Press releases – December 2023

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Goethe University PR & Communication Department 

Theodor-W.-Adorno Platz 1
60323 Frankfurt


Dec 22 2023

The national project “gwTriade” is elaborating a concept for a comprehensive assessment of groundwater quality – coordinated by Goethe University

Joint research project on groundwater: searching for underground pollutants 

The joint project, recently launched under the name “gwTriade," involves six scientific institutes with Goethe University Frankfurt as the coordinator, which are investigating groundwater quality in Germany. This is the first time the triad approach has been applied to combine chemical analyses and methods revealing how pollutants entering the groundwater affect the ecosystem there – called effect-based methods. The project aims to develop a concept that water suppliers and nature conservation authorities can use in the future to examine and assess the groundwater quality themselves. The gwTriade project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. 

FRANKFURT. The effects of climate change pose an ever-greater threat to our groundwater because more frequent and longer periods of drought reduce groundwater levels. Groundwater is therefore already supplemented with surface water in conurbations like the Rhine-Main area. This surface water often contains treated wastewater that may add pollutants to the groundwater. More frequent heavy rainfalls – another consequence of climate change – lead to large quantities of pollutants entering the groundwater. As a result, over one third of all groundwater bodies in Germany fail to achieve good chemical status. The European Water Framework Directive establishes the legal framework for assessing the quality of groundwater. However, a “huge amount of investigation" into the groundwater quality is still required, according to Professor Henner Hollert from the Institute of Ecology, Diversity and Evolution at Goethe University Frankfurt. Chemical analyses have identified at least some of the pollutants in the groundwater, including drugs, pesticides and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which originate from the wastewater, traffic or agriculture. “What we don't have at all is effect-based data, i.e. data about how the pollutants impact life in the groundwater ecosystem and also human health. We already know a lot about surface water, but not about the groundwater." 

The project “Ecological and Ecotoxicological Groundwater Quality Monitoring based on an Integrative Triad Approach" (gwTriade) is now set to plug that knowledge gap. The triad approach combines three different scientific pillars: chemical analyses, bioassays and studies of biocenosis, i.e. the interactions between organisms living in a certain habitat. The crucial aspect is that results from the three measuring methodologies are combined into an overall result – only when this has been done can the ecological status be comprehensively assessed. “We are the first to apply the triad approach to groundwater," Hollert stresses. “It gives us a good overview. We can see what pollutants are present in the groundwater, and how they affect organisms and biological systems – both under laboratory conditions and in the field." 

Six institutes are involved in the project and the tasks are shared among them. Hollert and his colleague Dr. Sabrina Schiwy coordinate gwTriade and conduct tests using a battery of bioassays that was also recently put forward to the European Commission for environmental monitoring. The testing systems are cell culture systems, zebrafish embryos, algae and Daphnia (tiny water fleas). Schiwy explains how Daphnia is used: “First of all we test the effects of the pollutants in the unaltered groundwater samples. Next, we dilute the groundwater samples and thus the concentrations of pollutants, and observe what happens. In this way we discover which dilutions of groundwater pollutants cause which effects in Daphnia." For example, if a substance with reproductive toxicity is present, the water fleas do not multiply as much as they normally would. In zebrafish embryos neurotoxic effects may occur, i.e. disruptions of the nervous system that lead to a change in behavior. “Zebrafish have a typical pattern of swimming behavior," Schiwy explains. “If it's light, they show relaxed behavior. If it suddenly gets dark, they swim in hectic zigzags." The reason is that the sudden appearance of a shadow could mean a predator is approaching. To see in the lab whether the fish larvae display this normal behavior, they are exposed to an alternating regime of light and darkness in a special experimental set-up. If the fish do not react, this is an indication that pollutants might have impaired their nervous system. If the researchers suspect this, the neurotoxic effect is characterized in detail using methods from molecular biology. The behavioral tests are not solely about ecotoxicological aspects, Henner Hollert adds, but are also relevant to human toxicology. Studies involving the early stages of zebrafish – an alternative to classical animal experiments – are also an established model in environmental medicine. “Zebrafish are vertebrates, which means that the results give indications about possible effects in human beings. We can draw conclusions for the protection of human health." 

