which was developed by business informatics experts at Goethe University Frankfurt and which can now also claim Deutsche Börse as  user. At the Capital Markets Academy, Deutsche Börse's training provider, participants in the certificate course "Exchange Trader Cash Market" can now apply their acquired knowledge directly in the very realistic stock exchange simulation LiveX.

Unlike simple stock investing simulation programmes, which allow private clients to test investing in the stock market with basic features, LiveX simulates professional trading on European stock exchanges in all their complexity. This includes all market models on Xetra, the Deutsche Börse's fully electronic trading venue, such as continuous trading with auctions. Furthermore, other trading systems such as Multilateral Trading Facilities (MTF) or trading in dark pools, in which the participants' securities orders are not visible, are also simulated in LiveX. This makes the simulation programme developed by Professor Peter Gomber and his team unique in Europe – and is the reason why LiveX is used for continuing education by top German and international universities as well as by international stock exchange organizations.

During the pandemic, the team further developed a cloud-based version of the market and trading simulation software. Previously dependent on a laboratory environment, the use of LiveX is now possible 24/7, independent of participants' locations.

Professor Peter Gomber is proud to have won the Academy as a new licensee: "For many years, the Capital Markets Academy of Deutsche Börse AG has been offering innovative qualification programmes with a high level of practical relevance and digital learning formats. The current LiveX Cloud version offers significantly increased flexibility and innovative application possibilities in professional education in the field of modern securities trading."

"Our attendees give us very positive feedback on the LiveX simulations. LiveX is a very realistic representation of stock exchange trading and is perfectly applicable for purely digital training in order to understand market structures and trading processes," emphasizes Ulf Mayer, Head of Capital Markets Academy at Deutsche Börse AG.

More information on
Capital Markets Academy: academy.deutsche-boerse.com
LiveX at the University of Frankfurt: livex.uni-frankfurt.de

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Peter Gomber
Business Informatics
Professor for e-Finance
Goethe University Frankfurt
gomber@wiwi.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Apr 5 2021
17:56

Sociologist Stephan Lessenich becomes director of the IfS and professor in Frankfurt / “Further development of the IfS as a place for intellectual exchange” 

Goethe University and Institute for Social Research come even closer together

The wait has come to an end: Sociologist Stephan Lessenich, who has been working until now at LMU Munich, has been appointed as professor at Goethe University and as director of the prestigious Institute for Social Research (IfS). The newly created cooperative professorship, which is linked with the directorship at the IfS, was made possible through the provision of special funds from the Federal State of Hessen. In this way, the university and the institute are coming closer together.

FRANKFURT. In 2018, Professor Axel Honneth retired as director of the Institute for Social Research, and since then Professor Ferdinand Sutterlüty has been temporarily in charge, heading the institute for two and a half years with tremendous dedication. Now there is a new constellation: With funding from the Federal State of Hessen, a professorship for “Social Theory and Social Research" is being set up at Goethe University – as a distinct cooperative professorship with the Institute for Social Research. The first incumbent has now been announced: Sociologist Professor Stephan Lessenich, currently at LMU Munich, has accepted the call to Frankfurt and will take up his new post on 1 July. 

“I'm very pleased that Stephan Lessenich is coming to Frankfurt as professor and new director of the IfS," says Angela Dorn, Hessen's Minister of Science. “The importance of the work conducted by the Institute for Social Research has rarely been as manifest as it is right now. We need it to prevent the division of society. The IfS stands in a philosophical tradition that is not content with merely interpreting the world in different ways, but also wants to change it in the spirit of relentless questioning, constructive criticism and discursive debate. To be able to bolster this important role of the IfS by introducing top-class new management, we've happily raised the state's funding from 2021 onwards from a previous 615,000 to € 870,000 per year." 

“It's a very pleasing development for Goethe University that the institute is now moving even closer to the university through the arrival of Stephan Lessenich. Professor Lessenich has made an international name for himself through his research and will give the university and the IfS even greater visibility worldwide," says Professor Enrico Schleiff, president of Goethe University. “Stephan Lessenich is very successful in combining sociological theory building and empirical research. “I'm convinced that the Frankfurt perspective will play a powerful role in future social debates," says Professor Birgit Blättel-Mink, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, commenting on the appointment. Jutta Ebeling, chairperson of the IfS's board of trustees: “I'm pleased that we're now placing the institute on a new footing and that we were able to recruit such a renowned scholar to head it. We're greatly indebted to Professor Sutterlüty, who for two and a half years has steered the institute with great dedication through a difficult period".

