Press releases – October 2023

Whether it is new and groundbreaking research results, university topics or events – in our press releases you can find everything you need to know about the happenings at Goethe University. To subscribe, just send an email to

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Oct 27 2023

Geological analysis of whiteschist shows rapid upward movements – Study by Goethe University Frankfurt, Heidelberg University and the University of Rennes

Alpine rock reveals dynamics of plate movements in Earth’s interior

Examining how plates move in Earth's mantle and how mountains form is no easy feat. Certain rocks that have sunk deep into Earth's interior and then returned from there can deliver answers. Led by the Department of Geosciences at Goethe University Frankfurt, an international team of geologists has now succeeded in analyzing whiteschist from the Alps so precisely by means of computer modeling that it calls a previous theory about plate movement into question. 

FRANKFURT. Geoscientists analyze rocks in mountain belts to reconstruct how they once moved downwards into the depths and then returned to the surface. This history of burial and exhumation sheds light on the mechanisms of plate tectonics and mountain building. Certain rocks that sink far down into Earth's interior together with plates are transformed into different types under the enormous pressure that prevails there. During this UHP metamorphosis (UHP: Ultra High Pressure), silica (SiO2) in the rock, for example, becomes coesite, which is also referred to as the UHP polymorph of SiO2. Although it is chemically still silica, the crystal lattices are more tightly packed and therefore denser. When the plates move upwards again from the depths, the UHP rocks also come to the surface and can be found in certain places in the mountains. Their mineral composition provides information about the pressures to which they were exposed during their vertical journey through Earth's interior. Using lithostatic pressure as a unit of measurement, it is possible to correlate pressure and depth: the higher the pressure, the deeper the rocks once lay. 

Until now, research had assumed that UHP rocks were buried at a depth of 120 kilometers. From there, they returned to the surface together with the plates. In the process, ambient pressure decreased at a stable rate, i.e. statically. However, a new study by Goethe University Frankfurt and the universities of Heidelberg and Rennes (France) calls this assumption of a long, continuous ascent into question. Among those involved in the study on the part of Goethe University Frankfurt were first author Cindy Luisier, who came to the university on a Humboldt Research Fellowship, and Thibault Duretz, head of the Geodynamic Modeling Working Group at the Department of Geosciences. The research team analyzed whiteschist from the Dora Maira Massif in the Western Alps, Italy. “Whiteschists are rocks that formed as a result of the UHP metamorphosis of a hydrothermally altered granite during the formation of the Alps," explains Duretz. “What is special about them is the large amount of coesite. The coesite crystals in the whiteschist are several hundred micrometers in size, which makes them ideal for our experiments." The piece of whiteschist from the Dora Maira Massif contained pink garnets in a silvery-white matrix composed of quartz and other minerals. “The rock has special chemical and thus mineralogical properties," says Duretz. Together with the team, he analyzed it by first cutting a very thin slice about 50 micrometers thick and then gluing it onto glass. In this way, it was possible to identify the minerals under a microscope. The next step was computer modeling of specific, particularly interesting areas. 

These areas were silica particles surrounded by the grains of pink garnet, in which two SiO2 polymorphs had formed. One of these was coesite, which had formed under very high pressure (4.3 gigapascals). The other silica polymorph was quartz, which lay like a ring around the coesite. It had formed under much lower pressure (1.1 gigapascals). The whiteschist had evidently first been exposed to very high and then much lower pressure. There had been a sharp decrease in pressure or decompression. The most important discovery was that spoke-shaped cracks radiated from the SiO2 inclusions in all directions: the result of the phase transition from coesite to quartz. The effect of this transition was a large change in volume, and it caused extensive geological stresses in the rock. These made the garnet surrounding the SiO2 inclusions fracture. “Such radial cracks can only form if the host mineral, the garnet, stays very strong," explains Duretz. “At such temperatures, garnet only stays very strong if the pressure drops very quickly." On a geological timescale, “very quickly" means in thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. In this “short" period, the pressure must have dropped from 4.3 to 1.1 gigapascals. The garnet would otherwise have creeped viscously to compensate for the change in volume in the SiO2 inclusions, instead of forming cracks. 

According to Duretz, the previous assumption that UHP rock reaches a depth of 120 kilometers seems less probable in view of this rapid decompression because the ascent from such a depth would take place over a long period of time, which does not equate with the high decompression rate, he says. “We rather presume that our whiteschist lay at a depth of only 60 to 80 kilometers," says the geoscientist. And the processes underway in Earth's interior could also be quite different than assumed in the past. That rock units move continuously upwards over great distances, from a depth of 120 kilometers to the surface, also seems less probable than previously thought. “Our hypothesis is that rapid tectonic processes took place instead, which led to minimal vertical plate displacements." We can imagine it like this, he says: The plates suddenly jerked upwards a little bit in Earth's interior – and as a result the pressure surrounding the UHP rock decreased in a relatively short time. 

