Press releases

Whether it is new and groundbreaking research results, university topics or events – in our press releases you can find everything you need to know about the happenings at Goethe University. To subscribe, just send an email to

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Sep 15 2015

Light-sensitive protein from a fungus expands the optogenetic toolkit / publication in Nature Communications

Optogenetics: Light switch generates cellular second messenger

FRANKFURT. Optogenetics is a quickly expanding field of research which has revolutionized neurobiological and cellbiological research around the world. It uses natural or tailored light-sensitive proteins in order to switch nerve cells on and off without electrodes with unprecedented accuracy in respect to time and location. The discovery of the light-gated ion channel channelrhodopsin in algae in 2002 was a key finding for this field. In 2005, Frankfurt scientists working with Prof. Alexander Gottschalk succeeded in transferring the protein to the translucent nematode C. elegans in order to control its movements with light. Together with the lab of Georg Nagel at the University of Würzburg, Gottschalk has now added another tool to the optogenetics toolbox: The protein ‘CyclOp’ from the aquatic fungus blastocladiella emersonii.

As the research group under Prof. Alexander Gottschalk reports in the current edition of the journal "Nature Communications", the CyclOp produces the second messenger cGMP when exposed to light. This important cellular signal is involved in vision, regulating blood pressure, induced cell death and also male erection. The compound Viagra, for example, leads to an increase in the cGMP level in the cells. If CyclOp is introduced to an organism like the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, then one can specifically study cGMP-dependent signal pathways within the cell. This allows optogenetics to go a step beyond previous research.

"The light-activated enzyme CyclOp has outstanding molecular properties which qualify it as a valuable addition to the optogenetics toolbox for cell biologists and neurobiologists", explains Prof. Gottschalk from the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (BMLS) at Goethe University. His research group has introduced the protein into oxygen sensing cells in order to find out what role the second messenger cGMP plays in these cells. To do so, the translucent nematode is exposed to light leading to intracellular generation of cGMP. The cells respond by acting as if they had detected an increase in the oxygen level. In this way the researchers can use CyclOp to get a better understanding of how the natural signal for these cells is turned into a cellular response.

S. Gao, J. Nagpal, M. Schneider, V. Kozjak-Pavlovic, G. Nagel, A. Gottschalk. (2015) Optogenetic manipulation of cGMP in cells and animals by the tightly light-regulated guanylyl-cyclase opsin CyclOp. Nature Communications (8. September 2015), DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS9046
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The optogenetically modified nematode C. elegans expresses the protein CyclOp (red) in its muscles, together with a cGMP activated ion channel (green).


Aug 18 2015

Emeritus Professor at the Goethe University is awarded one of the world's most prestigious science prizes.

Habermas receives Kluge Prize

FRANKFURT. It is considered the Nobel Prize of Philosophy: Since 2003 the John W. Kluge Center at the Washington Library of Congress has awarded the "Kluge Prize" for achievements in the humanities and social sciences. This year, the internationally renowned award has been won by the philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas, who shares the prize with the Canadian social philosopher Charles Taylor. The Kluge Prize comes with a 1.5 million dollar endowment.

The prize was donated by John W. Kluge, a patron of German origin, who saw it as a means of promoting disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology and history, which are not covered by the Nobel Prize. The most famous recipients of the Kluge Prize include the French philosopher Paul Ricœur and the former Brazilian President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

University President Prof. Birgitta Wolff congratulated Jürgen Habermas on behalf of the Goethe University: "The awarding of the Kluge Prize to Jürgen Habermas shows that his philosophical and sociological works have been received and appreciated around the world. The jury made special mention of not just his scientific work, but also his exceptional commitment as an intellectual: in numerous socio-political debates he has spoken with passion and defended the values of democracy and freedom. This demonstrates a socially relevant commitment to science totally in line with the spirit of the mission of the Goethe University." Jürgen Habermas has been Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at the Goethe University for 25 years and is the most well-known proponent of Critical Theory in the generation after Adorno and Horkheimer. The main works published by Habermas include "The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere" (1962), "The Theory of Communicative Action" (1981) and "The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" (1985).