“It's a great honour for me to be asked to head an organisation that can look back on such a long tradition in critical social theory. Above all the sociological perspective is of growing significance in these times of social upheaval and socio-political agenda setting," says future IfS director Professor Stephan Lessenich. “I'd like to further develop the IfS as a lively place for intellectual exchange. Something else particularly close to my heart is the institute's internationalisation: The future of critical social research is conceivable only from the perspective of the globalised world," says Lessenich, describing his first ideas for the institute. He is greatly looking forward to Frankfurt too: “The city stands for a public with an exceptional interest in politics and culture, for a liberal culture of discussion and intellectual openness."

About Stephan Lessenich

Born in Stuttgart in 1965, Lessenich studied political science, sociology and history in Marburg from 1983 to 1989. He earned his doctoral degree in Bremen in 1993 and in 2002 received the venia legendi (authorisation to teach) in sociology at the University of Göttingen. His first professorship took him to the University of Jena, where he taught “Comparative Social and Cultural Analysis" and initiated the Research Group “Post-Growth Societies" funded by the German Research Foundation, together with Klaus Dörre and Hartmut Rosa. In 2014, Lessenich was called to the Chair for Social Developments and Structures at the Department of Sociology of LMU Munich, as successor to Ulrich Beck. From 2013 to 2017, Lessenich was chairperson of the German Sociological Association (GSA), he is co-editor of various scientific journals and book series and, among others, one of the speakers of the board of trustees of the think tank Institut Solidarische Moderne (ISM). He also plays a proactive role in social processes: He is, for example, a member of the scientific advisory board of Attac and in 2017 was co-founder of the “mut" party in order – as he says – to offer some opposition to the “shift in discourse to the right" in the wake of the long summer of migration.

How the new concept developed

In a press release by the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) concerning the evaluation of the institute in 2015, the “combination of socio-philosophical theory formation and empirical social research in the tradition of the history of ideas of the 'Frankfurt School'" practised at the IfS was called “unique worldwide". Its scientific accomplishments were rated “very good and in some areas even excellent". In addition, as the press release continued, the institute performed essential “interpretative work in the field of contemporary diagnostics" for a broader audience. However, it was also said at the time that “the institute's research work often suffers from a lack of opportunities for strategic development". The existence of “central research priorities" was repeatedly under threat, and the institute was excessively dependent on third-party funding. The Science Council recommended a more robust organisational substructure as well as a network of stable partnerships. The press release went on to say that in order to achieve this, among others the office of the director must be endowed with a permanent position financed from institutional funding and cooperation with Goethe University expanded and formalised.

In a complex process, a concept for such closer cooperation was developed in discussions with the university's executive board and in close consultation with the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts, along with a new model for the management of the IfS. This process was supervised by Jutta Ebeling, former head of department and mayor of Frankfurt and, since 2018, chairperson of the IfS's board of trustees. She had already been instrumental in setting up the Professorship for Holocaust Studies in Frankfurt. Based on the model of this cooperative professorship with the Fritz Bauer Institute, the aim was to create a new professorship in cooperation with the IfS. This will now be hosted by the Institute of Sociology.

In the past, professors from Goethe University were appointed as directors of the IfS and performed this task more or less on an honorary basis, without anything about their work at the university changing in the process. With the new model, only 50 per cent of the respective professorship is at Goethe University, with the other half at the institute. 

About the Institute for Social Research 

The Institute for Social Research (IfS) at Goethe University is closely associated with the names Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, but also Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse or Leo Löwenthal. Founded in 1923 with funds from patrons Hermann and Felix Weil as an institute for academic Marxism, with Max Horkheimer the IfS became the central research centre for critical theory. In the spring of 1933, the institute was closed by the Gestapo because of “subversive activities". Via circuitous routes, it managed to move to Columbia University in New York and continue its work in exile. After the war, the institute's closest circle – Adorno, Horkheimer and Pollock – returned to Frankfurt, and in 1951 the IfS was re-established at its present location. Since then, the Federal State of Hessen and the City of Frankfurt have secured its basic budget. In the course of its soon 100-year history, the IfS has left its mark on science and society in many ways. Professor Axel Honneth, the institute's last director, developed in his writings a normatively substantial social theory of recognition.