To supplement the bioassays in Frankfurt, chemical analyses are also performed by the IWW Water Centre in Mühlheim an der Ruhr and the Zweckverband Landeswasserversorgung (state water supply association) in Langenau. The IWW analyzes the PFAS contamination in particular and also investigates the geosystem. This generates a geochemical, hydrochemical and hydraulic description of the sites where the groundwater samples are taken. The third type of investigation is undertaken by the University of Kaiserslautern-Landau (RPTU). It examines the composition of the groundwater fauna, which includes Cyclops and rotifers, for example, using taxonomic methods and modern methods from molecular biology. With e-DNA analyses and metabarcoding it is possible to detect genetic fragments of all living creatures that have lived or currently live in the water. This enables research into the composition of the entire community of living organisms in the groundwater. The Institute of Groundwater Ecology (IGÖ) in Landau provides support here with its expertise in groundwater ecology and especially in identifying new groundwater organisms for bioassays. 

The gwTriade scientists are not only interested in examining certain selected sites. They want to develop a concept for the integrative assessment of the groundwater quality for regional and national bodies throughout Germany with responsibility for groundwater, such as water suppliers and nature conservation authorities. Hollert says, “Our assessment system gives them a guide to how they can apply the methods for monitoring groundwater quality – and to how the data collected can be examined and put into context." The task of finding potential users and clarifying their needs is assumed by the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) in Frankfurt. It also tries to identify use conflicts relating to groundwater that could occur in the future, for instance between using groundwater as a resource and protection of the ecosystem. From a biological viewpoint, according to Hollert and Schiwy, groundwater is also a habitat. It's just that until now this perspective has not received enough attention. 

Background: gwTriade: Ecological and Ecotoxicological Groundwater Quality Monitoring based on an Integrative Triad Approach 

Images for download: 

Caption: A copepod is a crustacean barely a millimeter in size which lives in groundwater. The presence of such animals is an indicator of good water quality. Photo: Sabrina Schiwy, Goethe University Frankfurt 

Further information
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Henner Hollert 
Head of the Evolutionary Ecology and Environmental Toxicology Department
Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel. +49 (0)69 798-42171 

Dr. rer. nat. Sabrina Schiwy
Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology
Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel: +49 (0)69 798 42173

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763-12531,


Dec 21 2023

Prof. Harald Schwalbe's team aims to block conserved RNA structures of dengue viruses / beLAB2122 BRIDGE collaboration between Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb funds project to develop drugs for the treatment of infectious tropical diseases.  

Industry collaboration funds Goethe University’s development of RNA drugs against dengue fever virus 

Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the life science and pharmaceutical industries, are launching a project to develop a new class of drugs against flaviviruses, the cause of infectious diseases like dengue fever. The project is being funded as part of the belBA2122 collaboration between life science company Evotec and pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb. Taking an innovative approach, the projects sets out to direct RNA-binding small molecules against the flaviviruses transmitted by mosquitoes. The idea for the project came from the team led by Prof. Harald Schwalbe, Professor at Goethe University Frankfurt's Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology and its (NMR) Center. 

FRANKFURT. Wanderlust and climate change mean that viruses transmitted by mosquitoes are increasingly spreading across Europe. The class of flaviviruses, which comprises the dengue, Zika, West Nile and yellow fever viruses, cause serious neurological diseases for which only insufficiently effective vaccines and no specific treatment options currently exist. 

Prof. Harald Schwalbe and his team at Goethe University Frankfurt are taking an innovative research approach: They are using a patented nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)-based screening method to identify small molecules that specifically bind to the viruses' highly conserved RNA structures and interrupt the viral infection cycle. As part of the beLAB2122 collaboration between Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb, these new drug candidates will be jointly identified, structurally characterized, and tested for their efficacy. Focused on the Rhine-Main-Neckar region, beLAB2122 aims to bring together academic institutions and industrial partners in an effort to efficiently develop first-in-class therapeutic options for all indication areas and formats into investment-ready drug discovery and early development projects. 

Prof. Harald Schwalbe, Director of Goethe University's Institute of Biochemistry II: "Over the last three years, we have learned a lot about how to fight the SARS-CoV2 virus using small molecules. The new collaboration now allows us, together with industrial professionals, to apply our knowledge to viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, whose habitat is expanding as a result of climate change." 

Dr. Kirstin Schilling, Managing Director of Innovectis, Goethe University's technology transfer company: "As part of the beLAB2122 program, promising therapeutic approaches can be developed and validated together with pharmaceutical partners from an early development stage onwards, so that research results can be efficiently translated, including through the establishment of joint spin-offs." 

