Press releases

 

Mar 30 2020
10:25

​Researchers at Goethe University discover hydrogen cycling in the bacterium Acetobacterium woodii

New metabolism discovered in bacteria

FRANKFURT. Microbiologists at Goethe University Frankfurt have discovered how the bacterium Acetobacterium woodii uses hydrogen in a kind of cycle to conserve energy. The bacterum lives in an environment without oxygen, and thanks to hydrogen cycling, it can exist independent of other species of bacteria.

They make sauerkraut sour, turn milk into yogurt and cheese, and give rye bread its intensive flavour: bacteria that ferment nutrients instead of using oxygen to extract their energy. Acetobacterium woodii (short: A. woodii) is one of these anaerobic living microbes. Cheese and bread are not its line of business – it lives far from oxygen in the sediments on the floor of the ocean, and can also be found in sewage treatment plants and the intestines of termites.

These biotopes are teeming with microbes that use the organic substances to their advantage in different ways. A number of bacteria ferment sugars, fatty acids and alcohols to acetic acid, also creating hydrogen (H2) in the process. In higher concentration, however, hydrogen inhibits the fermentation – too much hydrogen stops the fermentation reaction. For this reason, fermenting bacteria live together with microbes that depend on precisely this hydrogen, methanogens, for example, that create methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide and thus gain energy. Both partners profit from this association – and are simultaneously so dependent on each other that neither one can survive without the other.

A. woodii masters both disciplines of the anaerobic “hydrogen association": it can ferment organic substances into acetic acid, and can also form acetic acid from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. In doing so, A. woodii recycles the important hydrogen within its own cell, as has now been discovered by the microbiologists in Professor Volker Müller's team at the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at Goethe University Frankfurt.

In the laboratory, the Frankfurt scientists turned off the gene for the enzyme that creates hydrogen in A. woodii, which is called hydrogenase. The result: the bacterium was only able to grow, for example in a medium with fructose, if hydrogen was added externally. Different additional tests confirmed that both paths for creating acetic acid are connected to hydrogen that does not leave the cell.

“Though the 'hydrogen recycling' we discovered, A. woodii possesses a maximum of metabolic flexibility," says the Frankfurt experimenter Dr Anja Wiechmann. “In one cycle, it can both create and use hydrogen itself, or utilise hydrogen from external sources. This makes it capable of living both from organic as well as solely from inorganic substances."

Professor Volker Müller explains: “Our findings have implications far beyond the study of Acetobacterium woodii. There have already been speculations that many ancient life forms possess the kind of metabolism that we have described in A. woodii. This is assumed, for example for the Asgard archaea that were just discovered a few years ago on the seabed off of California. Our investigations provide the first evidence that these paths of metabolism actually exist."

An image may be downloaded here: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/86948227

Caption: While acetic acid creating bacteria and methanogens are dependent on the transfer of hydrogen in anoxic biotopes, Acetobacterium woodii recycles hydrogen within its cell (Illustration: Sarah Ciurus, Goethe University Frankfurt).

Publication: Anja Wiechmann, Sarah Ciurus, Florian Oswald, Vinca Seiler, Volker Müller (2020). It does not always take two to Tango: „Syntrophy“ via hydrogen cycling in one bacterial cell. ISME Journal, (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-0627-1)

Further information:
Prof. Volker Müller
Department for Molecular Microbiology and Bioenergetics
Institute for Molecular Biosciences
Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Phone: +49 69 798-29507

VMueller@bio.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Mar 23 2020
13:37

​ A study at Goethe University shows: many sport students reach the limits of their physical ability, but prefer not to talk about it

Pain in a well-toned body 

FRANKFURT. They are young and well-trained – but a fourth of sport science students suffers from pain in combination with psychosocial stresses. This was revealed in a study that originated at Goethe University.

When active sport is at the centre of a profession or education, pain is often a constant companion – pain being defined in this case as physical and psychological symptoms. “One in three top athletes suffers significant pain," explains Dr. Johannes Fleckenstein, private lecturer at Goethe University. This is an issue that generally tends to be neglected, but he has made it the main focus of his classes.

This led to a master's thesis in which the author Anke Bumann looks predominantly at the situation of sport students. Bumann sent her questionnaire to the students of 89 sport sciences institutes in German-speaking regions. The response was impressive: 865 individuals took part, 664 completed the entire form, some adding very detailed answers in their own words.

