Press releases

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Apr 16 2018

University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg is the first German library in the consortium

Goethe University's Library joins the Biodiversity Heritage Library

FRANKFURT. The University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg (UB JCS) in Frankfurt am Main just joined the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as an official Affiliate. BHL is an online library sustained by nearly 40 natural history libraries and museums from around the world. UB JCS is the first German library to join the consortium.

The University Library will enhance BHL’s corpus of biodiversity literature by contributing content from its rich Biology Collection. By enabling free access to Central European biodiversity literature, the Library will significantly enhance discoverability of knowledge contained in a segment of literature which is not yet satisfactorily represented online.

The University Library’s Biology Collection comprises excellent holdings of historic and modern biodiversity literature, representing some 400,000 volumes on the entire spectrum of biological science. UB JCS has a long history of collection digitization and provides access to a large corpus of digitized literature through its "Digitale Sammlungen" portal, including a notable collection of German botanical journals from 1753-1914. In 2017, the Specialised Information Service Biodiversity Research project (BIOfid; co-funded by the German Research Council DFG) was established to enhance access to the Biology Collection. Through continued digitization of literature and the development of new services including text mining tools to mobilize data within the literature, the project aims to build a bridge between historical holdings and modern biodiversity research. The BIOfid project is conducted by the Library in collaboration with the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the Text Technology Lab of the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main.

For further information:

Information: Dr. Gerwin Kasperek, Subject Librarian for Biology and Head of BIOfid Project, University Library J. C. Senckenberg, Bockenheimer Landstraße 134-138, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Tel: +49 (69) 798 39365, E-Mail:


Apr 13 2018

The brain processes weak visual stimuli better in the morning and evening than at noon

Optimised perception in the twilight zone

FRANKFURT. In the pre-industrial age, twilight was a dangerous time for humans since they were at risk of encountering nocturnal predators. Anyone still able to recognise things despite the weak light was at a clear evolutionary advantage. As neuroscientists at Goethe University Frankfurt have now discovered, the human brain prepares for dawn and dusk by shutting down resting activity in the visual cortex at these times so that weak visual stimuli do not disappear in the brain’s background noise.

The transition from night to day, light and dark, has a greater influence on perception that we realise. The time of day has a particularly significant impact on the quality of visual signals around us. In the course of evolution, our visual system has adapted perfectly to light conditions during the day. It has, however, also developed a strategy for twilight: Evidently it allows our inner clock to predict these periods and prepare our visual system for times when the quality of visual signals deteriorates.

“Whilst the cogs of our inner clock have already been studied in depth, it was not known to date which mechanism optimises visual perception at times when poor signal quality can be expected,” explains Dr. Christian Kell from the Brain Imaging Center of Goethe University Frankfurt. That is why Lorenzo Cordani, his doctoral researcher, examined how 14 healthy test persons reacted to visual stimuli at six different times of the day in the framework of a complex fMRI study.

The main idea of the study was to relate the perception of sensory signals to the brain’s resting activity. There is namely a certain “background noise” in the brain even in the complete absence of external stimuli. The international team led by Christian Kell, Lorenzo Cordani and Joerg Stehle was able to show that the body independently downregulates resting activity in the sensory areas during dawn and dusk. The more resting activity was reduced, the better the test persons were able to perceive weak visual signals when measured afterwards.

This means that humans can perceive weak visual stimuli during dawn and dusk better than at other times of the day. In other words: During twilight, the signal-to-noise ratio in the sensory areas of the brain improves. Since resting activity during twilight decreases not only in the visual but also in the auditory and somatosensory regions of the brain, the researchers assume that perception sharpens not only in the visual system. An earlier study already showed that weak auditory stimuli during twilight were perceived better. The mechanism now discovered, which was published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, could therefore represent a key evolutionary advantage that ensured survival in the pre-industrial era.

