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Jan 16 2023

International team of scientists led by researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt reveals dietary differences between Homo erectus and great apes

Early humans: Annual cycles in tooth enamel provide insights into life histories

An interdisciplinary team of scientists, led by Goethe University Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, has discovered – by analysing their teeth – what our ancestors of the species Homo erectus ate hundreds of thousands of years ago on the island of Java in Southeast Asia: over the course of a year, these early humans switched from a plant-based diet to a mixed one, but were far less dependent on seasonal food supply than, for example, orangutans, which also inhabited the island. 

FRANKFURT. If you take a magnifying glass and a torch and look at your teeth very carefully in the mirror, in places you can spot a pattern of fine, parallel lines running across your teeth. These correspond to the striae of Retzius that mark the growth of our tooth enamel. Enamel starts forming in the womb and continues to mineralise until adolescence, when the last milk teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent ones. Like in all land-dwelling vertebrates, tooth enamel mineralises gradually in microscopically thin layers in humans too, represented by the striae of Retzius. The speed with which a human develops can be read from these Retzius lines. Physiological changes, such as birth, weaning or illness, for example, leave distinctive traces. The striae of Retzius also form the chronological framework for the chemical composition of tooth enamel, which in turn reflects changes in the diet of that individual. 

By studying their teeth, an international team of scientists from Goethe University Frankfurt led by Professor Wolfgang Müller and his MSc student Jülide Kubat, now a doctoral candidate at Université Paris Cité, compared the dietary habits of an ancestor of modern humans – Homo erectus, “the upright man" – with those of contemporaneous orangutans and other animals. These all lived during the Pleistocene Epoch 1.4 million to 700,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Java, which at that time was characterised by monsoonal rainforests as well as open treescapes and grassy savannahs. 

In order to analyse the tooth enamel, the researchers embedded the teeth in resin and then cut them into wafer-thin slices some 150 micrometres thick. These extremely precious tooth samples are part of the Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald Collection at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, a permanent loan from the Werner Reimers Foundation. In turn, they used a special laser to ablate material from the thin slices, which was chemically analysed with a mass spectrometer for, amongst other elements, strontium and calcium, which are found in both bones and teeth (Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICPMS)). The ratio of strontium to calcium (Sr/Ca) depends on the diet, explains Wolfgang Müller: “Strontium is gradually excreted by the body – as an impurity of the vital calcium, so to speak. In the food chain, this leads to a continuous decrease in the strontium-calcium (Sr/Ca) ratio from herbivores to omnivores to carnivores." 

The research team was able to corroborate this by comparing various Pleistocene animal teeth from Java: feline predators exhibited a low strontium-calcium ratio, predecessors of today's rhinoceros, deer and hippopotamus displayed high strontium-calcium ratios and Pleistocene pigs, as omnivores, were somewhere in the middle. The teeth of the hominids orangutan and Homo erectus were really exciting because here the researchers discovered annual cycles during which the dietary composition of great apes and humans changed: both showed variations during the years, but the regular Sr/Ca peaks were much more pronounced for the orangutan than for Homo erectus. Jülide Kubat, first author of the publication, explains: “These peaks indicate an abundant supply of plant food in the wet season, during which the rainforest, for example, produced many types of fruit. During the dry season, orangutans switched to other food sources, which may have included insects or eggs. By contrast, Homo erectus, as an omnivore and occasional carnivore, was less dependent on seasonal food supply – as indicated by the less pronounced peaks and lower Sr/Ca values." 

Overall, says Müller, their research shows that high spatial-resolution laser analysis of trace elements, together with tooth enamel chronology, can provide remarkably detailed temporal insights into the life history of our ancestors: “Suddenly, you feel very close to these early humans who lived such a long time before us. You can sense what it might have meant to them when the season changed and how they interacted with their world. That's absolutely fascinating." 

Jülide Kubat, Alessia Nava, Luca Bondioli, M. Christopher Dean, Clément Zanolli, Nicolas Bourgon, Anne-Marie Bacon, Fabrice Demeter, Beatrice Peripoli, Richard Albert, Tina Lüdecke, Christine Hertler, Patrick Mahoney, Ottmar Kullmer, Friedemann Schrenk, Wolfgang Müller: Dietary strategies of Pleistocene Pongo sp. and Homo erectus on Java (Indonesia). Nature Ecology and Evolution (2023) DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01947-0 

The researchers involved are working at the following institutes: 

Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark 

Institute of Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt
Frankfurt Isotope and Element Research Centre (FIERCE), Goethe University Frankfurt
Department of Paleobiology and Environment, Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Goethe University Frankfurt
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Emmy Noether Group for Hominin Meat Consumption, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz
ROCEEH Research Centre, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities 

Université Paris Cité, CNRS
Université de Bordeaux, CNRS, Pessac
Eco-anthropologie (EA), Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, CNRS, Université de Paris, Musée de l'Homme

Great Britain
Skeletal Biology Research Centre, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury
Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London 

Bioarchaeology Service, Museum of Civilizations, Rome
Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Padova 

Background information:
What milk teeth reveal: Neanderthal mothers weaned their children after five to six months (2020) 
Teeth of our ancestors: Discovery of a lower jaw in Malawi and what happened next (Forschung Frankfurt 1/2022) 

Picture download: 

Homo erectus tooth embedded in epoxy resin after cutting. Credit: Alessia Nava/ Luca Bondioli 

2_Homo_tooth_thin slice
Polished thin section of a Homo erectus tooth before chemical analysis by laser ablation plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). Credit: Alessia Nava/ Luca Bondioli 

Micrograph of an orangutan tooth thin section, showcasing the internal enamel growth structure; in the right image, the different laser ablation paths are highlighted in pink, whereas selected Retzius lines are shown in green. Credit: Alessia Nava/ Luca Bondioli 

Jülide Kubat selecting ablation tracks (blau) at the computer that controls the laser ablation plasma mass spectrometers (LA-ICPMS). Credit: Wolfgang Müller 

Jülide Kubat and Wolfgang Müller load the LA-ICPMS with a thin section of tooth for analysis. Credit: Jülide Kubat

Further information
Professor Wolfgang Müller
Institute of Geosciences /
Frankfurt Isotope and Element Research Centre (FIERCE)
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel. +49 (0)69 798 40291 

Jülide Kubat
Faculté de Chirurgie Dentaire
Université Paris Cité
Twitter: @julide_kubat_

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


Jan 9 2023

Particle analyses and laboratory experiments reveal how ultrafine particles form – Study by Goethe University Frankfurt in collaboration with the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology

Jet engine lubrication oils are a major source of ultrafine particles

Measurements conducted by the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG) in recent years have shown that Frankfurt International Airport is a major source of ultrafine particles and that these can disperse over long distances across the city. In collaboration with experts at the HLNUG, researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have now discovered that the ultrafine particles partly consist of synthetic jet oils. The research team has deduced that emissions from lubrication oils must be lowered in addition to those from kerosene in order to reduce the concentration of ultrafine particles and thus improve air quality. 

FRANKFURT. Ultrafine particles form during combustion processes, for example when wood or biomass is burned, as well as in power and industrial plants. Alongside road traffic, large airports are a major source of these ultrafine particles, which are less than 100 millionths of a millimetre (100 nanometres) in size. Because they are so small, they can penetrate deep into the lower respiratory tract, overcome the air-blood barrier and, depending on their composition, cause inflammatory reactions in the tissue, for example. What's more, ultrafine particles are suspected of being capable of triggering cardiovascular diseases. 

Since several years, the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG) has been measuring the number and size of ultrafine particles at various air monitoring stations in the vicinity of Frankfurt International Airport, for example in the Frankfurt suburb of Schwanheim and in Raunheim. Last year, scientists led by Professor Alexander Vogel at Goethe University Frankfurt analysed the chemical composition of the ultrafine particles and came across a group of organic compounds which, according to their chemical fingerprints, originated from aircraft lubrication oils. 

The research team has now corroborated this finding by means of further chemical measurements of the ultrafine particles: the particles originated to a significant degree from synthetic jet oils and were particularly prevalent in the smallest particle classes, i.e. particles 10 to 18 nanometres in size. Such lubrication oils can enter the exhaust plume of an aircraft's engines, for example through vents where nanometre-sized oil droplets and gaseous oil vapours are not fully retained. 

In laboratory experiments, the researchers also succeeded in reproducing the formation of ultrafine particles from lubrication oils. To this end, a common engine lubrication oil was first evaporated at around 300 °C in a hot gas stream, which simulated the exhaust plume of an aircraft engine, and subsequently cooled down. The number-size distribution of the freshly formed particles was then measured. 

Alexander Vogel, Professor for Atmospheric Environmental Analytics at the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences of Goethe University Frankfurt, explains: “When the oil vapour cools down, the gaseous synthetic esters are supersaturated and form the nuclei for new particles that can then grow fast to around 10 nanometres in size. These particles, as our experiments indicate, constitute a large fraction of the ultrafine particles produced by aircraft engines. The previous assumption that ultrafine particles originate primarily from sulphur and aromatic compounds in kerosene is evidently incomplete. According to our findings, lowering lubrication oil emissions from jet engines holds significant potential for reducing ultrafine particles." 