Publication: Luisier Cindy, Tajčmanová Lucie, Yamato Philippe, Duretz Thibault: Garnet microstructures suggest ultra-fast decompression of ultrahigh-pressure rocks. Nature Communications (2023) 

Picture download: 

1) Tajcmanova_Lucie_c_SebastianCionoiu_UniHeidelberg.JPEG
Professor Lucie Tajčmanová, Heidelberg University, examines the whiteschist sample from the Dora Maira Massif of the Western Alps.
Photo: Sebastian Cionoiu, Heidelberg University 

2) Whiteschist_c_SebastianCionoiu_UniHeidelberg.JPEG
For the microscopic examination, a thin section of the white shale was glued to a glass slide (center of the picture).
Photo: Sebastian Cionoiu, Heidelberg University 

3) ThinSectionSimulation_c_ThibaudDuretz_GoetheUniversity.jpg 
Fine structure of the whiteschist sample: One of the pink garnet grains (left image, embedded in a matrix of quartz, rutile and phengite) with SiO2 inclusions (quartz inclusions), from which cracks originate. Numerical models (right image) predicts the generation of garnet failure.
Images: Thibaut Duretz, Goethe University Frankfurt

Further Information:
Professor Thibault Duretz
Department of Geosciences
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-40128

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,


Oct 16 2023

Researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt, the Robert Koch Institute and the University of Göttingen have discovered a permanent, sleep-like state in dangerous bacteria

The deep slumber of a hospital pathogen: Why infections with Acinetobacter baumannii can flare up again and again

A research team led by Beate Averhoff and Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt has discovered a fundamental mechanism that helps the dreaded hospital pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii to survive. This mechanism explains why the pathogen is difficult to eradicate in hospitals and why infections flare up again and again in patients: When living conditions become too unfavorable for the bacteria, they fall into a kind of slumber. In this state, conventional diagnostic methods can no longer detect them nor is it possible to kill them off. When living conditions improve again, they awaken from this “deep sleep". 

The bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii is an extremely dangerous pathogen that is found, among other places, in hospitals: Many of the bacterial strains are resistant to different classes of antibiotics. Infections with Acinetobacter baumannii were first observed on a greater scale during the Iraq War and have increased worldwide at a rapid pace ever since. This is the reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked Acinetobacter baumannii top of the list of bacteria for which new drugs are urgently needed. However, the dangerous spread of Acinetobacter baumannii is not only due to antibiotic resistance but also to its enormous adaptability: It flourishes even under harsh conditions, such as desiccation and high salinity, and is therefore able to colonize different ecosystems in the human body such as the bladder, the surface of the skin and the lungs. Research Unit (FOR) 2251 of the German Research Foundation, of which Professor Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt is the spokesperson, has been studying the molecular basis of these adaptation strategies since 2017. 

The research team led by Professor Beate Averhoff and Professor Volker Müller, the two FOR 2251 subproject leaders, has now discovered an adaptation mechanism previously unknown in Acinetobacter. When living conditions become inhospitable, many bacteria enter a dormant state that is almost death-like: They develop permanent forms with no metabolic activity. These are known as spores. 

However, and as the research team discovered, Acinetobacter baumannii can form special cells as an alternative, which are in a kind of deep sleep. Although these cells still show signs of life and breathe, it is no longer possible to cultivate them on culture media in Petri dishes. “We know this state from cholera bacteria, for example; it is referred to as the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state," explains Müller. Patricia König, the first author of the study, which was published recently in the renowned journal mBio, reports that the bacteria can survive for a long time in this state: “We have kept the bacteria in VBNC deep sleep for eleven months now and check regularly whether we can still wake them up. The study is still ongoing and there is no end in sight." 

The researchers were able to trigger the VBNC state in the Acinetobacter bacteria by raising the salt content of the culture medium, but also – with a time delay – through refrigerator (4 °C) and fever temperatures (42 °C), desiccation and by removing oxygen. In all cases, it was possible to “wake the bacteria up again" after two days of “rehab" in the shaker with an optimum supply of nutrients and oxygen. 