In 1964 Habermas took over from Max Horkheimer as Professor of Philosophy and Sociology, and engaged in teaching and research at the Goethe University from 1964-1971, 1975-1982 and 1983-1994. Earlier, from 1956 to 1959, he worked as an assistant at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, where he met Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas was also Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World, which in 1980 became the Max Planck Institute for Social Sciences (1971-1981). Last but not least, his many overseas trips and guest professorships in the USA have brought his works to an appreciative international audience.

Habermas has won various prizes for his scientific endeavours, including the Kyoto Prize the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Hessian Culture Prize, the State Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Theodor W. Adorno Prize and the Hegel Prize.
More information about the Kluge Prize:


Aug 4 2015

Legal scholar Dr. Matthias Goldmann and archeologist Dr. Nikolas Gestrich receive coveted VolkswagenStiftung fellowship

Two new “free spirits” for Goethe University

FRANKFURT. A great success for Goethe University: The jury of the coveted ‘Freigeist’ Fellowship awarded by VolkswagenStiftung, the Volkswagen Foundation, has chosen not one, but two of Frankfurt’s junior researchers as winners – along with six other young scientists from all over Germany. Legal scholar Dr. Matthias Goldmann studies the relationship between the economic sciences and law, while archeologist Dr. Nikolas Gestrich explores the relationship between statehood, urbanism and trade in pre-colonial West Africa. The Volkswagen Foundation will put up a total of 5.3 million Euros over the coming five years to fund the eight research projects.

Dr. Matthias Goldmann

Matthias Goldmann, born in 1978, studied Law in Würzburg, specializing in European and international law. After taking his first state examination, he spent one year at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He then took a doctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Following his second state examination he obtained a Master of Laws from New York University School of Law. In his PhD thesis, supervised by the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Prof. Armin von Bogdandy, Goldmann developed the concept of “international public authority” as a new legal focus for the ever-growing activities of international institutions in the course of globalization. It allows applying international law to instruments of international institutions such as the PISA Study or the Basel Accords which defy traditional legal categories.

In his fellowship project, Goldmann is turning his attention to the financial system, albeit he focuses again on fundamental issues. This time, it is about the relationship between two closely related disciplines: economics and the law. What is the understanding of law underlying economic knowledge, or the idea of economic knowledge implicit in legal practice? Goldmann thinks that both need to improve. Economic knowledge informs the legal regulation of the financial system and financial markets. Often, however, the respective legal rules are so vague that they disappoint the expectation implicit in the underlying economic knowledge that the law will successfully control market actors’ behavior. In turn, when those applying legal rules rely on economic insights, they realize that economic knowledge is highly disputed and subject to change. Not a good basis for an enduringly stable market economy.

One example is what is known as the no-bail-out clause in European contracts. During the financial crisis many economists agreed that the clause had been violated, but the European Court of Justice ruled otherwise. “There is no red line that can’t be crossed,” as Goldmann puts it. His theory is that we need to understand the law as a far more flexible tool, one that first and foremost serves to structure decision-making processes. Hence, “Stability through Deliberation: Finance and Public Law” is the title of his fellowship project. Ultimately, he aims at the development of legal principles which acknowledge the flexibility in the relationship between economics and the law and might therefore help stabilize the financial system. At any rate, according to Goldmann, economists and legal scholars need to engage in far more intensive exchange.

For the duration of his fellowship Matthias Goldmann, who has been collaborating with the Normative Orders Cluster of Excellence since 2013, will be based at the House of Finance, for him one of the “most renowned institutes in the banking sector.” Does he consider himself a “free spirit”? “Not necessarily more than others. After all, every scholar should strive to test his limits. The pursuit of knowledge presupposes freedom,” says Goldmann, who is to begin his fellowship in January 2016.

Dr. Nikolas Gestrich

Dr. Nikolas Gestrich is to return from the UK for his ‘Freigeist’ project. The 31-year-old German-British scholar grew up in Stuttgart and studied Archeology in Durham, going on to complete his Master’s at University College London. It was here that he also obtained his doctorate, with a thesis on the topic “The Archaeology of Social Organisation at Tongo Maaré Diabal.” He was initially attracted to UK study programs as he believes they tend to concentrate more strongly on methodology and practical work, and students don’t need to choose a direction as early as in Germany. Now however, his focus is clear: He is particularly interested in the complex societies of pre-colonial West Africa. The title of his ‘Freigeist’ project is “The Relationship of Urbanism and Trade to State Power in the Segou Region of Mali.”