Publication: Lorenzo Cordani, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Céline Vetter, Christian Hassemer, Till Roenneberg, Jörg H. Stehle, Christian A. Kell: Endogenous Modulation of Human Visual Cortex Activity Improves Perception at Twilight, in: Nature Communications

Information: Privatdozent Dr. Christian Kell, Brain Imaging Center der Goethe-Universität, Cognitive Neuroscience Group, Fachbereich Medizin, Campus Niederrad, Tel: (069) 6301 5739;


Apr 6 2018

New insights in the animals´ extraordinary evolutionary history

Diving deep into the blue whale genome

FRANKFURT. For the first time, scientists of the German Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, Goethe University and the University of Lund in Sweden have deciphered the complete genome of the blue whale and three other rorquals. These insights now allow tracking the evolutionary history of the worlds’ largest animal and its relatives in unprecedented detail. Surprisingly, the genomes show that rorquals have been hybridizing during their evolutionary history. In addition, rorquals seem to have separated into different species in the absence of geographical barriers. This phenomenon, called sympatric speciation, is very rare in animals. The study has just been published in "Science Advances".

Blue whales are the giants of the sea. With up to 30 meters (100 feet) long and weighing up to 175 tons, they are the largest animals that ever evolved on earth; larger even than dinosaurs. Short of becoming extinct due to whaling by the end of the 80s, currently the populations of the gentle giants are slowly recovering. Now new research highlights that the evolution of these extraordinary animals and other rorquals was also anything but ordinary.

A research team led by Professor Axel Janke, evolutionary geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center and Goethe University, has found that the rorquals, including the blue whale, mated across emerging species boundaries. “Speciation under gene flow is rare. Usually, species are assumed to be reproductively isolated because geographical or genetic barriers inhibits genetic exchange. Apparently however, this does not apply to whales”, explains Fritjof Lammers, co-lead-author of the study, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre

Teaming up with cetacean specialist Professor Ulfur Arnason at University of Lund, Sweden, Lammers and his colleagues are the first to have sequenced the complete genome of the blue whale and other rorquals, including the humpback and the gray whale. For these migratory whales, geographical barriers do not exist in the vastness of the ocean, instead some rorquals differentiated by inhabiting different ecological niches. Cross-genome analyses now indicate that there are apparently no genetic barriers between species and that there has been gene flow among different rorqual species in the past.

This is confirmed by spotting hybrids between fin and blue whales still to date, which have been witnessed and genetically studied by Professor Arnason. However, the researchers could not detect traces of recent liaisons between the two species in their genomes. This is probably because whale genomes are currently known only from one or two individuals.

To track down the rorquals’ evolution, the scientists have applied so-called evolutionary network analyses. "In these analyses, speciation is not considered as a bifurcating phylogenetic tree as Darwin has envisioned it, but as an interwoven network. This allows us to discover hidden genetic signals, that otherwise would have stayed undetected", says Janke.

Overall, the research also shows that the relationships among the rorqual species are more complicated than hitherto thought. So far, the humpback whale has been seen as an outsider among the rorquals because of its enormous fins. The genome reveals that this classification does match the evolutionary signals. The same is true for the gray whale, which was believed to be evolutionarily distinct from rorquals due to its appearance. Genomic analyses show however that gray whales are nested within rorquals. Gray whales just happened to occupy a new ecological niche by feeding on crustaceans in coastal oceanic waters.

"Our research highlights the enormous potential of genome sequencing to better understand biological processes and the fundamentals of biodiversity. It even reveals how population sizes of whales have changed during the last million years", summarizes Janke. Janke is one of the leading researchers at the Hessian LOEWE Research Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG). Launched in January 2018, LOEWE-TBG is set to systematically analyze complete genomes or all active genes. The research center is envisaged to do basic research with a strong emphasis on transferring knowledge to benefit the study of natural products and protect biodiversity.

To study and understand nature with its limitless diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations – this has been the goal of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s main tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Nature Research Society is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt am Main is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found at


Mar 27 2018

Fluorescent markers indicate number of inserted genes

“AGameOfClones”: Identification of transgenic organisms

FRANKFURT. Transgenic organisms, e.g. animals or plants into which a foreign gene has been introduced, are powerful tools that can be used to analyse biological processes or to mimic human diseases. However, many of the individuals produced during the course of a study carry the transgene on only chromosome of a complementary pair of chromosomes. This limits their experimental usefulness. Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have now developed a concept called “AGameOfClones”, which allows to distinguish easily whether transgenic organisms carry the foreign gene on one or on both chromosomes. This facilitates breeding and also benefits animal welfare.