Dr. Thomas Hanke, Executive Vice President and Head of Academic Partnerships at Evotec: "We are looking forward to this project with Goethe University Frankfurt as part of the beLAB2122 collaboration. The project addresses an innovative development approach and holds the potential for the treatment of previously untreatable infectious diseases." 

Background: Goethe University Frankfurt is part of the life science cooperation "beLAB2122", which brings together academic research and pharmaceutical companies (news from April 13, 2021 – in German) 

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Harald Schwalbe
Institute for Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Center for Biomolecular Magnetic Resonance
Goethe University Frankfurt
Marie-Curie-Str. 7
60438 Frankfurt/Main

Editor: Dr. Dirk Frank, Press Officer / Deputy Head of PR and Communication, Goethe University Frankfurt, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Phone +49 (0)69 798–13753,


Dec 20 2023

New collaborative study has evaluated technical measures for combating pollutant emissions from wood-burning stoves

Wood-burning stoves: Combining electrostatic precipitators and catalytic converters is the best way to reduce pollutants

In the collaborative project “TeToxBeScheit", researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt, RWTH Aachen University and the university hospitals in Aachen and Freiburg have studied how effectively electrostatic precipitators and catalytic converters reduce pollutant emissions from wood-burning stoves and in so doing protect humans and the environment. On the basis of their study, the scientists recommend that both technologies are prescribed in the future in order to minimize the pollutant load for humans and the environment. The research project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. 

FRANKFURT. In Germany, there are millions of small firing systems: wood-burning stoves for domestic use in which logs are burned. In the process, a lot of particulate and gaseous pollutants are released into the atmosphere: ultrafine soot particles, carbon monoxide, highly volatile organic substances such as formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and many more besides. The number of substances released runs into the thousands, and some of them influence each other, which makes them even more hazardous. 

In Germany, the 1st Federal Immission Control Ordinance sets limit values, at EU level the Ecodesign Directive. To reduce pollutant emissions, stoves are fitted with abatement devices, such as electrostatic precipitators or catalytic converters. The electrostatic precipitator charges the particles in the flue gas so that they are precipitated in the flue pipe. The catalytic converter converts toxic gaseous substances into non-toxic ones. In this way, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons are transformed into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, for example. 

Although studies on catalytic converters and electrostatic precipitators have already been published, these have only looked at a few pollutants in the flue gas. In practice, catalytic converters and e-separators have so far rarely been installed. Until now, it has not been clear how effective these technologies really are. The collaborative project “TeToxBeScheit" has now been able to close this knowledge gap. 

Scientists from four institutes have investigated to what extent catalytic converters and electrostatic precipitators separately and in combination reduce pollutant emissions and what protective effect this has on humans and the environment. The Unit of Technology of Fuels at RWTH Aachen University (TEER) coordinated the project. It built the test stand for taking the flue gas and particle samples and conducted the chemical and physical experiments together with Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. The Medical Center – University of Freiburg was responsible for the human toxicology experiments and Goethe University Frankfurt for the ecotoxicological ones. The latter were conducted by a team from the Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology at the Institute of Ecology, Diversity & Evolution of Goethe University Frankfurt, led by Professor Henner Hollert, Dr. Sabrina Schiwy and Marc Wollenweber. 

Professor Hollert describes what is special about “TeToxBeScheit" as follows: “It is the first study on pollutants from wood-burning stoves with an integrated approach that goes far beyond the chemical analysis of individual substances: Together with the other partners, we have taken a very close look at the flue gas, the particulate matter emissions and the effect of the abatement devices, not only the chemical and physical side but also the human toxicology and ecotoxicology side, that is, the effect of the pollutants and combinations of them on humans and ecosystems. This effect-based analysis is also able to corroborate the adverse effect of previously unknown pollutants and pollutant mixtures and has so far not been conducted in this way in similar studies." 

Environmental toxicologist and research associate Marc Wollenweber used cell cultures and aquatic test systems to examine the pollutants from the wood-burning stoves, as in nature pollutants also enter water bodies, for instance when rain leaches them out of the air. Together with TEER and the Medical Center – University of Freiburg, he used wash bottles on the test stand to simulate this leaching. Wollenweber then looked at how three aquatic model organisms reacted: algae, water fleas and fish embryos. 