“Mali’s earlier history is extremely interesting, but is still not well understood,” says Gestrich. Though largely lacking the traditional signs of civilization, such as writing or palaces and monuments, this was clearly an advanced civilization with large cities that could have held more than 50,000 inhabitants. This urban form developed around the middle reaches  of the River Niger in Mali as early as around 800 BC. From around 400 AD, states emerged that controlled a large part of West Africa. Taking the example of the Markadugu, a network of former trading cities, Nikolas Gestrich now aims to investigate the relationship between states, cities and trade in pre-colonial West Africa and clearly demonstrate that their structures were considerably more complex and mutable than previously thought.

In his research Nikolas Gestrich seeks to combine archeological methods with those of history and anthropology. He will analyze archeological sites with the help of modern technologies and relate them to written Arabic sources – and to histories passed down through oral tradition. “To this day in Mali an entire social category specialises on memorizing and telling stories in public. Within families too, past events are passed down through the centuries,” notes Gestrich, who will collaborate with African scientists in his project. He will be based at the Frobenius Institute at Goethe University, where the African Archeology and African Studies departments offer him ideal research conditions. “Moreover, the institute has a library for this subject that is unparalleled in Germany,” says Gestrich. He was delighted to learn that he had been selected for a ‘Freigeist’ Fellowship: “Given that so many specialist fields were considered I think it is excellent that my project was selected – after all, it is a rather unusual research topic.”

 ‘Freigeist’ Fellowship

Excellent researchers and extraordinary personalities – this is the focus of the ‘Freigeist’ Fellowship scheme, running this year for the second time. With the initiative, the Volkswagen Foundation aims to support scholars who are at home in areas that straddle established research fields and wish to engage in unconventional, high-risk research. The fellowship affords them a wide scope in terms of subject and a clear timeframe. Junior scientists who received their doctorate no longer than five years ago can apply. This year a total of 156 funding applications were submitted. The official awards ceremony will take place on September 25 at the conference center at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover.


Jul 7 2015

New LOEWE focus on prehistory and early history at the Goethe University

Conflicts 4000 years ago

FRANKFURT. The Goethe University (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt) once again has reason to celebrate a success in the Hessian LOEWE excellence initiative. It was revealed that the application for research focusing on "Prehistoric Conflict" under the direction of Rüdiger Krause, Professor of Prehistory and Early History in Frankfurt was successfully defended before the external jury. The approved state funds totalling approximately 3.7 million Euros over three years will make it possible to fill a major research gap in Central European archaeology and to use an interdisciplinary approach to study Bronze Age forts between the Taunus and the Carpathian mountains.

"We are delighted about the new LOEWE research focus on archaeology at our University", said Manfred Schubert-Zsilavecz, Vice President of the Goethe University, after the outcome had been announced. "The decision is further confirmation that research at the Goethe University is also strong in the humanities and social sciences", according to Schubert-Zsilavecz. The Goethe University now acts as the lead institution in six LOEWE centres and nine LOEWE focal research areas.

Prof. Krause will coordinate the new research focus jointly with Prof. Svend Hansen, Director of the Eurasia Department at the German Archaeological Institute, Berlin. Other persons involved will include Frankfurt’s Sociologist Sighard Neckel, Historian Bernhard Jussen and Geographer Heinrich Thiemeyer. A partner outside the University is the Roman Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute in Frankfurt.

Roman forts and medieval fortifications are well known, and some still shape Europe's cultural landscapes today. However, during the Bronze Age, starting at the turn of the 17th to 16th century BCE, people were already constructing the first settlements fortified with strong walls to protect themselves against attackers and to control transit routes. Until now, little research has been performed on these Bronze-Age forts, even though  they were a phenomenon that marked Central Europe for almost two millennia.

Moreover, a new view of the Bronze Age reveals  a darker side to the subject, explains Prof. Rüdiger Krause, who will be the lead in this research area. This is because the subject of war and conflict has only very recently become a focal point of research on this phase of prehistory. The absolute certainty that there were military conflicts on a major scale is evident not only from the existence of fortifications but also from the development and spread of new weapons such as single-edged and stabbing swords, as well as protective shields. Research no longer refers to the "Bronze Age Heroes" whose weaponry and equipment were primarily symbols of prestige, but rather to the idea of warrior groups who systematically attacked their neighbours and sometimes committed large-scale massacres.