The basis of the survey was the “German pain questionnaire" of the German Pain Society, supplemented by specific aspects such as athleticism, extent of training, self-efficacy and resilience. They were asked in which and how many regions of the body pain occurs, which injuries and other diagnoses are present, as well as psychological factors, alcohol consumption and sleep quality.

The study shows clearly: one in four of the presumably healthy young individuals suffers from pain and shows occurrence of what are known as biopsychosocial factors that can foster pain, in particular stress resulting from high performance pressure. More than half of those surveyed feel pain in two or more regions of the body – although most of them report a relatively high pain tolerance. Compared with others their age, sport students have more frequent depressions, anxiety and stress, while at the same time their self-compassion was significantly lower. On average, the students train five to seven hours a week and consume more painkillers (analgesics) and alcohol.  More than 60 percent report of sleep disorders. The findings are the same for all types of sports, with only the location of the pain being different. The lack of self-compassion for their own bodies and its limitations leads, however, to the condition becoming chronic and increasingly difficult to change.

The qualitative answers make it clear that the need is great: There was a frequent expression of happiness that attention was now being paid to the issue and for the opportunity to express one's problems. Fleckenstein hopes that if students confront and discuss this issue early it will help them deal with it more openly – without the fear of being branded as “wimps". In his opinion, teachers could also make a positive contribution by giving more consideration to the health of the candidates during practical exams. And when the sport scientists complete their studies and assume corresponding professional positions, they could gradually contribute to a change in attitudes.

“We have to finally stop trivialising the issue of pain in sports," demands Johannes Fleckenstein. It is alarming that pain disorders already occur in young and physically active students in this number. As professionalism increases, surmise the authors, the number of those affected also increases: “An enormously high performance is demanded, and there is a lot of money involved," says the sport medicine expert. For this reason, the study will now be continued with professional athletes.  

Publication: Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, Volume:(19), Pages:323-336 Prevalence of Biopsychosocial Factors of Pain in 865 Sports Students of the Dach (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) Region – A Cross-Sectional Survey Anke Bumann, Winfried Banzer, Johannes Fleckenstein. Please click the link for reading the article:
>> www.jssm.org/hf.php?id=jssm-19-323.xml

Further information: Dr. Johannes Fleckenstein, Institute for Sport Sciences, Ginnheim Campus, Telefon +49 (69) 798 24484, Email: johannes.fleckenstein@sport.uni-frankfurt.de.

 

Mar 23 2020
13:23

​ The „International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge 2020“ (LAK20) is dedicated to the measurement and analysis of data from technology-based learning processes – registration is still open.

Most significant international Learning Analytics conference will take place – fully online

FRANKFURT. On March 25, the “International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge 2020" (LAK20) will be carried out from Frankfurt am Main as a complete online format. Responding rapidly to the spread of the coronavirus, the team of organisers has rescheduled and completely switched the event, joined by attendees across the world, to a virtual conference. Learning Analytics reflects the measurement and analysis of data from technology-based learning processes that are, for instance, gained in online courses or software tutorials. Learning is thus meant to be supported and optimised.

“Especially at an international level, Learning Analytics has been shown to have a relevant impact on education“, says Professor Dr. Hendrik Drachsler from DIPF | Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education and the Goethe University Frankfurt, who has held a leading role in organising the conference. DIPF and the University, together with Technical University (TU) Darmstadt, are hosting the LAK this year, which is operated by a German team for the first time. Drachsler explains that Learning Analytics is, for example, used to promote students in ongoing learning processes, or in setting up learner groups according to certain communication patterns which reveal insights into their collaborative needs. Drachsler is a computer scientist and Professor for Educational Technologies. He emphasizes the high relevance of data protection in the discipline: “The purpose of technology is solely to serve the learners' needs.“ To promote exchange in this field the team of organisers have done their utmost to ensure that the conference can take place even in the current situation.


Conference in a virtual space

The organisers have responded without delay and made sure that the conference, which was originally planned as a venue in Frankfurt am Main, can go online in a pioneering virtual format. Registered participants can, for example, dial into video conference rooms where live talks are broadcast from anywhere in the world. Moderated chats then offer an opportunity to pose and answer questions. Contributions are recorded, subject to contributors' consent. It is thus possible to flexibly watch the videos. Posters and applications are also presented in purely virtual settings. The programme spans long periods of the day, to accommodate for participants across seven time zones. The team is confident that the format with its spatial independence and flexible timing also offers incentives for future conferences.