In the water with untreated flue gas, the toxicity was clear to see: The organs of the fish embryos – an alternative method to animal experiments with fish – were damaged, the water fleas died, algae growth was inhibited. With an upstream catalytic converter, however, no adverse effects were seen and the pollutant load of the aquatic systems could be substantially reduced. The chemical and physical measurements corroborated this result from the biological experiment. The electrostatic precipitator, on the other hand, proved to be less effective in the firebox. Only when the device was installed at a greater distance from it did the toxicity decrease. The reason for this is that certain substances only bind to particles in the flue gas once it has cooled down and the particles can be removed.

For the human toxicology experiments at the Medical Center – University of Freiburg led by Dr. Manuel Gracia-Käufer, a cell-based model of a lung was used to evaluate the effect of inhaling the flue gases. This in vitro exposure method is currently the most advanced of its kind. In such experiments, the lung cell cultures grow on the boundary layer between the gas phase and the liquid phase, thus mirroring the conditions in the human lung. The air-borne pollutants flowed over the lung cells from the side facing the air, like when inhaling flue gases. The scientists then measured whether, for example, the genome changed as a result of the (toxic) load during exposure. The outcome was that the catalytic converters initially performed better than the electrostatic precipitators vis-à-vis human toxicology as well. This was again due to the fact that electrostatic precipitators, although they substantially reduce the particulate load, only neutralize gaseous pollutants from the flue gas to a limited extent. 

Accordingly, for Dr. Sabrina Schiwy, team leader in the Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology at Goethe University Frankfurt, the catalytic converters are clearly the “winners". She considers them to be “universally effective", they could reduce highly reactive substances that penetrate our lungs in gaseous form or as fine particles. They can be retrofitted for a small sum, about €400. The immediate effect of the electrostatic precipitators vis-à-vis ecotoxicology and human toxicology is initially less obvious, but they are nevertheless indispensable as additional abatement measures because (especially in the case of a chronic load) they reduce hazardous particulate matter emissions by up to 95%. Electrostatic precipitators thus have an effect in an area not covered by catalytic converters. TEER discovered this important aspect during its experiments. 

The study also examined the effect of the two technologies in combination. As a consequence, Wollenweber recommends that wood-burning stoves be equipped with both in the future. The electrostatic precipitator should be installed upstream of the catalytic converter so that it removes the particles first. The catalytic converter then takes care of the gaseous substances. But what do the results mean for the 1st Federal Immission Control Ordinance, which only sets limit values? Wollenweber says: “We are calling for the limit values to be adjusted to the state of the art for abatement measures so that no more stoves are sold and installed without them." 

Download (in German):
Final report of the collaborative project “Kombinierte technische und toxikologische Bewertung von Emissionsminderungsmaßnahmen für Scheitholzfeuerungen (TeToxBeScheit)" (Combined Technical and Toxicological Evaluation of Emission Abatement Measures for Wood-Burning Stoves) 

Picture download: 

Caption: The stove on the test stand: The flue gases underwent chemical and physical tests at RWTH Aachen University. Photo: Johann Hee 

Further information:
Professor Henner Hollert
Head of the Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology
Institute of Ecology, Diversity & Evolution
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-42171 

Dr. Sabrina Schiwy
Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology
Institute of Ecology, Diversity & Evolution
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798 42173 

Marc Wollenweber, M. Sc.
Department of Evolutionary Ecology & Environmental Toxicology
Institute of Ecology, Diversity & Evolution
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-42172

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


Dec 7 2023

International conference "CRITICAL BARBRA" pays tribute to multitalented artist

Barbra Streisand: The first global Jewish superstar

FRANKFURT. One of her biographers once described her as the "world's greatest living performer ": Barbra Streisand, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942, is the focus of the international conference "CRITICAL BARBRA", held

from December 14 to 16, 2023
at Goethe University Frankfurt, Deutsches Filminstitut Filmmuseum
and the Jewish Museum Frankfurt

The event is organized by film scholars Prof. Vinzenz Hediger (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Prof. Marc Siegel (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz). 

Barbra Streisand is one of the most visible and influential figures in cinema and the music industry. She became famous both as a singer, whose mezzo-soprano voice easily spans three octaves, and through numerous film roles, as a director, dancer, comedian and storyteller. From the 1980s onwards, she was for many years considered the most powerful woman in Hollywood. But Streisand was unique in another important way: Breaking with a long tradition of assimilation in the arts, she was the first recognizably and unapologetically Jewish global superstar. Sporting a Jewish name, Streisand abstained from and often made jokes about the kind of plastic surgery many of her predecessors in show business had undergone. 

