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Feb 2 2015

A new DFG Research Unit looks at the behaviour of the mineral under high pressures and temperatures

How carbonates behave in the Earth's interior

FRANKFURT. Carbonates are the most important carbon reservoirs on the planet. But what role do they play in the Earth's interior? How do they react to conditions in the Earth's mantle? These are the questions being asked by a group of scientific researchers from Frankfurt, Bayreuth, Berlin/Potsdam, Freiberg and Hamburg, in a project funded by the DFG. The Research Unit brings together experts from various geoscience disciplines and cutting edge technology.

The Earth has an average radius of around 6,400 kilometers. However, the deepest borehole thus far drilled has only reached a depth of twelve kilometers. And even with huge technical advances, it is unthinkable that we will ever be able to carry out empirical research on the deepest layers, according to Björn Winkler, Professor of Crystallography at the Goethe University Frankfurt and coordinator of the new Research Unit. "We can only get an idea of the conditions in the Earth's interior by combining experiments and model calculations", he explains. While we already have detailed knowledge of silicates, which are a key component of the earth's mantle, very little research on carbonates has been done to date. "The composition of the earth can be explained without carbonates - but the question is, how well?", continues Winkler.

 "Structures, Properties and Reactions of Carbonates at High Temperatures and Pressures" is the title of the project being funded by the DFG as of mid-February. "We want to understand how the Earth works", is the way Winkler describes the primary research goal of the approximately 30 scientists and their teams. What possibilities our planet has for storing carbon, how much carbon there actually is on the earth – the entire carbon cycle is still a complete mystery.

The research group, which combines seven individual projects, is focusing its attention on the Earth's mantle: the 2,850 kilometer thick middle layer in the internal structure of the earth. The aim is to come to a better understanding of the phase relationships, crystal chemistry and physical properties of carbonates. To that end, the plan is to simulate the conditions of the mantle transition zone and the lower earth mantle below it – namely very high temperatures and very high pressure. Each of the seven projects examines a different aspect; for example the carbonate calcite, or the combination of carbonates with iron or silicates, or the behavior of carbonates under shock.

Winkler and his team have been dealing with this issue for six years already. His colleague, Dr. Lkhamsuren Bayarjargal has already been awarded the Max-von-Laue Prize from the German Association of Crystallography for his work with high-power lasers, and has received funding from the Focus Program of the Goethe University. The nationwide collaboration among the researchers is not an entirely new phenomenon either. The DFG funding will enable them to build special equipment to simulate the conditions in the Earth's mantle. This research apparatus includes diamond anvil cells, capable of producing pressures a million times greater than atmospheric pressure, and high-power lasers that can generate temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Celsius. Calculations have shown that these are the conditions that prevail in the Earth's mantle.

The tiniest amounts of a carbonate are enough for an experiment. During the experiment, the substance is exposed to the respective conditions while the researchers examine it for any changes. A variety of techniques are used for this, such as Raman spectroscopy in Frankfurt, and infrared spectroscopy in Potsdam. "If we come to the same conclusions using different methods, we will know that we have got it right", says Prof. Winkler.
Information: Prof. Dr. Björn Winkler, Faculty of Mineralogy, Institute for Geosciences, Riedberg Campus, Phone: (069) 798-40107, b.winkler@

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Jan 21 2015

Communication by bacteria as a therapeutic target for medicines.

New Bacterial Language Discovered

FRANKFURT. Bacteria communicate by means of chemical signals and can develop common characteristics through this "agreement" and also develop their potential pathogenic effects in this way. Scientists working with Dr. Helge B. Bode, an Merck-endowed professor for molecular biotechnology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and Dr. Ralf Heermann from the department of microbiology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, have now described a hitherto unknown communication pathway that appears to be widely distributed. They report on this in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The investigation of bacterial communication is also of medical interest. This is because the bacterial communication pathways are a possible therapeutic target for new medicines. If the relevant communication options are prevented, the bacteria cannot develop their pathogenic properties. "When pathogens are no longer destroyed by antibiotics as we have seen to date, but rather be impaired beforehand the formation of the pathogenic properties, the danger of resistance development would be substantially reduced", says Bode.

Different types of bacteria also have different methods of communication. The team lead by Heerman and Bode had already discovered a new bacterial communication pathway in 2013. Now they have succeeded in decoding a further new and widely distributed chemical type of bacterial communication.

