Press releases – 2020

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Dec 14 2020

Geoscientists at Goethe University hope for certainty from asteroid samples from space - sample container safely landed on Saturday evening

Material sample from asteroid landed in Australia: Water on Earth possibly comes from asteroids

On Saturday evening (5.12.2020), a container containing a sample of the asteroid that had been dropped by the Hayabusa 2 space probe landed in the Australian desert. The chemical "fingerprint" of the water from the asteroid Ryugu could prove that the water on Earth actually originated from asteroid impacts in the early history of the Earth. Up to now, asteroids could only be examined after fragments impacted onto the Earth and therefore contamination by the Earth's water could not be ruled out. In the coming year, the material sample will be examined by scientists all over the world, including a scientific team from Goethe University.

FRANKFURT. When it was formed, the young proto-Earth was hot and probably circled around the sun in a very dry zone where water evaporated and was blown into space by the solar wind. According to one theory, our blue planet came to its great oceans through watery celestial bodies that hit the earth. As spectral analyses of comet tails have shown, it was most likely not comets.

This is because in their ice, the ratio of hydrogen with two protons in its nucleus, deuterium (D), to hydrogen with one proton in its nucleus (H) is usually different from that on Earth. On the other hand, the water trapped in certain meteorites - i.e. in fragments of asteroids that have hit the Earth - is almost exactly the same as terrestrial water. Such C-class asteroids are highly carbonaceous and come from the outer part of the asteroid belt that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Ryugu is one of them.

Prof. Frank Brenker, geoscientist at Goethe University, will examine the Ryugu sample together with his colleague Dr. Beverly Tkalcec. He explains: "There are very good scientific arguments that the D/H ratio we find in meteorites is indeed similar to that of asteroids in space. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out water vapour contamination on Earth: after all, 90 percent of an asteroid evaporates when it passes through the atmosphere, and even if it hits a dry desert, the meteorite can absorb water until it is found, for example from early morning fog. With the Ryugu sample we will finally get certainty on this issue".

To this end, from the middle of next year, the Frankfurt researchers will examine and screen Ryugu samples for their chemical composition at the particle accelerators ESRF in Grenoble and DESY in Hamburg. Later in the year, Ryugu samples will be cut with the help of a focused ion beam and will be examined with a transmission electron microscope at Goethe University. Tkalcec and Brenker want to determine the exact geological history of the asteroid. In order to be able to assess the measured values for the water, but also the organic compounds that occur, it is immensely important to understand all the processes that led to their formation in the first place. The temperature achieved by the asteroid is just as important here as the circumstances of the formation of water-containing minerals, and the influence of impacts on the surface of the asteroid.

The building blocks for life on Earth may also come from carbon-rich asteroids such as Ryugu, since sugars and components of proteins (amino acids) and the hereditary molecule DNA (nucleobases), which could have been formed from inorganic substances under suitable conditions, have already been found in meteorites. For this reason as well, numerous scientific teams from all over the world will be working on the analysis of the Ryugu samples.

Images for download:

  1. Prof. Dr. Frank Brenker, Institute für Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt. Credit: Jürgen Lecher for Goethe University.

  2. Prof. Dr. Frank Brenker, Institute für Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt. Credit: personal photo.

  3. Dr. Beverley Tkalcec, Institute für Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt. Credit: personal photo.

  4. Landing of space probe Hayabusa 2 on the asteroid Ryugu for the collection of samples. Illustration: Akihiro Ikeshita für JAXA.

  5. The asteroid Ryugu from a distance of 20 kilometres, photographed by the probe Hayabusa 2. Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu and AIST.

  6. Hayabusa 2 passes by Earth: On its return, the probe flew past Earth on its way to another mission and sent a capsule containing the Ryugu sample to Earth. The capsule landed in the Australian desert on Saturday, 5 December 2020. Illustration: Akihiro Ikeshita for JAXA.

Further information
Prof. Dr. Frank Brenker
Institute for Geosciences – Nanoscience
Phone: +49 151 68109472


Dec 11 2020

International research team discovers shifts in small regulatory RNAs

tRNA fragments are involved in poststroke immune reactions

An ischemic stroke is an extreme disturbance of the homeostasis of brain and body. Among other things, the immune system triggers an inflammatory reaction that can either overshoot or turn into an immune deficiency. For the first time, an international team of researchers – among them scientists from Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany – has now shown that tRNA fragments play a role in this immune reaction. Fragments of tRNAs, which transport amino acids during protein synthesis (“transfer RNA"), were long merely considered cellular waste. The aim of the research is to find new target structures for therapeutics.