The experiments show that the formation of ultrafine particles in jet engines is not confined to the combustion of kerosene alone. Potential mitigation measures should take this into consideration. This means that using low-sulphur kerosene or switching to sustainable aviation fuel cannot eliminate all the pollution caused by ultrafine particles. 

A comprehensive scientific study by the Federal State of Hesse, which will start in 2023, will examine pollution from ultrafine particles and their impact on health. In this context, the results from the current study can help to identify airport-specific particles and derive possible mitigation measures. 

Florian Ungeheuer, Lucía Caudillo, Florian Ditas, Mario Simon, Dominik van Pinxteren, Dogushan Kilic, Diana Rose, Stefan Jacobi, Andreas Kürten, Joachim Curtius, Alexander L. Vogel: Nucleation of jet engine oil vapours is a large source of aviation-related ultrafine particles. Communications Earth & Environment (2022) 

Picture download: 

Caption: Lubrication oil in the hot exhaust plume of an aircraft engine can form ultrafine particles as soon as the plume cools down. This has now been corroborated in a study by Goethe University Frankfurt and the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology. 

Photo: Alexander Vogel, Goethe University Frankfurt 

Further information:
Professor Alexander L. Vogel
Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel. +49 (0)69 798-40225
Twitter: @al_vogel, @HLNUG_Hessen

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


Jan 6 2023

Cell culture experiments by Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Kent corroborate the effectiveness of tecovirimat, cidofovir and brincidofovir – the Frankfurt research group is funded by the Frankfurt Foundation for Children with Cancer

Monkeypox viruses remain sensitive to the available drugs

The three antiviral drugs commonly used to treat mpox viruses (monkeypox viruses) are also effective against the viruses from the current outbreak. This has been shown in cell culture experiments by scientists at Goethe University Frankfurt/University Hospital Frankfurt and the University of Kent in Canterbury, Great Britain. 

FRANKFURT/CANTERBURY. The mpox virus is closely related to the smallpox virus (variola virus), which caused large, deadly outbreaks before it was eradicated by vaccination at the end of the 1970s. While the smallpox virus led to very severe disease progression with a death rate of about 30 percent, mpox is milder. Nevertheless, the mortality rate is still about three percent. Particularly at risk of a severe course of the disease are people with a weakened immune system, elderly persons, pregnant women, newborn babies and young children. Until recently, mpox outbreaks only occurred in certain parts of Africa when humans became infected through contact with wild animals, typically rodents such as the Gambian pouched rat and the rope squirrel. 

However, in May 2022 a first large mpox outbreak outside Africa was detected; the virus spread solely through human-to-human transmission. This ongoing outbreak has so far reached more than 100 countries and been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern". 

About 10% of mpox patients require hospital treatment. Moreover, the current mpox outbreak differs from previous ones in terms of both disease transmission and symptoms. These differences raised concerns that the currently circulating mpox virus might have changed in such a way that it would no longer respond to the antiviral drugs available. 

Against this backdrop, an international research team led by Professor Jindrich Cinatl from the Institute of Medical Virology, Goethe University Frankfurt/University Hospital Frankfurt, and Professor Martin Michaelis from the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent have succeeded in isolating and cultivating viruses in cell culture from 12 patients from the current mpox outbreak. This has enabled them to test these mpox virus isolates in cultures of skin cells, which has been naturally infected by the mpox virus, for their sensitivity to three drugs presently available to treat the disease: tecovirimat, cidofovir and brincidofovir. 

The results showed that all 12 isolates continued to respond to treatment with clinically relevant concentrations of these commonly used drugs. 

Professor Jindrich Cinatl said: “We were really concerned that the virus could have changed and become resistant to the available therapies. It is good to see that this is not the case." 

Professor Martin Michaelis added: “These findings are very reassuring and give good cause to believe that the antiviral drugs already available will also be effective against the mpox virus in the current outbreak." 

The Frankfurt research group “Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Paediatric Tumour and Virus Research", led by Professor Jindrich Cinatl, is funded by the Frankfurt Foundation for Children with Cancer and hosted at the foundation's Dr. Petra Joh Research House. 