Individuals who are interested should register by Tuesday, 24 March, 17 hrs CET to join LAK20. Please go here to register: https://lak20.solaresearch.org/registration

Thematically, the tenth LAK focuses on „shaping the future of the field". The conference is held once a year at alternating venues, under the auspices of the international network “Society for Learning Analytics Research“ (SoLAR). “Possible developmental lines will be traced for the next ten years and beyond. At the core, we will investigate ways of measuring learning and teaching and which insights can thus be gained, how they can be put to an optimal use and what needs to be considered regarding the different areas of implementation and scales of Learning Analytics", Dr. Christoph Rensing from the TU Darmstadt illustrates, a co-organiser of the LAK20.

Besides the general presentations, two keynotes are expected by international experts:

  •  „Learning Analytics – A field on the verge of relevance?“
    Prof. Dr. Shane Dawson, Director of the Teaching Innovation Unit, Co-Director of the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning and Professor of Learning Analytics at the University of South Australia
  •  „Group Learning Analytics“
    Prof. Dr. Milena Tsvetkova, Assistant Professor at the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science

The team of LAK organisers is acting in a regional environment where the benefits and forms of implementing Learning Analytics are already being intensively discussed for the higher education area. Professor Drachsler and Dr. Rensing have thus initiated an innovation forum, as part of the project “Digitally supported teaching and learning in Hesse“, funded by the federal state of Hesse. Subject to this project, eleven universities in the state are designing innovative concepts for university teachers and students.

Further information on the conference can be found here: https://lak20.solaresearch.org/

Contact:
Learning Analytics: Prof. Dr. Hendrik Drachsler, +49 69-24708-870, drachsler@dipf.de
Press: Philip Stirm, DIPF, +49 69 24708-123, stirm@dipf.de, www.dipf.de

 

Mar 23 2020
12:58

​ Goethe University and University Hospital Frankfurt ask for funding for research, equipment and patient care

Urgent call for donations to Goethe-Corona Fund

FRANKFURT. At least five million euros – this is the sum that Goethe University and the University Hospital want to collect to better meet the challenges of the Corona pandemic. Anyone can help: the money is to be raised through the donation platform betterplace.org and will go primarily toward researching the coronavirus, the urgent training of employees, and patient care at the University Hospital. Direct donations are also possible (please see link and donation account at the end of this press release).

The Johanna Quandt University Foundation made the start: non-bureaucratically, and within 24 hours, it provided a quarter million euros for the corona researcher Professor Sandra Ciesek and her team. With this money, the virologists from Goethe University and University Hospital want to advance their search for effective treatment. But this is only a beginning. The corona crisis requires a substantial degree of additional exertion – and therefore a substantial amount of additional funding.

“Our call goes out to everyone who wants to not just marvel at the incredible challenges, but to provide tangible help: donate to the Goethe-Corona fund. Every contribution is important and welcome," says University President Professor Birgitta Wolff, appealing to people's willingness to help. “If we all want to weather this crisis well and perhaps even emerge from it stronger than before, now is the time to set the course. If the city and university communities close ranks – not physically, of course – we can master even great challenges. This is precisely why the university was founded over 100 years ago," Wolff adds. As Stiftungsuniversität (university foundation under public law), Goethe University has the necessary leeway to also take unorthodox paths to enable financing, says Wolff. In the name of the University, the University Hospital, and the patients affected, she already expresses thanks to everyone who with their donation contributes to an improvement of the situation.

To master the crisis scientifically, clinically and organisationally, Goethe University and the Frankfurt University Hospital require additional personnel in the short term, and financial means. For this reason, the Goethe Corona Fund was established with the intention that it will quickly increase to at least five million euros – with the help of donations from the general public, foundations, and other private sponsors. Toward this end, a donation page was set up on the platform Betterplace; direct transfers are also possible, and both provide a donation receipt. First commitments have already been made from the circle of researchers: a professor has already  announced a donation of 40,000 euros.

“The growing pandemic entails a growing financial need in many areas: for example, we need money for specific equipment and experts, training for additional helpers in the crisis, and also to equip our medical personnel with protective clothing, goggles and face masks," says Professor Jürgen Graf, medical director of the University Hospital. In research, particular focus is placed on the patient-oriented research conducted by Professor Sandra Ciesek and her team: the goal is to find a vaccine and medical treatment for the aggressive virus, and to improve the diagnosis procedure. “With the aid of the additional funds we can emphatically expedite this research," explains virologist Ciesek. To do so, employees with biostatistical or biomedical training need to be hired in order to process and analyse the generated clinical data. In addition, additional equipment is urgently needed in virological and intensive care research and development in order to carry out experiments and studies more quickly and efficiently.