The LOEWE research focus will now provide a new empirical basis for the phenomenon of the Bronze-Age fort: modern methods in prospecting will enable new and more insights into the structure of the facilities, while excavations will be planned and conducted with precision. The focus of this work will be on the social histoical perspective of violent conflict in the Bronze Age and a comparison with conditions in the early Middle Ages.

The LOEWE Fund was launched in 2008 with the goal of providing impetus for research and strengthening the position of the state of Hesse as a research location. It primarily promotes collaboration between higher education and other research institutions, providing universities with an opportunity to sharpen their profile further. Moreover, the intent is to lay the groundwork for additional federal and state-funded research institutions. Within the eighth grant echelon, three new projects are being funded with a total of 12 million Euros for a period of three years. Apart from the archaeologists at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main, two focal areas of research are also being supported at the Technical University in Darmstadt.


Jun 25 2015

Higher brain regions are only activated when predictions are false.

How does the brain recognize faces from minimal information?

FRANKFURT Our brain recognizes objects within milliseconds, even if it only receives rudimentary visual information. Researchers believe that reliable and fast recognition works because the brain is constantly making predictions about objects in the field of view and is comparing these with  incoming information. Only if mismatches occur in this process do higher areas of the brain have to be notified of the error in order to make active corrections to the predictions. Now scientists at the Goethe University have confirmed this hypothesis. As they report in the current edition of the "Journal of Neuroscience", those brain waves that are sent to higher brain areas increase their activity when a predictive error occurs. These results also promise a better understanding of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.

In order to induce predictive errors in their subjects, the researchers showed them so-called Mooney faces, named after their inventor Craig Mooney. These are photographs of faces which have been reduced entirely to black and white. We usually recognize these easily. We can even give details about the gender, age and facial expression – despite the fact that only the borders between black and white contain any information about the face. Moreover, even this minimal amount of information is ambiguous, because the boundaries either represent the transition between light and cast shadows or they confine the object itself.

"In our study, we used Mooney faces which intentionally violated two expectations: Firstly, that we always see faces oriented upright, and secondly, that light comes from above. The facial recognition performance became noticably poorer and slower as a result", Prof. Michael Wibral from the Brain Imaging Center at the Goethe University explained.

What happens in the brain in this situation? The current theory, the "Predictive Coding" theory, suggests that signals only have to be sent to higher brain areas for processing if predictions aren't met. Thus an increase in signal activity towards higher brain areas should occur. However, there are also competing theories which predict the exact opposite.

Testing the theory directly only became possible recently, when Frankfurt scientists at the Strüngmann Institute discovered that brain wave activity at about 90 Hertz increases when signals are sent from lower to higher brain areas. "If a predictive error is induced by generating images which contradict the everyday visual reality learned over the course of a lifetime, then we should see an increase in brain wave activity at 90 Hertz in response to an error. We were able to confirm this experimentally", Wibral explained. "And we were also able to show that the intensity of these 'error brain waves' increases along with the time necessary for recognition. This shows that these brain waves don't just initiate a correction, but also play a causal role in our perception", Wibral continued. The results are important specifically because these brain waves also appear to be significantly impaired in patients with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. This was shown through measurements taken in the laboratory of the Frankfurt Brain Imaging Centre over the past few years. The researchers are now hoping to gain a better understanding of both illnesses and to find ways of helping patients to correct their predictive errors more effectively.

Alla Brodski, Georg-Friedrich Paasch, Saskia Helbling, and Michael Wibral: The Faces of Predictive Coding, in: Journal of Neuroscience, 17 June 2015 • 35(24):8997–9006 • 8997, DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1529-14.2015;

Information: Prof. Michael Wibral, MEG Labor, Brain Imaging Center, Klinikum der Goethe Universität, Tel.: +49(0)69 6301 83193,

An image for downloading is available here:

Caption: The black and white transitions which indicate shadow borders (red arrow) and those which are object edges (green arrow) are marked on the left Mooney face. The middle image shows an upside-down image lit from above, while the image on the right is inverted and lit from below.