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Social researchers in Frankfurt present study results – Publication in new issue of "American Journal of Sociology”
FRANKFURT. Family policy influences not only families’ economic behaviour, but also sends out clear normative signals on which people base their individual life plans: The longer a mother takes a break from work after the birth of a child, the more she loses interest in her own career: Professor Markus Gangl and Dr. Andrea Ziefle, sociologists at Goethe University in Frankfurt, are now able to prove this empirically. Their article entitled “The Making of a Good Woman: Extended Parental Leave Entitlements and Mothers’ Work Commitment in Germany” has just appeared in the internationally renowned “American Journal of Sociology” (121 (2)).
It was already becoming evident in international research that short periods of parental leave of up to one or one-and-a half years, such as are common in Scandinavia, lead to better integration of mothers in the employment market. This is clearly contrary to experience in Anglo-Saxon countries, where family is primarily a private issue. The longer parental leave is made possible by legislation, the more the disadvantages of this leave are of consequence. “Research to date considered the reason for this rather to be the behaviour of employers who tend to entrust mothers who have been absent for longer periods less frequently with demanding jobs or important tasks”, says Gangl and continues: “We call this ‘statistical discrimination’.” The two sociologists are, however, now able to show that this is not the only reason for the negative impact of longer parental leave. “The subjective attitude of mothers towards employment decreases considerably over the course of time. That means, through the longer break from work these women increasingly lose interest in working on their own professional perspectives”, says Ziefle.
In order to verify this statement, the two social researchers used the survey data - unique worldwide - of the Socio-Economic Panel. Incidentally, this empirical social research instrument, which was developed over 30 years ago at Goethe University in close cooperation with colleagues in Mannheim, has been used annually since 1984 – it is now in its 30th year - to interview representatively selected persons and households in Germany with regard to their income and living conditions. In their study, the researchers examined closely the answers which women had given regarding their subjective attitude to employment at various points in time: How did women’s attitude change after parental leave in Germany was extended in 1992 from 18 months to three years? Asked about their attitude to work after a longer period of parental leave, the mothers replied that gainful employment was no longer so important to them and that the family ranked first instead.
At that time, incidentally, almost 50 percent of the mothers had not worked prior to the child’s birth. Today it is only one third. “And in the 1990s it was possible to observe even amongst those housewives who were not gainfully employed that entering a profession became less and less an issue the longer the new law applied”, says Gangl and interprets this as an “effect of habituation to the new political environment”. Not only social awareness has slowly but constantly changed since the 1990s, but also the legal framework, such as greater involvement of fathers in parental leave as well as divorce legislation.
What relevance do the results of this retrospective study have for the situation today? “The study shows for the first time: Family policy not only has an influence on families’ economic behaviour. It is also the normative signals which are sent out and evidently subconsciously influence individual life plans”, explains Gangl. The researchers are not stopping at this retrospective analysis: “From another study, which we published last year, we know that mothers have gone back to work sooner as a result of the new family allowance”, says Andrea Ziefle. “We are working now on finding out whether the new family policy of recent years is also reflected in the subjective attitudes of fathers and mothers.”
Publication: Gangl, Markus, and Andrea Ziefle. 2015. The Making of a Good Woman: Extended Parental Leave Entitlements and Mothers’ Work Commitment in Germany. American Journal of Sociology 121 (2).
The C. elegans feeding apparatus is a model for genetic arrhythmia.
FRANKFURT. Researchers at the Goethe University have developed a simple model using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that can be used to test substances for treating genetically-mediated cardiac arrhythmias. They used the nematode feeding apparatus for this purpose, a rhythmically active muscle pump that resembles the muscle cells in the mammalian heart. This could be an important step on the road to personalised treatment.
Cardiac arrhythmias often have genetic causes. The same mutation is often detected in patients with the same type of arrhythmia. However, it is not clear from the outset whether other mutations in the same gene have the same effects. The effects of the arrhythmia could also differ depending on the type of mutation. This knowledge could definitely be significant for treatment. This is because a type of medication that works particularly well for a specific mutation could be less beneficial for other mutations. Researchers have long been searching for a simple model that can be used to create certain genetic defects and in which the efficacy of substances can be tested.
The research group, led by Alexander Gottschalk at the Institute of Biochemistry and the Buchmann Institute at the Goethe University, used the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans because it is easy to modify it genetically. The nematode feeding apparatus uses ion channels similar to those in muscle cells of the mammalian heart. Ion channels play an important role in regulating cardiac muscle excitation, and mutations in their genes often lead to arrhythmias.
The researchers used optogenetic techniques, since the feeding apparatus, i.e. the pharynx, does not naturally pump as regularly as required in order to recognise arrhythmias. They introduced photo-activated ion channels into the muscle cells using a genetic approach. In this way, the apparatus can be transformed into a light-activated muscle pump with highly regular action. They then introduced various ion channel mutations, which are responsible for the so-called Timothy syndrome (LQT8) in humans. In practice, the mutated pharynx then demonstrated aberrant pump behaviour.
"We were able to improve or reverse these arrythmic effects using a substance that is already known to be pharmacologically active, and which is administered to patients with Timothy syndrome in a modified form", explains Prof Alexander Gottschalk. The goal is to use the worm to search for new active substances for other types of arrhythmia. These could even potentially be patient-specific if the exact mutation is transferred to the worm. The ease of genetic mutability of the nematode is highly advantageous in this regard when compared to a mouse model, which would be very difficult to generate. In order to facilitate the search for new medications, the researchers also developed a new optical method with which several animals can be analysed in parallel.
Publication: C. Schüler, E. Fischer, L. Shaltiel, W. Steuer Costa, A. Gottschalk. (2015) Arrhythmogenic effects of mutated L-type Ca2+-channels on an optogenetically paced muscular pump in Caenorhabditis elegans. Scientific Reports 5: 14427.
Informationen: Prof. Alexander Gottschalk, Institut für Biochemie, Campus Riedberg, Tel.: (069) 798-42518, firstname.lastname@example.org.
An image is available for download at: www.uni-frankfurt.de/58253225
Image text: The feeding apparatus (pharynx) of an optogentically modified nematode can reliably follow various "commando" frequencies (blue text). The control shows the reaction in a healthy worm. Below, a "sick" worm with a defective calcium channel that pumps irregularly at high frequencies.