To date, the best known communication between bacteria occurs via the N-acyl homoserine lactone (AHL): The enzyme Luxl produces signals that are recognised by the LuxR receptor, at which point the bacteria develop certain properties and modulate their behaviour towards one another. Since a certain number of bacteria must be available for this to occur, this process is known as "quorum sensing".

However, Heermann's and Bode's working groups investigate bacteria that possess a LuxR receptor, but not the enzyme Luxl. In the current study, the microbiologists have investigated the bacteria  Photorhabdus asymbiotica, which is a deadly pathogen in insects, which also infects humans and can cause skin infections. These bacteria communicate via the signal molecule dialkylresorcinol, which recognised the associated LuxR receptor. "The influence on the pathogenic properties of the bacteria is at its strongest in this 'quorum sensing' system. P. asymbiotica requires dialkylresorcinol and in this way coordinates the communication with the conspecifics for the successful infection of the larvae", says Helge Bode, whose group in 2013 also described the biosynthesis of this new signal molecule.

The researchers have not only investigated P. asymbiotica, but also a series of other bacterial genomes. The newly discovered signal pathway appears to be widely distributed. "We were able to identify several other bacteria that are pathogenic to humans that also do not express Luxl and also possess this ability for forming these signals", says Heerman.

Sophie Brameyer, Darko Kresovic, Helge B. Bode and Ralf Heermann:
Dialkylresorcinols as bacterial signaling molecules
In: PNAS 112 (2), 572-577.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1417685112

Prof.   Helge Bode, Merck endowed Professor for Molecular Biotechnology,  Biosciences Department & Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Campus Riedberg, Tel.: (069) 798-29557,

Image can be downloaded at:

Image caption:
The insect larvae were infected with P. asymbiotica. Since the bacteria are bioluminescent, the larvae glow in the dark. The pathogenicity of organisms pathogenic to humans is frequently investigated in insect models. (Figure: Ralf Heermann, LMU).

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Jan 20 2015

Biochemists uncover an elementary energy metabolism process: They unlocked the structure of mitochondrial complex 1, a large protein complex in the respiratory chain , and at the same time learnt new aspects of its function.

Respiratory chain: Protein complex structure revealed

Mitochondria produce ATP, the energy currency of the body. The driver for this process is an electrochemical membrane potential, which is created by a series of proton pumps. These complex, macromolecular machines are collectively known as the respiratory chain. The structure of the largest protein complex in the respiratory chain, that of mitochondrial complex I, has been elucidated by scientists from the Frankfurt "Macromolecular Complexes" cluster of excellence, working together with the University of Freiburg, by X-ray diffraction analysis.                       

"Mitochondrial complex I plays a critical role in the production of cellular energy and has also been associated with the onset of diseases, such as Parkinson's disease", explains Volker Zickermann, an assistant professor at the Institute for Biochemistry II at the Goethe University. In order for the respiratory chain to function, there must be consistently sufficient amounts of oxygen available in all the cells in our bodies. The energy released during biological oxidation is used to transport protons from one side of the inner mitochondrial membrane to the other. The resulting proton gradient is the actual "battery" for ATP synthesis.

What surprised the researchers: Previous studies suggested that redox reactions and proton transport in complex I occurred spatially isolated from one another. The Frankfurt scientists in Zickermann's working group and the working groups led by Prof. Harald Schwalbe and Prof. Ulrich Brandt have now been able to deduce how the two processes are connected to one another from the detailed analysis of the structure. They have therefore made an important contribution towards the understanding of an elementary process in energy metabolism.

It has long been known that complex I can switch reversibly between an active and inactive form. This has been interpreted as a protective mechanism against the formation of dangerous free oxygen radicals. The structure now clearly indicates how these two forms are differentiated from one another and transformed into one another. "The research results thus also give important information about the molecular basis of a pathophysiologically significant property of complex I that may be significant for the extent of tissue damage after a myocardial infarction," explains Zickermann.