But in teaching as well, financial support is urgently needed: students should have the opportunity to participate in training and simulation classes to prepare them for the difficult situations in clinical daily routine. For this, additional medical simulation mannequins are required. “We are quick to reach the limits of our capacity in this area, although there is tremendous interest and commitment on the part of the students," says Professor Josef Pfeilschifter, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Goethe University. Teaching, education and training also depend on realistic simulations.

Donations via our donation project on www.betterplace.org: https://www.betterplace.org/p78009

Or as wire transfer to the donation account:
Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen
IBAN: DE95 5005 0000 0001 0064 10
Purpose: Goethe-Corona-Fonds

Further information: Contact to Prof. Sandra Ciesek through the Frankfurt University Hospital: Christoph Lunkenheimer, University Hospital press officer, telephone: +49 69 6301-86442, christoph.lunkenheimer@kgu.de.

 

Mar 20 2020
11:06

Rhythmic neural signals determine the sounds that bats make

How the brain controls the voice

FRANKFURT. A particular neuronal circuit in the brains of bats controls their vocalisations. This was recently discovered by biologists at Goethe University Frankfurt. Based on the rhythm with which the circuit oscillated, the Frankfurt researchers were able to predict the kind of sounds the bats were about to make. These research results could contribute to a better understanding of human diseases in which language is impaired such as Parkinson's or Tourette syndrome.

Bats are famous for their sonar-based navigation. They use their extremely sensitive hearing for orientation, emitting ultrasound noises and receiving an image of their surroundings based on the echo. Seba's short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata), for example, finds the fruits that are its preferred food using this echolocation system. At the same time, bats also use their voices in a somewhat deeper frequency range to communicate with other members of their species. Seba's short-tailed bats employ a vocal range for this purpose that is otherwise only found among songbirds and humans. Like humans, they produce sound through the larynx.

Together with his team, neuroscientist Julio C. Hechavarria from the Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Goethe University investigated brain activity preceding vocalisation in Seba's short-tailed bats. The scientists were able to identify a group of nerve cells that create a circuitry from the frontal lobe to the corpus striatum in the interior of the brain. When this neural circuit fires off rhythmic signals, the bat emits a vocalisation about half a second later. The type of rhythm seemed to determine whether the bats were about to utter echolocation or communication vocalisations.

Since it is nearly impossible to make a prediction within half a second, the Frankfurt researchers trained a computer to test their hypothesis: The computer analysed the recorded sounds and the neural rhythm separately and attempted to make prognoses using the various rhythms. The result: in its predictions of echolocation versus communication vocalisations, the computer was correct about 80 percent of the time. Predictions were particularly accurate when considering signals from the frontal lobe, an area that in humans has been linked to action planning, among other functions.    

The Frankfurt scientists argue that the rhythms they observed in the bat brain are similar to neural rhythms often recorded from the human scalp, and concluded that brain rhythms could be linked to sound production in mammals in general.
Julio Hechavarria: “For over 50 years, bats have served as an animal model for studying how the brain processes auditory stimuli and how human language develops. For the first time, we were able to show how distant brain regions in bats communicate with each other during vocalization. At the same time, we know that the corresponding brain networks are impaired in individuals who, for example, stutter as a result of Parkinson's disease or emit involuntary noises due to Tourette syndrome. We therefore hope that by continuing to study vocal behaviour in bats, we can contribute to a better understanding of these human diseases."

Publication: Fronto-striatal oscillations predict vocal output in bats.
Kristin Weineck, Francisco García-Rosales, Julio C. Hechavarria; PLOS Biology DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000658
https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000658

Images may be downloaded here: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/86729013

Caption: The image shows that different vocalization-related neural signals occurring across frontal cortex laminae (left) precede the two types of sounds (right) uttered by bats (species: Carollia perspicillata). The sounds are shown as color-coded time-frequency representations. One example social call is shown in the top right and one example echolocation call in the bottom right. Copyright: Julio C. Hechavarria, Goethe University Frankfurt

Further information: Julio C. Hechavarria, Ph.D., Auditory Computations Group (group leader), Institut of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Goethe University Frankfurt, Phone +49 (0)69 798-42050, E-Mail: Hechavarria@bio.uni-frankfurt.de, https://www.julio-hechavarria.com/.