To understand biological processes, researchers often use model organisms, such as mice, zebrafish and various species of insects, with the underlying idea that their discoveries can also be transferred to other species. A common technique is genetic manipulation, a process where a foreign gene (also known as a transgene) is inserted into one of the chromosomes of the target organism. Many model organisms have pairs of chromosomes - one inherited from each parent. In these pairs, the genes are arranged in the same order but are not necessarily identical.

Newly created transgenic organisms, however, carry the transgene on only one of the chromosomes. This can pose a problem for researchers because many experiments require individuals that carry the foreign gene on both. Unfortunately, only costly and error-prone methods can distinguish between these individuals. To overcome these drawbacks, Frederic Strobl from the research group led by Professor Ernst Stelzer at the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences of Goethe University Frankfurt developed a genetic concept called “AGameOfClones” and applied it to the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum.

In this approach, the foreign gene also contains sequences for two protein markers with different fluorescent colours. After several generations of breeding, two variants of the transgene emerge that each retain only one marker. This means that in the following generation, the descendants with both markers must be the progeny that carry the transgene on both chromosomes.

The “AGameOfClones” concept has several major advantages: Individuals with different markers can be easily identified and the procedure is cost-efficient, reliable and can be applied to almost all model organisms. This benefits especially animal welfare, since individuals that are unsuitable for use in experiments can be excluded as soon as the markers become detectable.

Publication (Open Access): Frederic Strobl, Anita Anderl, Ernst H.K. Stelzer: A universal vector concept for a direct genotyping of transgenic organisms and a systematic creation of homozygous lines.


Image material can be downloaded under:

Caption: The principle of the “AGameOfClones” concept shown in the red flour beetle. The left panel shows two adult individuals that carry the transgene on only one of their chromosome pairs. Both beetles have inherited variants of the transgene with different markers that have led to either green or blue fluorescent compound eyes. The right panel shows a descendant of the two adult individuals on the left which carries the transgene in both chromosomes – but with different markers. Thus, its compound eyes are fluorescent turquoise. Picture: Strobl/Stelzer, Goethe University Frankfurt.

Further information: Professor Ernst Stelzer and Frederic Strobl, Physical Biology Working Group, Faculty of Biological Sciences, and Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49-(0)-798-42547,, +49-(0)-69-798-42551,


Mar 14 2018

Fat cells, or adipocytes, regulate body temperature and energy consumption but they can also cause illness. The prizewinner is studying how different fat cells develop, how they work, and how this effect can be adopted to improve health, especially in old age

Tim Julius Schulz awarded the prize for work on adipocyte biology

FRANKFURT. Professor Tim J. Schulz from the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE) in Potsdam-Rehbruecke will today receive the €60,000 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers for 2018 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. The biochemist is receiving the award for his basic research on the development of white and brown fat and on their effects on health and nutritional physiology. Schulz showed how stem cells produce white and brown fat and how white fat harms bone health in old age. Furthermore, he demonstrated that a class of drugs often used in the treatment of diabetes also reduces the harmful effects of white fat cells on bones. These medicines may improve bone health among elderly people. "The work of Tim J. Schulz addresses the highly topical issue of adiposity," wrote the Scientific Council in substantiating its decision. "Schulz not only takes into consideration the negative effects of white adipose tissue but also examines whether adiposity and the diseases it fosters can be prevented by the targeted production of more brown adipose tissue and the role of nutrition during this scenario." The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers will be presented by Professor Thomas Boehm, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg and Chairman of the Scientific Council.

White and brown fat are not the same. Brown fat regulates body temperature and protects it from cooling. White adipose tissue stores unused energy from food and is hardly utilized at all in contemporary high-calorie diets. Too much white fat is burdensome for the body and may drive disease development. Moreover, as people age they store more white fat in the organs and bones and not only in subcutaneous tissue. As a result, this fatty degeneration may contribute to the development of many diseases that occur more frequently in old age such as diabetes, fatty liver or poor bone healing.