FRANKFURT. Sebastian Lobentanzer of Goethe University, Frankfurt, has been studying small RNA dynamics in various contexts using bioinformatic methods. Recently, small RNAs have become more and more interesting for researchers, primarily because of their extensive regulatory functions. To examine these functions in stroke, Lobentanzer joined Katarzyna Winek of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, to study microRNAs and tRNA fragments in blood samples from ischemic stroke patients collected at Charité, Berlin. “tRNA fragments, which until now were only thought to be debris of the amino acid-transporting tRNAs, have recently been shown to possess biological functions; naturally, we were very interested in that," explains the pharmacologist.

The project was initiated and led by Hermona Soreq (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel) and Andreas Meisel (Charité, Berlin), who jointly study the contributions of small RNA regulators of cholinergic signaling in blood cells of stroke patients, funded by the Einstein Foundation. Katarzyna Winek from The Edmond and Lily Safra Center of Brain Science at The Hebrew University collaborated with Sebastian Lobentanzer at the Institute for Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacy (AK Jochen Klein) at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.

This collaborative effort was able to show, for the first time, the involvement of monocytic tRNA fragments in the poststroke immune response. "Simply put, there may be a 'changing of the guards,' in which tRNA fragments replace microRNAs in monocytes," explains Lobentanzer. “Bioinformatic network analyses show that these two small RNA species have vastly different functional roles in the immune response, and thus may work in synergy in the regulation of homeostasis." In the long run, the researchers want to find therapeutics to modify these processes. Indeed, if the immune status of each patient after a stroke could be individually determined, many complications could be avoided.

Publication: Katarzyna Winek, Sebastian Lobentanzer, Bettina Nadorp, Serafima Dubnov, Claudia Dames, Sandra Jagdmann, Gilli Moshitzky, Benjamin Hotter, Christian Meisel, David S Greenberg, Sagiv Shifman, Jochen Klein, Shani Shenhar-Tsarfaty, Andreas Meisel, Hermona Soreq: Transfer RNA fragments replace microRNA regulators of the cholinergic post-stroke immune blockade. PNAS

Further Information:
Dr. Sebastian Lobentanzer,
Institute for Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacy
Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 69 798-29370


Dec 9 2020

Approval by the German Research Foundation (DFG): CRC 1080 starts its third round

Collaborative Research Centre “Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms in Neural Homeostasis” is extended

The Collaborative Research Centre 1080 was successful in the German Research Foundation’s current round of approvals and will start its third funding period in 2021. The DFG is providing € 2 million per year for four years of research. In the CRC 1080, scientists from various disciplines investigate how the brain and nervous system maintain stability as a complex system while also remaining accessible and flexible.

FRANKFURT. One of the most remarkable features of our nervous systems is its ability to maintain a stable internal state (homeostasis) while having to constantly respond to an ever-changing environment. In the Collaborative Research Centre 1080, the participating scientists endeavour to understand the significance of homeostatic mechanisms for the human body, in particular for diseases of the nervous system. They investigate mechanisms which enable the brain to maintain network homeostasis as a balanced functional condition. This is decisive for the stability of the nervous system, and helps the brain process the constant flow of input.

The CRC 1080, which started in 2013, has been extended by four years for the second time, so that the funding will continue through to 2024. Goethe University is the coordinator, and the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, the Institute for Molecular Biology in Mainz (IMB) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are cooperation partners.

CRC spokesperson Professor Amparo Acker-Palmer says: “The strength of the Collaborative Research Project 1080 is the integration of diverse research disciplines, we are not just looking at individual genes, cell types, pathological processes or structures. Instead, we engage experimental approaches and computer simulations that enable us to follow whole chains of events that lead to neural homeostasis. The Rhine-Main network of neurosciences rmn2, in which we are integrated, provides an optimal environment for the CRC.”

Further information:
Professor Amparo Acker-Palmer
Spokesperson for CRC 1080
Institute for Cell Biology and Neurosciences
Goethe University
Phone: + 49 69 798-42565


Dec 7 2020

The research project “ZOWIAC“ by Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research will be funded with three fourths of a million euros

Raccoon, raccoon dog & Co: Risks of invasive and alien predator species for health and ecology

The raccoon, raccoon dog, mink and golden jackal are not native to Germany or Europe, but are increasingly spreading in these non-native regions. The joint research project ZOWIAC, “Zoonotic and ecological effects on wildlife of invasive carnivores" by Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research will study how these invasive and alien species threaten biological diversity and which diseases they can transmit to humans as well as animals. The project is mainly funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU). The research project will receive additional funding and support from Senckenberg and the regional hunting associations in Hessen and Bavaria, and will also involve nature conservation groups, hunters and citizens.