The CRITICAL BARBRA conference focuses on the multifaceted performer and cultural icon in a multidisciplinary perspective. Streisand's persona and work offer numerous opportunities to analyze modern and contemporary musical and visual culture in its full breadth and depth. "We believe that a conference on Streisand at this point in time can make a useful contribution to the debate about Jewish visibility and the rise of new forms of antisemitism, with a particular focus on current debates about the arts and the art world," says organizer Vinzenz Hediger. 

CRITICAL BARBRA pays homage to different aspects of Streisand's talent by means of film screenings, academic lectures, discussions and performances. All events will be held in English. 

The detailed program is available at: 

The event poster can be downloaded at: 

Further information:
Prof. Vinzenz Hediger
Institute for Film and Theater Studies
Goethe University Frankfurt

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0)69 798-13066, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Dec 4 2023

Study by Goethe University Frankfurt identifies mechanism that could be a suitable starting point for developing novel drugs

Leukemia cells activate cellular recycling program 

To speed up their growth, leukemia cells typically activate the recycling of cellular structures – enabling them to dispose of defective components and better supply themselves with building materials. Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have now shown that leukemia cells with a very common mutation activate specific genes that are important for this recycling process. Their findings, published in the journal Cell Reports, open up new therapeutic options for the future. 

FRANKFURT. In a recent study, scientists led by Professor Stefan Müller from Goethe University's Institute of Biochemistry II investigated a specific form of blood cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. The disease mainly occurs in adulthood and often ends up being fatal for older patients. In about a third of AML patients, the cancer cells' genetic material has a characteristic mutation that affects the so-called NPM1 gene, which contains the building instructions for a protein of the same name. 

While it was already known that the mutated NPM1 variant (abbreviated as NPM1c) is an important factor in the development of leukemia, "together with an interdisciplinary team consisting of various Goethe University research groups, we have now discovered a new way in which the NPM1c gene variant does this," Müller explains. According to this, the altered protein intervenes in autophagy, an important cell process that consists of a metabolic pathway through which the cell recycles its own structures. On the one hand, this "self-digestion" serves to remove defective molecules. "On the other, it also enables the cell to meet its need for important building blocks, including in the event of a nutrient deficiency or increased cell proliferation, which is characteristic of cancer cells," explains PhD student Hannah Mende, the study's first author. 

During autophagy, the cell initially produces a kind of waste bag, the autophagosome, into which it packs those cellular components that are to be broken down and recycled if necessary. This waste bag is then transported to the cell's recycling center, the so-called lysosome, where its contents are broken down with the help of acid and enzymes. From here, the building blocks are then released into the cell, where they can be reused. "We have now been able to show that NPM1c promotes the production of both autophagosomes as well as lysosomes," says Müller. 

The researchers have also provided an answer to the question of how NPM1c imparts these effects: It binds to a central regulator of the autophagosome-lysosome system called GABARAP, and thereby activates it. "Using computer simulations, we have shown that this binding of NPM1c and GABARAP has an atypical structure," explains study co-author Dr. Ramachandra M. Bhaskara, head of the Institute of Biochemistry II's computational cell biology working group. Experimental structural biology data confirm the simulation's results, based on which it may now be possible to develop active substances that specifically influence the binding of NPM1c to GABARAP and thus combat the growth of leukemia cells. 

Publication: Hannah Mende, Anshu Khatri, Carolin Lange, Sergio Alejandro Poveda-Cuevas, Georg Tascher, Adriana Covarrubias-Pinto, Frank Löhr, Sebastian E. Koschade, Ivan Dikic, Christian Münch, Anja Bremm, Lorenzo Brunetti, Christian H. Brandts, Hannah Uckelmann, Volker Dötsch, Vladimir V. Rogov, Ramachandra M. Bhaskara, Stefan Müller: An atypical GABARAP binding module drives the pro-autophagic potential of the AML-associated NPM1c variant. Cell Reports (2023), 

Images for download: 

Caption: The green dots in this fluorescence image show binding of the leukemia-associated NPM1c protein to the recycling regulator GABARAP. Blue: cell nucleus, purple: cytoskeleton. Photo: Hannah Mende, AG Stefan Müller, Goethe University Frankfurt 

Further information
Professor Stefan Müller
Institute of Biochemistry II
Goethe University Frankfurt and Frankfurt University Hospital
Tel.: +49 (0)69 6301-83647
Twitter/X: @goetheuni @IBC2_GU

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,