The problem is that detecting bacteria by cultivating them on culture media is still the gold standard both in medicine as well as food control. Beate Averhoff explains: “Imagine the following: A patient with an Acinetobacter baumannii infection is treated with antibiotics, and after seven days no more Acinetobacter bacteria grow on the Petri dishes. Doctor and patient assume that the bacterium has disappeared, but it is in fact just asleep in the nooks and crannies of the body, waiting to wake up again at the next, better opportunity, multiply and trigger symptoms in the patient again. This is extremely dangerous, particularly in the case of multidrug-resistant bacteria." 

Patricia König says: “We hope that this will help us to contribute to developing more effective treatment concepts against Acinetobacter baumannii. Above all, we need to use more sensitive methods – in addition to Petri dishes – to detect it, such as PCR, which can also be used to spot VBNC cells." 

In terms of therapy, the proteins that appear to play an important role in the transition to the slumber state might constitute new entry points. The research team has already identified several such proteins. König says: “We must learn to understand the role of these proteins. This will form the basis for developing inhibitors against them, which can be administered together with antibiotics to prevent the bacteria falling into a dangerous slumber." 

Publication: Patricia König, Alexander Wilhelm, Christoph Schaudinn, Anja Poehlein, Rolf Daniel, Marek Widera, Beate Averhoff, Volker Müller. The VBNC state: a fundamental survival strategy for Acinetobacter baumannii. mBio (2023) 

Picture download: 

Caption: When stressed by high salt concentrations, a number of the cultured Acinetobacter baumannii bacteria die after a few days (orange dots), but many continue to live in a kind of deep sleep (VNBC, green dots). Photo: Volker Müller, Goethe University Frankfurt 

Further Information:
Department of Molecular Microbiology & Bioenergetics
Institute for Molecular Biosciences
Goethe University Frankfurt 

Professor Volker Müller
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29507 

Professor Beate Averhoff
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29509 

Patricia König
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29510 

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


Oct 16 2023

Zefis Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen launches winter semester online lecture series

Islam in Digital Spaces

Digitalization continues to encompass more and more areas of life, including many facets and dimensions of religion. The online lecture series “Islam in Digital Spaces" will explore the concrete impact of digitalization in Islamic contexts, bringing together perspectives from international research and practice. The first lecture of the series, organized by the Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen [Zentrum für islamische Studien Frankfurt/Gießen, Zefis], which is affiliated with Goethe University Frankfurt and Justus-Liebig University Giessen, will take place on 

Thursday, October 19, 6 c.t. to 8 p.m.
via Zoom (link below)

Among other things, the lecture series will address the following questions: How does digitality affect religious authority and the reception of texts? In what way does it influence the form and content of discourse and religious positioning? What effects can be identified for the Islamic learning and teaching process? 

The lecture series will take place on Thursdays in German or English (see dates below). The event is organized by Professor Armina Omerika (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Professor Naime Çakır-Mattner (Justus Liebig University Giessen) within the framework of the Zefis Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen. The opening session will be held by Dr. Anna Piela (Northwestern University, USA), who will share her insights into various phenomena associated with digitality and Islam. Interested parties are welcome to join the online lecture via Zoom. 

Dates of the English-language lectures

Insights into Islam in Digital Spaces
Dr. Anna Piela (Northwestern University, USA) 

Breaking the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim Binary: The Intersectional Feminist Activism of Muslims in North America
Prof. Dr. Kristin Peterson (Boston, USA)
Note: Lecture begins at 7 p.m. 

Muslim Women's Gendered Identities in the Digital Age
Prof. Dr. Sahar Khamis (University of Maryland, USA) 

Shifting Dimensions: the Evolution of Religious Authority in Islamic Digital Spaces
Prof. Dr. Gary R. Bunt (University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK) 

Islamophobia online - structures of devaluation
Dr. Kyriaki Topidi (European Centre for Minority Issues, Flensburg, Germany) 

Dates of the German-language lectures:

Becoming a Digital Activist - Strategien der Digitalen Zivilcourage [Becoming a Digital Activist – Strategies of digital civil courage]
Juliane Chakrabarti (Ichbinhier e.v.) 

Aktivitäten und Erfahrungen junger Muslim:innen in digitalen Kontexten - empirische Erkenntnisse [Activities and Experiences of Young Muslim Women in Digital Contexts - Empirical Findings]
Dr. Said Topalovic (Friedrich-Alexander Universität, Erlangen)

Strukturen religiöser online Kommunikation - Moscheen im Netz [Structures of religious online communication - mosques on the net]
Samira Tabti (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) 

Die Konstruktion von Identitäten in DĀʿESHs Bildwelten [The Construction of Identities in DĀʿESH's Imagery]
Dr. Christoph Günther (Universität Erfurt) 

Macht des Buches - Koranübersetzungen Medien und Digitalität [Power of the Book - Quran Translations Media and Digitality]
Prof. Dr. Johanna Pink (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) 

Digitales Lehren und Lernen im Islamischen Religionsunterricht [Digital Teaching and Learning in Islamic Religious Education]
Aida Tuhcic (Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg, Österreich) 

The lectures will be held on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. c.t., aside from the October 26 event, which will only begin at 7 p.m. 