Original publication:
Mechanistic insight from the crystal structure of mitochondrial complex I
V Zickermann et al.; Science, doi: 10.1126/science.1259859; 2015

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Jan 15 2015

The ABC4Trust project will present its results in the offices of the Hessian State Delegation to the European Union in Brussels

Data protection and trustworthiness: Both can be supported on the Internet at the same time

FRANKFURT/BRUSSELS One of the most widely recognized EU projects of Frankfurt's Goethe University will present its results on Tuesday (20/1) in the offices of the Hessian State Delegation to the European Union in Brussels: "ABC4Trust" is the acronym for an international project, for which Frankfurt Professor  Kai Rannenberg is the spokesman. The project has developed solutions that will markedly increase the trustworthiness of personal data in the Internet while offering optimal privacy protection. In addition to the President of Goethe University, Prof. Dr. Birgitta Wolff, participants in the demonstration of the project results this coming Tuesday will also include Günther Oettinger or a representative of the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society and Jan Albrecht, member of the European Parliament, Greens/EFA and rapporteur for the European General Data Protection Regulation.

The first three letters of ABC4Trust stand for "attribute-based credentials". The intention is to supply any Internet provider with only the relevant features (attributes) of the user in each case, but the attributes will also be furnished with a type of credibility certificate (credential) from an entity trusted by the provider. Here is an example:  If someone buys a book over the Internet, the online merchant does not need to know anything about the purchaser's date of birth, blood group or hobbies shared with friends. Such information may be important in other Internet contexts, for example when contacting a health insurer or in a chat with friends. But what is of prime importance to the online merchant is that the user's account data is correct. The user can demonstrate this with a bankcard or credit card.

The user can store his "credentials" in a type of wallet, from which he can display the important attributes in each case. This is clearly better for the user than the current situation in the Internet, in which identity information is repeatedly queried from the source, the so-called "identity provider". Rannenberg, who has occupied the Deutsche Telekom Chair for "Mobile Business & Multilateral Security" since 2002, comments: "Since 2009, ABC4Trust has been developing a Privacy ABC-based system for electronic identification that allows users to shield their privacy and simultaneously offers security to their counterpart – the service provider.  We have successfully tested the system in two pilot applications; a communications platform in a school in Sweden and an anonymous course evaluation system at the University of Patras."

A total of approximately 50 scientists have cooperated in various sub-projects, and the EU has supported ABC4Trust with just under 9 million Euros since 2010 from the 7th Research Framework Programme. In addition to Goethe University, the international project consortium includes Unabhängiges Landeszentrum für Datenschutz Schleswig-Holstein,  Darmstadt Technical University and non-university research institutions from Denmark and Sweden, corporations such as IBM, Microsoft and Nokia Networks, and an encryption specialist from France.

A variety of pilot applications will be presented at the closing event in Brussels.  The project also looks at ways in which the two advanced technologies for identity management using "attribute-based credentials" (both from American providers: U-Prove from Microsoft and Idemix from IBM) can be sensibly linked. The ABC4Trust project has been built using both of these technologies, so that the user is not dependent on one management system or the other, but can instead choose between them. ABC4Trust is also intended to be an openly accessible technology, which is a research condition required by the EU. The project team therefore had to bring together all the players. "That was not always particularly easy, but we managed to do it!", notes programme director Prof. Rannenberg.
At the presentation this coming Tuesday, he and his international colleagues will also offer a look forward at future developments in identity management. These include the use of these privacy ABCs in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, so that privacy can be better protected in those fields as well. The guests at this event in the Hessian State Delegation Office will also include: Michael Garcia (Deputy Director of the "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace" of the National Institute for Standardization and Technology (NIST) of the US Department of Commerce) and Achim Klabunde (Manager of the IT policy sector for the European Data Protection Supervisor).

Participation in the final event (20 January 9:30 am – 6:00 pm) is still open for interested parties and journalists; registration at:

Information Prof. Dr. Kai Rannenberg, Deutsche Telekom Endowed Professor of "Mobile Business & Multilateral Security",  Department of Economics and Business Administration, Campus Westend, Tel. 069-79834701,,;, English-language project website at

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Dec 16 2014

The Frankfurt ancient historian is distinguished with the top prize of the German Research Foundation

Leibniz Prize for Hartmut Leppin

FRANKFURT.  The steering committee of the German Research Foundation last week in Bonn announced that the Frankfurt ancient historian Prof. Hartmut Leppin was awarded the 2015 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, which is endowed with a grant of 2.5 million Euro. Prof. Werner Müller-Esterl, President of Frankfurt University, congratulated the researcher who was selected along with seven other scholars. Müller-Esterl called the prize a "distinction for a scholar who has made significant contributions to profiling the historical studies at Goethe University through his research on ancient history. The prize is the 'icing on the cake' of the anniversary year at Goethe University." Leppin has become renowned internationally thanks to his diverse publications and his involvement in joint research projects with good international exposure. "Leppin is the fifth recipient of the Leibniz Prize at Goethe University since 2010 alone, underscoring the level of excellence in research at our university", Müller-Esterl is happy to say. "And it is already the fourth award to be won by the humanities and social sciences."