Images to download: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/99435799 

Caption: Stephan Lessenich appointed as sociology professor at Goethe University and as director of the Institute for Social Research (IfS). 

(Picture 1: Dirk Bruniecki, Picture 2: private, Picture 3: LMU Munich) 

Further information 
Professor Stephan Lessenich
stephan.lessenich@posteo.de

 

Apr 1 2021
12:12

Scientists at Goethe University Frankfurt and the Center for European Policies Studies develop a simple formula to estimate the necessary rate of vaccinations 

The vaccination formula: rapid vaccination could avoid lockdown even with rising infection numbers

Despite rising infection numbers, contact restrictions could be avoided if the vaccination rate were fast enough. Professor Claudius Gros from Goethe University Frankfurt and Dr Daniel Gros from the Center for European Policies Studies in Brussels have developed a simple mathematical relation which allows to estimate the rate of vaccination necessary to maintain control of the pandemic without a lockdown and while avoiding overwhelming the health system and a spike in death rates. The study has been vetted and is forthcoming in Covid Economics.

FRANKFURT. As it has from the beginning, the pandemic continues to primarily affect older people. If the entire population of Germany became infected with SARS-CoV-2, statistically 1.5 million of those over 60 would die; among those under 60, the death toll would "only" be 75,000. This is why – in addition to certain particularly exposed population groups - vaccination strategies often prioritise the elderly with the aim of avoiding overburdening the health system with severe COVID-19 cases and high death rates. After all, vaccinating just a quarter of the population can prevent 95 percent of deaths. 

Professor Claudius Gros from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Goethe University Frankfurt and Dr Daniel Gros from the Center for European Policies Studies (CEPS) therefore focused on the older segment of the population when developing their vaccination formula. They show that COVID-19 fatalities are determined by three factors: The infection rate, the dependence of the risk on age, and the structure of the age pyramid. Germany, like almost all European countries, is particularly susceptible to the third wave: the average age of the population is high, the new mutant is highly infectious, but the vaccination rate is only slowly increasing. To keep the effects of the pandemic manageable, extensive contact restrictions are therefore necessary in order to keep infection rates low. 

According to the two scientists, a rule of thumb can be used to determine the point at which it is possible to relax: They put the weekly increase in the number of infections in relation to the increase in vaccinations per week. Simplified, the relationship is as follows: If x percent more of the population falls ill per week, an additional x*f/100 percent of the population must be vaccinated in the same period. The factor f, which was f=2 at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, increases when part of the population has already been fully vaccinated. Currently we have f=6. This means that if the infection incidence increases by x=20 percent per week, 20*6/100=1.2% of the population would have to be additionally (fully) vaccinated. This applies to the vaccination doses administered by age. It should be taken into account that two vaccination doses are necessary for complete immunisation. 

Dr Daniel Gros explains: "Given the low current vaccination rate, the 7-day incidence per week should not increase by more than 13 to 16 percent to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed. Over the past weeks, however, infection rates have increased by 25 percent, making extensive contact restrictions inevitable, otherwise aggressive mutants are likely to spread." 

Prof. Claudius Gros says: "The relation we developed allows for a simple and quick estimate of how quickly we would need to vaccinate to keep the consequences of the pandemic for the health system manageable. Unfortunately, we have failed to incentivise pharmaceutical companies to rapidly scale up production, which is costly and resource-intensive, for example through higher prices for an earlier production of vaccine doses. Therefore, as we predicted in an earlier paper, companies have opted for a slow linear increase in production. From a business point of view, this is cost-effective, but it results in us not having sufficient amounts of vaccine available fast enough." 

Publication: Claudius Gros and Daniel Gros, „How fast must vaccination campaigns proceed in order to beat rising Covid-19 infection numbers?“ in: Covid Economics (in press), https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.15544 

Further information: Professor Claudius Gros Institute for Theoretical Physics Goethe University Frankfurt gros07@itp.uni-frankfurt.de


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