Publication: Denisa Bojkova, Marco Bechtel, Tamara Rothenburger, Katja Steinhorst, Nadja Zöller, Stefan Kippenberger, Julia Schneider, Victor M. Corman, Hannah Uri, Mark N. Wass, Gaby Knecht, Pavel Khaykin, Timo Wolf, Sandra Ciesek, Holger F. Rabenau, Martin Michaelis, Jindrich Cinatl jr. Drug sensitivity of currently circulating monkeypox viruses. New England Journal of Medicine (2022)

Further information
Professor Jindrich
Cinatl Institute of Medical Virology
University Hospital Frankfurt/Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 6301-6409 

Professor Martin Michaelis
School of Biosciences
University of Kent
Tel.: +44 (0)1227 82-7804
Mobile: +44 (0)7561 333 094

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


Dec 20 2022

Cross-border interfaith research under one common institutional roof enters pilot phase

Conference in Israel marks official start to new Frankfurt-Tel Aviv Center 

Having signed the "Letter of Intent" a year ago, the Frankfurt-Tel Aviv Center for Interreligious Studies has now been officially launched with a two-day conference held in Israel. The program included lectures by Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars from the fields of theology, religious studies, philosophy and history, exploring the interconnections, relationships, similarities and differences between these three religions of the book. The highlight of yesterday's conference kick-off was the signing of the cooperation agreement by the two universities' presidents.

FRANKFURT. Multicultural societies, religious conflicts, migration, fundamentalism – and not least interreligious dialogue: These are just some of the important and potentially also socially controversial topics the new cross-border research institute could focus on. Since research on these topics can only be conducted from multiple perspectives, Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Goethe University Frankfurt have joined forces to give this research an institutional framework. Having signed the "Letter of Intent" in December 2021, an inaugural conference was held on the German side in June. The conference in Tel Aviv, titled “Thinking Interreligiously: The Many Faces of Interreligious Interaction", held yesterday and today, marks the cooperation's official start in Israel. 

The past years have seen frequent collaborations between individual scholars from both institutions. In particular, the Martin Buber Professorship at Goethe University's Faculty of Protestant Theology maintains intensive contacts to TAU, and a strong network also exists between the Buber-Rosenzweig Institute for Modern and Contemporary Jewish Intellectual and Cultural History and the Center for Religious and Interreligious Studies at Tel Aviv University. The new center now combines not only theologies, religious studies, Jewish studies and Islamic studies, but also subjects such as history, philosophy and political science. At the kick-off in Israel, Goethe University is represented by Prof. Christian Wiese, holder of the Martin Buber Professorship, philosophy professor Prof. Matthias Lutz-Bachmann, Islamic Studies scholar Prof. Armina Omerika and historian Prof. Hartmut Leppin. 

The ceremonial highlight of the conference was yesterday's signing of the cooperation agreement by the two university presidents, Prof. Ariel Porat (TAU) and Prof. Enrico Schleiff (Goethe University), as well as the center's initiators and founding directors Christian Wiese (Goethe University) and Menachem Fisch (TAU). The research center will now enter a three-year pilot phase, funded with 50,000 euros annually by Goethe University and 20,000 euros annually by Tel Aviv University. The new center will be led by a joint directorate and is intended to connect experienced scientists with researchers just starting their careers. In that spirit, a joint symposium for young scientists was held this past summer semester, and joint English-language courses are scheduled to begin in April 2023. In the long term, the agreement also envisages intensive cooperation between master's programs in religious studies on both sides. 

Prof. Enrico Schleiff, Goethe University President:
“Our joint center is more than a scientific institution. In times of rising nationalism and anti-Semitism, this center's opening is also an important sign of friendship and cooperation that we are sending out into the world. The academic topic we are jointly focusing on is highly relevant to both Germany and Israel: the history and current challenges of religious diversity, differences and conflict in pluralistic societies. Both our universities were already well positioned on this topic. Now they are combining their strengths to form a joint center that marks the start of an even more intensive cooperation – a development I am very pleased about. I would like to thank our partners in Tel Aviv and especially Prof. Wiese for their tireless efforts to establish this groundbreaking institution." 

Prof. Christian Wiese, Martin-Buber-Professorship at Goethe University:
“There is no better way to inaugurate a joint German-Israeli research center than with an intensive public discussion of its underlying theoretical objectives. This conference marks the beginning of an exciting joint scientific and science policy journey in which we place great hope."

Prof. Milette Shamir, TAU Vice President in charge of international academic collaboration:
“Tel Aviv university has a wide network of collaboration with German universities, more than with any other country in Europe. This collaboration includes hundreds of joint research projects as well as hundreds of German students who come to our campus each year. The joint center expands this collaboration in an important new direction and tightens our existing partnership with Goethe University Frankfurt, one of the leading universities in Germany. We hope that in the near future GUF and TAU will expand collaboration to several other areas of common strength." 