Brown and white fat cells, like all the body's other cells, descend from stem cells. Brown fat, though, derives from specialized brown fat stem cells dedicated to that purpose.  It was once believed that only neonates and young children had this invaluable resource, but that is not the case.  Adults have brown fat, especially in the upper body, in particular along the shoulder blades, in deep regions of the neck, the large blood vessels, and along the spinal column. Schulz studies the development of brown fat cells from stem cells and was part of a team that showed that their formation can be controlled by a special signaling molecule. This fits in with a well-known approach of combating adiposity by increasing the amount of brown fat. This approach aims to convert the unnecessary calories to heat in the brown fat deposits rather than storing them in the white fat deposits. Brown fat could thus be a weight loss treatment. Schulz also showed that the brown fat stem cells lose their capability to create more brown fat during aging. He identified the relevant aspects and target molecules of this aging process and hopes that some of them can be used therapeutically.

His findings on the role of white fat in bone also have important implications. Schulz demonstrated that with advancing age and a fat-enriched diet bone stem cells produce white fat rather than healthy bone tissue. This fat is harmful for bone not only because of its presence but also because it produces other molecules that make it even more difficult for the stem cells to generate new bone tissue which might explain why bones heal poorly in old age. Added to this is the fact that white fat also damages the hematopoietic stem cells of bone marrow which could results in reduced blood cell formation in bone with excess fatty infiltration. Schulz further demonstrated that a drug class widely used to treat diabetes inhibits an enzyme that is produced by white fat cells in the bones. This class of agents is known as gliptins. It remains to be determined in clinical trials whether they can improve bone health in the elderly in addition to the known beneficial effect in diabetes. Schulz is currently involved in studying how the composition of the diet affects bone stem cells and whether certain forms of nutrition can promote bone healing through the activation of the stem cells.

Short Biography of Professor Tim Julius Schulz
Tim J. Schulz (39) was born in Northeim, Germany, and studied biochemistry at Potsdam University. He received his PhD in 2007 under Professor Michael Ristow at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. He was awarded the Dissertation Prize of the Biological-Pharmaceutical Faculty for his thesis. On completing his PhD, Schulz spent five years at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, which is part of the Harvard Medical School. He worked there with Professor Yu-Hua Tseng in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Metabolism. From 2012 to 2016 Schulz headed the Emmy Noether Young Investigator Group "Adipocyte Development", sponsored by the German Research Foundation, at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke (DIfE). In 2016 Schulz was appointed head of the department of "Adipocyte Development and Nutrition" at the DIfE, a partner of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). At the same time he was appointed W2 professor at Potsdam University. In 2013 he was awarded a €1.5 million starting grant of the European Research Council (ERC).

Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers
The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers, awarded for the first time in 2006, is conferred once a year by the Paul Ehrlich Foundation on a young investigator working in Germany for his or her outstanding achievements in the field of biomedical research. The prize money must be used for research purposes. University faculty members and leading scientists at German research institutions are eligible for nomination. The selection of the prizewinner is made by the Scientific Council on a proposal by the eight-person selection committee.

The Paul Ehrlich Foundation
The Paul Ehrlich Foundation is a legally dependent foundation which is managed in a fiduciary capacity by the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, Frankfurt. The Honorary Chairman of the Foundation, which was established by Hedwig Ehrlich in 1929, is Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider, president of the German Research Foundation, who also appoints the elected members of the Scientific Council and the Board of Trustees. The Chairman of the Scientific Council is Professor Thomas Boehm, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, the Chair of the Board of Trustees is Professor Dr. Jochen Maas, Head of Research and Development and Member of the Management Board, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH. Professor Wilhelm Bender, in his function as Chair of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, is Member of the Scientific Council. The President of the Goethe University is at the same time a member of the Board of Trustees.

Further information You can obtain selected publications, the list of publications and a photograph of the prizewinner from Dr. Hildegard Kaulen, phone: +49 (0) 6122/52718, e-mail: and at