The 51-year-old historian has been with Goethe University as a professor of ancient history since 2001, declining reputable appointments in Hannover, Cologne and the Humboldt University in Berlin in its favour. His research centres around the history of political thought in Ancient Greece and the history of Christianity in antiquity. Many of his publications extend across the boundaries between antiquity and the Middle Ages. His research covers a period of 600 years – from the birth of Christ to the beginnings of Islam.

Leppin is extremely well connected in the humanities and social sciences, and also seeks dialogue with fellow historians. This is evidenced by his latest success in obtaining a grant from the DFG for the special research centre "Discourses on weaknesses and resource regimes", for which Leppin acts as speaker. Additionally, the ancient historian is involved in the Frankfurt Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", as well as participating in the research training group on "theology as a science". Furthermore, he is a supporter of the Research Centre for Historical Humanities at Goethe University. The Volkswagen Foundation describes this centre as "original, innovative and exemplary" and is providing 820,000 Euro for the centre's work.

Leppin's monograph "Das Erbe der Antike" (The Legacy of Antiquity), published by C.H. Beck Verlag 2011, also highly appreciated by non-historians and drew a lot of attention. He clearly demonstrates that Europe as we know it today originated in the Mediterranean world of antiquity, and illustrates the history of antiquity based on three ideas: freedom, empire and true faith. He addresses important eras with these terms: "freedom" for Ancient Greece during the Attic democracy, "empire" for the Roman Empire, and finally the empire of late antiquity with "true faith".

Leppin is currently focusing most of his efforts in his research on "Christianisations in the Roman Empire". This work is being sponsored by the German Research Foundation with a 500,000 Euro grant over five years within the framework of a Koselleck project. While lots of work has been done on Hellenisation and Romanisation, little research has been done on Christianisation to date. The project is intended to close this gap through theoretical and empirical research into fundamental processes during the Imperial and Late Antiquity periods, which are important to the broader history within and beyond Europe. Christianisation occurred at varying times and degrees in different regions and fields, such as royal self-portrayal and the use of Christian symbols in art. This is why Leppin intentionally uses the term Christianisations in the title. Leppin's book "Antike Mythologie in christlichen Kontexten der Spätantike" (Ancient Mythology in the Christian Contexts of Late Antiquity) is due for publication by de Gruyter soon. This comprehensive project ties in well with Leppin's research in the excellence cluster "The Formation of Normative Orders". There he is researching imperial politics and religious spheres in the 3rd century. With the endowment from the Leibniz Prize, Leppin is planning to delve more deeply into the question of the degree to which the Christian Empire permitted or restricted religious and cultural diversity. The ancient historian is hoping to make inroads into research on early Islam and to help answer the question of the historical significance of the spread of three monotheistic religions.

Biography of the Leibniz Prize recipient: Leppin studied history, Latin, Greek and pedagogy at Marburg, Heidelberg, Pavia, and Rome. He completed his first state examination for teaching History and Latin in 1988, received his doctorate from Marburg in 1990 with a study on Roman stage artists, followed by a post-doc at the Free University of Berlin in 1995 with a study on the Greek church historians of the 5th century AD. He has been teaching at Goethe University since 2001. He is liaison professor of the  German National Academic Foundation and sits on the DFG review board. Leppin is also active as advisor and associate editor for various publications: Antike Welt, Centro Ricerche e Documentazione sull’antichità classica, Handwörterbuch der antiken Sklaverei, Historische Zeitschrift, Millennium, and Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum.

Hartmut Leppin is the 16th scientist at Goethe University to be awarded this prize. In 1986, the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the later Nobel Prize winner and biochemist Hartmut Michel received the coveted prize. They were followed by historian Lothar Gall (1988), physicist Reinhard Stock (1989), legal historian Michael Stolleis (1991), mathematician Claus-Peter Schnorr (1993), physicist Theo Geisel (1994), chemist Christian Griesinger (1998), paleontologist Volker Mosbrugger (1999), biologist Stefanie Dimmeler (2005), historian Bernhard Jussen (2007), economist  Roman Inderst (2010), philosopher Rainer Forst (2012) biochemist Ivan Dikic (2013) and legal scholar Armin von Bogdandy (2014).

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