FRANKFURT. More and more exotic animals and plants are being intentionally and unintentionally introduced into Europe from areas where they naturally occur. In Germany alone, more than one thousand invasive alien species (IAS) are registered. Invasive species cause significant changes to species communities and ecological systems and are considered one of the most important risks to biological diversity. Because they transmit diseases or serve as intermediate hosts for pathogens, they threaten the health of humans as well as pets, livestock and wildlife. The EU Commission estimates the annual economic and health damage caused by IAS in Europe at 9.6 to 12.7 million euros. In the course of globalisation and the increasing population and settlement density, invasive species are also attaining increasing significance in cities.

Among the species that are spreading more and more in Europe are the two predatory mammals raccoon (Procyon lotor) and raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), which are considered invasive, as well as the mink (Neovision vison) and the golden jackal (Canis aureus), the latter occurring with increasing frequency in Germany over the last ten years. Due to their broad food spectrum and high adaptability these animals are able to live in almost any natural habitat. They are suspected to be among the factors responsible for the decline of numerous indigenous species, some of which are endangered, such as bats, various amphibian and reptile species, and ground-nesting birds. The project will also investigate whether their moving into urban areas favours the transmission of pathogens to humans and animals, so-called zoonoses.

A zoonosis introduced to Europe by the racoon is the racoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis), whose eggs are spread through the animals' faeces. This poses a potential threat to human health, particularly in cities, where racoons utilise anthropogenic food resources and spaces. Racoons also serve as reservoir hosts for coronaviruses, lyssaviruses (rabies), canine distemper virus, and the West Nile virus. The spectrum of pathogens of the racoon dog resembles that of the racoon. In addition, it is considered the final host of the fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis). The mink is one of the most widely spread alien mammal species worldwide and is considered a carrier of a variety of zoonoses such as leptospirosis, trichinosis and toxoplasmosis. The golden jackal carries zoonosis pathogens as well. Some of them, such as the canine tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus), the canine roundworm (Toxocara canis) and trichinae, can have significant effects on public health.

The joint project ZOWIAC will make an essential contribution to the development of up-to-date, sound and reliable data in order to better assess the health risk posed by the raccoon, raccoon dog, mink and golden jackal, and their impact on native species and ecosystems, says project leader Professor Sven Klimpel from Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research. A systematic monitoring of the most frequently associated pathogens will be carried out. Furthermore, spatial aspects will be considered in particular, i.e. established populations in urban and rural regions (agricultural/forestry/bodies of water), populations at their current distribution limits in Europe, as well as from the regions of origin (North America, Asia). Daliy movement patterns can be determined by radio collaring single individuals. Metabarcoding of stomach and faeces samples will provide detailed information on food spectrum and parasite fauna, in order to better estimate possible effects on biodiversity and the zoonosis potential. Various population and environmental parameters will be collected and used to create dispersal models to show the potential distribution and occurrence of these carnivorous mammals also under changing climatic conditions, Klimpel explains further.

Since the future success in mitigating negative effects from IAS will depend largely on public understanding and participation, all relevant groups and actors will be involved. In addition to cooperation partners from the scientific community, hunting associations and relevant ministries, citizens will also be involved in the research project (Citizen Science). As a basis for this exchange, an application and an online communication platform will be developed to generate data and provide information on current research findings. Since ZOWIAC includes aspects on wildlife ecology and health research, the project will also deliver results that can serve relevant ministries and authorities as a basis for decisions on how to handle invasive and alien predators in Germany and Europe.

Images for download:

Caption: Raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), Credit: Dorian D. Dörge, Goethe University Frankfurt

Caption: Raccoon (Procyon lotor), Credit: Dorian D. Dörge, Goethe University Frankfurt

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Sven Klimpel
Chair for Integrative Parasitology and Zoophysiology
Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity
Goethe University Frankfurt
Phone: +49 69 798 42249

Norbert Peter, M.Sc., Dipl.-Forsting. (FH)
Medical Biodiversity and Parasitology
Senckenberg Society for Nature Research
Phone: +49 69 798 42212


Nov 24 2020

Federal and state funding of € 9.2 million for a long-term academy project at Goethe University and Friedrich Schiller University Jena 

24 years for Buber research in the digital age

Approximately 40,000 letters from Martin Buber's correspondence with his contemporaries exist, but to this day, they have hardly been accessible. A funding commitment from the federal and state governments should now change this: an academy project for the digitalisation and annotation of this valuable estate will be funded with almost € 400,000 per year.