Zoom Link: 

Participating institutions:
Institute for the Study of Islamic Culture and Religion, Goethe University Frankfurt (in German) 

Institute of Islamic Theology (focus on Muslim Approaches to Life), Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen 

Prof. Dr. Armina Omerika
Prof. Dr. Naime Çakır-Mattner
Ulrika Kilian 

Further Information:
Ulrika Kilian Coordinator of the Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen

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


Oct 13 2023

The "Ideology Criticism. Today!" panel discussion will feature a debate among theorists from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis.

World in Disorder: Can theory still provide orientation?

Frankfurt meets Ljubljana: During the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and set against the backdrop of a world in disarray, philosophers from both places (of thought) will jointly discuss the potentials of ideology critique in Goethe University Frankfurt's old Adorno Lecture Hall VI. The panel discussion "Ideologiekritik. Today!" [Ideology Criticism. Today!] is a main event in the program put together by guest of honor Slovenia at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair, and is jointly organized by the Slovenian Book Agency JAK, the Ministry of Culture of Slovenia, and Goethe University Frankfurt. 

Panel discussion: Ideologiekritik. Today!
with Mladen Dolar, Rainer Forst, Regina Kreide, Martin Saar, Slavoj Žižek and Alenka Zupančič,
moderated by Frank Ruda
Friday, October 20, at 7:00 P.M., Adorno Lecture Hall VI,
Bockenheim Campus, Goethe University Frankfurt.

The event will be held in English. 

Background: The contemporary world is in a state of disarray: An imminent (or rather, ongoing) ecological crisis of unprecedented magnitude exists alongside extreme forms of socioeconomic and political inequality; new forms of technological domination and control coincide with a resurgence of populisms and authoritarianisms; and signifiers once associated with emancipatory social movements and theories (e.g. Freedom! or Self-Determination!) today are often used in a reactionary manner. What actions are available in the current situation? Can "theory" provide guidance? And if so, how? 

The panel "Ideology Critique. Today!" will bring together important theorists from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis, each of whom will present and speak on their own behalf – not as representatives of a school. Together, they will critically discuss and review the possibilities, limits and insights of the different contemporary approaches to ideology critique in the face of a world in disarray. "Critical theory of the Frankfurt School has always pursued the approach of a rational analysis and critique of social unreason. To this end, various combinations of emancipatory theories based on German idealism have been elaborated, from Marx to Freudian psychoanalysis and a discourse theory of democracy or recognition. In scrutinizing the power-theoretical dynamics of contemporary societies, the approaches of the Ljubljana School, on the other hand, interpret German idealism and Marx in the light of Lacan and structuralism. High time for a joint conversation on ideology critique today," explains Rainer Forst, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at Goethe University Frankfurt. 

After a series of opening statements, the panel will address the current crisis and contemporary paradoxes of authority and sovereignty. It will discuss contemporary forms and ideologies of freedom as well as the social disorientations and perversions they can generate and reproduce. Finally, the panel will seek to analyze the contemporary form(s) of capitalism in which and through which we live. 

The event will be livestreamed on Goethe University Frankfurt's YouTube channel. 

For more information on the program of Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honor Slovenia, visit: 
Guest of Honour 2023: Slovenia | Frankfurter Buchmesse or

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,


Oct 4 2023

International research team’s mapping of 9,000 years of coral growth using drill cores from Belize shows decreasing accretion rate over recent earth history

Growth of coral reefs likely cannot keep pace with rising sea level

In identifying and dating coral remains in drill cores taken from Belize reefs, a team of experts from Goethe University Frankfurt and partners from Germany, the USA and Canada has shown the importance of specific types of coral for reef-building during the current Holocene geological epoch, dating back some 12,000 years. The scientists found that certain coral species disappeared for longer periods in the past due to climate changes, and identified another climate-related threat to coral reefs: In addition to warming and ocean acidification, among others, the rising sea level also threatens coral reefs, whose growth rates cannot keep up. 