Prof. Menachem Fisch, co-initiator of the Center, and TAU professor:
“I am thrilled to be part of the establishment of a unique, first-of-its-kind center for the interreligious study of the monotheistic faiths and their mutual development. This is a worthy initiative, and one more building block in the academic collaboration between the two countries." 

Images for download: 

(1) Left to Right: Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University, and Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff. (Copyright: Tel Aviv University)
(2) Left to Right: Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University, and Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff. (Copyright: Tel Aviv University)
(3) Left to Right: Prof. Menachem Fisch and Prof. Christian Wiese. (Copyright: Tel Aviv University) 

Further information
Prof. Christian Wiese
Martin-Buber-Professorshio for Jewish Religious Philosophy
Faculty of Protestant Theology
Goethe University
Phone: +49 (0)69 798-33313

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


Dec 19 2022

New publication series of the LOEWE research cluster "Architectures of Order" with contributions on interdisciplinary architectural research / Series starts with an essay on Siegfried Kracauer

Reflections on Architecture and Capitalism

What is the connection between modern architecture and capitalism? This question is explored in an essay by architectural historian Carsten Ruhl, which focuses on the sociologist, philosopher and journalist Siegfried Kracauer. The essay has been published in the new publication series "Architectures of Order." Since 2020, more than 20 scientists from Goethe University and the Technical University of Darmstadt have been conducting research on this topic – which is at the same time one of the research initiatives funded by the federal state of Hessen's offensive for the development of scientific and economic excellence, known by its German acronym LOEWE. 

FRANKFURT. The first volume of the series “Architectures of Order" has now been published under the title “Kracauer's Architecture." The essay's author is Carsten Ruhl, professor of Architectural History at Goethe University Frankfurt and spokesman of the LOEWE research cluster “Architectures of Order". In the essay, Ruhl focuses on the reflections of German sociologist, philosopher and journalist Siegfried Kracauer on architecture. Whereas Kracauer's texts in general are often the subject of sociological and media studies research, so far they have hardly been examined from the perspective of architectural studies. Thus, it is also little known that Kracauer studied architecture, worked as an architect during World War I, and received his doctorate in 1915 with a thesis on the history of architecture. After the war – by now Kracauer was an editor at the “Frankfurter Zeitung" – he frequently commented on contemporary architectural developments in his journalistic texts. From these contributions to his autobiographical novella “Ginster" published in 1928, a strong interest in architectural phenomena can be discerned. In “Ginster", the question of ornament is central to Kracauer's analysis of society and its architecture. Carsten Ruhl argues with Kracauer that the absence of ornament in modern architecture can be understood as an ornamental concept of the new social order of capitalism. 

The publication series is published in English within CCSA Topics, the publication series of the Center for Critical Studies in Architecture, a cooperation of Goethe University (Institute of Art History), the Technical University of Darmstadt (Department of Architecture) and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum. The volumes of the “Architectures of Order" series are published in print and, with a time delay, as Open Access publications. The next titles in the series are already being planned: They will deal with topics as diverse as the architecture of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine or the topos of the glass house in female-coded designs in modernist literature and architecture. The series thus reflects not only the range of research topics addressed in the research cluster, but also the disciplinary diversity of the scholars researching the project. In addition to the history and theory of architecture, the topics of digital design, design and urban planning, history of the early modern period, sociology of culture and knowledge, art history, media studies, and legal history are represented. 

“Architectures of Order" is a four-year (2020-2023) interdisciplinary research project undertaken by Goethe University Frankfurt and the Technical University of Darmstadt, with the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum as associated partners. Comprising 26 members, the project is concerned with an investigation of architecture as a cultural practice of ordering that manifests aesthetically, materially, spatially, and discursively, as well as epistemologically. 

Carsten Ruhl: Kracauer's Architecture. The Ornamental Nature of the New Capitalist Order, with a response from Philip Ursprung, edited by the Center for Critical Studies in Architecture (CCSA), Weimar: M BOOKS, 2022. 

The book's cover can be downloaded at: 

Caption: The first volume of the new publication series within the LOEWE focus "Architectures of Ordering" is dedicated to the writings of Siegfried Kracauer. 

Further information
Dr. Lena Holbein
Coordinator of the LOEWE research cluster “Architectures of Order"
Institute of Art History
Goethe University
Tel: +49 (0)69-798-28705

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