FRANKFURT. Literature, art, theology – Martin Buber, one of the most influential thinkers of the modern German-Jewish intellectual world was in active exchange with the representatives and institutions in almost every area of intellectual life. More than 40,000 letters that were written by or to him have been handed down – particularly in the philosopher's estate in Jerusalem, but also scattered throughout archives around the world. Making this research treasure accessible – that is the goal of the new academy project that Professor Christian Wiese, scholar in the field of Jewish Studies and holder of the Martin-Buber-Chair in Jewish Religious Philosophy at Goethe University, can now tackle thanks to the funds awarded by the federal and state governments. All the letters are to be digitalised as facsimile, and a large portion will also be transcribed, translated and annotated. The project is designed for 24 years and will be funded with € 9.2 million, of which half will come from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and half from the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts. Professor Martin Leiner (Friedrich Schiller University Jena), Professor Abigail Gillman (Boston University) and the National Library of Israel are cooperation partners.

“This is wonderful news." Professor Birgitta Wolff, President of Goethe University, is delighted about the grant. “With this academy project, Christian Wiese is setting new standards and planting the seed for a work that fits the time in every way," Wolff remarks, adding that the project is an important contribution to internationalisation in the digital humanities. “It is in fact quite special. There is nothing like it in other countries," says Professor Christian Wiese, who in 2019 concluded one of the last volumes of the edition of Martin Buber's published writings. The edition of the letters opens additional perspectives into Buber's life and work and his many interests – but also into intellectual life overall in the decades between the first World War and Buber's death in 1965. “Where, if not in Frankfurt, should this project have its home?" observes Wiese.

“The correspondence of Buber, who lived in Heppenheim and taught in Frankfurt, can contribute important new insights to the history of the twentieth century. Especially in our polarised time, we can learn a lot from the philosopher's approach, which always relied on dialogue and understanding. Christian Wiese's academy project is for this reason also an exceptional one in Hessen's research landscape in the humanities. I am very happy that we can co-fund this project and wish it great success," says Hessen's minister for Higher Education, Research and the Arts Angela Dorn.

Martin Buber (1868 – 1965) worked at the University of Frankfurt am Main from 1924 to 1933 – first as lecturer and later as honorary professor for Jewish religious teachings and ethics. He resigned from the professorship in 1933 after Hitler took power in anticipation of having his professorship revoked. He subsequently worked on setting up the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education with the Reichsvertretung of German Jews until it was forced to give up its work. Buber emigrated to Israel in 1938 before the November pogrom. Throughout his entire life, Martin Buber was in contact with personalities from all areas of intellectual life, including many writers such as Margarete Susman, Hermann Hesse, Arnold Zweig, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. Here, he did not shy away from controversial discussions. “The letters are a fascinating mirror of the time and reveal the intellectual network in which Buber was involved," says Christian Wiese. Perhaps a quarter of the letters were written by Martin Buber; the rest were written to him. But Martin Buber's personality and thought are reflected in these as well.

As part of the project, the letters, which are primarily located in Europe, Israel and the USA, are now to be collected and grouped according to thematic modules that stretch over several years, and made digitally accessible in close collaboration with the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. Depending on the content, transcripts and – where necessary – translations from the Hebrew along with annotations will be added. The academy project provides for three editorial positions and a doctoral scholarship. Annual conferences are planned, as well as intensive cooperation with researchers in Israel and the USA. The positions will be advertised soon so that work can start in the spring.

“Martin Buber and his work are more relevant than ever,“ says Professor Wiese with conviction. “He is one of the most important dialogic thinkers of the twentieth century, and his texts are relevant wherever intercultural or interreligious dialogue takes place. At the same time, they possess great meaning for issues of political ethics."

Images may be downloaded here:

Caption: This letter to Hermann Hesse was written on 16 September 1945, the day after Yom Kippur, and is the first letter that the philosopher sent from Jerusalem to Germany after the war and the Shoah.

Further information
Prof. Dr. Christian Wiese
Martin Buber Chair for Jewish Religious Philosophy
Faculty 06
Goethe University
Phone: +49 69 798-33313