Tropical coral reefs could end up being one of the first victims of climate change. The marine diversity hotspots are threatened by and declining as a result of global warming, ocean acidification, a deterioration of water quality, as well as diseases of reef-building organisms, and their growth is unable to keep up with the projected rise in sea levels. These are some of the conclusions drawn by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Goethe University Frankfurt's Institute of Geosciences, the company ReefTech Inc., the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center of Ocean Research, the University of Ottawa's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the GSI Helmholtz Center of Heavy Ion Research. Their findings are based on an examination of 22 drill cores collected from the Belize barrier reef and atolls, the largest reef system in the Atlantic Ocean, which focused on identifying and dating coral growth and accretion rates over the past 9,000 years. 

Professor Eberhard Gischler, head of the biosedimentology working group at Goethe University Frankfurt's Institute of Geosciences, and other scientists reexamined the specimens Gischler and Dr. J. Harold Hudson, Miami, USA, had collected between 1995 and 2002 . Studying the drill cores – which taken together measure a total of 215 meters – “enables us to develop both detailed and systematic reconstructions of the environmental conditions that prevailed during the Holocene, based on which previous ecological and environmental conditions can be reconstructed, allowing us to determine whether the current coral and coral reef declines are in fact unprecedented," Gischler says. Pooling their expertise, they identified and dated 127 coral fragments using radioisotope methods, and statistically analyzed the changes in coral community structure over time based on more than 1,100 fossil corals. Radioisotope dating allows scientists to determine the age of a material by referring to the decay rates of radioactive samples present in the sample. 

Having dated the corals, the team then identified the distances between them in the drill cores to estimate their growth rates. “Our data show that coral accretion rates in Belize decreased during the Holocene. While at 3.36 millimeters per year, the average accretion rates of reef margins are in the same range as other regions in the western Atlantic, they are somewhat lower than those in the Indo-Pacific." This has both an important impact on the future of tropical island-nations especially, which are either based on or protected by coral reef structure, and is also interesting in the context of climate change, Gischler explains. “The growth rates are at the lower end of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) predictions of future sea-level rise until 2100." 

The research confirms the drastic decline in live coral in the Caribbean, where many reefs are no longer dominated by corals, but fleshy algae as well as weedy, generalistic taxa. Looking at the evolution over time, Gischler and his colleagues found that stress-tolerant, reef-building corals predominate in the older sections. “At the base of our cores, directly overlying Pleistocene reef limestone, Pseudodiploria brain corals and Orbicella star corals are most common, illustrating that members of the stress-tolerant taxa are clearly dominating," Gischler explains. Once the reef pedestal was fully inundated and environmental conditions improved, however, the abundance of this type of coral decreased. 

The study's authors point out that the shift from stony corals to fleshy algae and from common reef-builders to weedy taxa underlines the increasing importance of fecundity for the coral community, a trait which it seems helps them cope with increasing environmental stress. 

Pre-Anthropocene gaps in growth 

Another interesting detail unearthed in the drill cores is the existence of three centennial-scale gaps in the fossil record of the fast-growing, competitive “elkhorn coral" Acropora palmata in Belize – about 2,000, 4,000, as well as 5,500-6,000 years before today. The first and last of the gaps coincide with the two Acropora gaps in the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean, the researchers say, and likely point to periods of higher temperatures and increased storm activity as well as lower nutrient supply as possible causes. 

By contrast, the gap around 4,000 years before today coincides with a potential mass mortality of grazing echinoids in the region, which might have caused an increase in the abundance of fleshy algae during this time window. Another possible cause advanced by the study's authors is that the mortality was connected to the so-called 4.2 k-event, thought to have resulted in mid-latitude drought in North America as well as elevated sea surface temperature in tropical oceans. 

Publication: Eberhard Gischler, J. Harold Hudson, Anton Eisenhauer, Soran Parang & Michael Deveaux: 9000 years of change in coral community structure and accretion in Belize reefs, western Atlantic. Scientific Reports 13:11349 (2023),

Images for download: 

Photo 1: The upper panel shows a coral reef margin in Belize with living branched Acropora (elkhorn) and platy Millepora (fire) corals, which are both competitive and fast-growing. The lower panel shows broken branches of dead Acropora corals overgrown by weedy, fertile hill and finger corals (Porites) as well as fleshy algae. Photos: E. Gischler.
Photo 2: Eberhard Gischler (left; on winch), Harold Hudson (center; on tripod) and Belizean assistant Eric Vasquez coring using a hydraulic rotary drill on the pavement of the Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: G. Meyer. 

Further information
Prof. Dr. Eberhard Gischler
Head of the Biosedimentology Working Group
Faculty of Geosciences and Geography
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-40183

Editor: Leonie Schultens, International Communication, PR & Communications Office, Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-12473,