Press releases

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Goethe University PR & Communication Department 

Theodor-W.-Adorno Platz 1
60323 Frankfurt


An AI model developed by a team of scientists from Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Birmingham, led by Niamh Eastwood and Prof. Luisa Orsini, shows how water pollution, extreme weather events and rising temperatures can change and irreversibly damage the ecosystem of a freshwater lake over many decades. The model uses weather and climate data as well as data extracted from a sediment core taken from the lake and could in future be used to predict how ecosystems react to complex environmental changes. As such, it could serve as a "time machine for biodiversity", so to speak, explaining past processes while simultaneously pointing to future ecological dangers. 

The sediments of lakes and rivers are the long-term memory of bodies of water: It is here where, layer by layer, mineral, organic and chemical particles and substances are deposited over time. Using a sediment core from the "Ring Lake", located near the city of Braedstrup in Denmark, the team of German and British scientists analyzed the DNA residues of plants, animals and bacteria as well as environmental toxins like pesticides or herbicides that have entered the lake over time and been deposited in the sediments. This allowed them to reconstruct the changes that have taken place in the lake's ecological community as well as the pollution caused by nitrates and biocides, for instance, over the past 100 years. 

"The subject of our investigation, the 'Ring Lake' in Denmark, is a body of water that was hardly polluted at the beginning of the 20th century. Over the course of the century, however, the lake was exposed to considerable environmental pollution. In the last years of the 20th century, water quality improved significantly," explains Prof. Henner Hollert, environmental toxicologist at Goethe University Frankfurt, Fraunhofer IME and the LOEWE Center TBG for Translational Biodiversity Genomics. Coupled with its undisturbed sediment stratification, which makes the years visible in a manner similar to that of annual rings of a tree trunk, this made the lake such an interesting research subject. 

The scientific team proceeded to link the analysis data from the drill core with climate records, focusing in particular on extreme temperatures and precipitation levels. Using artificial intelligence, they developed a model that explains the influence of environmental changes on the composition of the freshwater community and resolves them in terms of time and space. Their finding: 90 percent of the changes in the functional biodiversity of Ring Lake were due to the introduction of insecticides and fungicides in conjunction with extreme temperature and precipitation events. 

Although nearby agricultural activity decreased at the end of the century, leading to an improvement in water quality, the German-British team of scientists found that this did not restore the lake's original ecological condition. 

Henner Hollert: "We were able to show that the loss of biodiversity in an ecosystem is not completely reversible: Biocenosis no longer functions as it did before, since species that performed certain services within the ecosystem are missing. We will now test our AI system – which we refer to as our 'time machine for biodiversity' – on other lakes, including as part of an ongoing interdisciplinary German Research Foundation (DFG) project on the interaction between humans and the environment in the late Middle Ages. Our partners in the latter are the Technical University of Darmstadt, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the State Service for Heritage Protection and Management Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the Universities of Tübingen and Braunschweig. Lessons from the past can help us for the future: We aim to provide authorities with a warning system that can assess ecologically threatening developments at an early stage, thereby allowing countermeasures to be taken, for example restricting the use of certain biocides in the vicinity of an ecotope." 

Ecotoxicologist Professor Luisa Orsini, who also holds a Hückmann Endowed Visiting Professorship at Goethe University Frankfurt and is a member of the RobustNature network of excellence, underlines the advantages of the new AI-based method: "The high-throughput analyses we use allow us to observe the entirety of living organisms in an ecosystem and relate them to their environment. With this in hand, we can assess the long-term trends in an ecosystem's development much better than with previous monitoring methods, which only focus on one or a few species, and identify the factors with the greatest impact on biodiversity." 

Publication: Niamh Eastwood, Jiarui Zhou, Romain Derelle, Mohamed Abou-Elwafa Abdallah, William A Stubbings, Yunlu Jia, Sarah E Crawford, Thomas A Davidson, John K Colbourne, Simon Creer, Holly Bik, Henner Hollert, Luisa Orsini: 100 years of anthropogenic impact causes changes in freshwater functional biodiversity. eLife (2023) 

About the research cluster RobustNature: 

Further Information:
Professor Henner Hollert
Institute for Ecology, Evolution und Diversity
Goethe University Frankfurt
and Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME), Schmallenberg, and LOEWE-Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE‐TBG),Frankfurt
Tel: +49 (0)69 798-42171

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Nov 6 2023

Cooperation agreement between Goethe University Frankfurt and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Giving children a voice: Joint research on childhood and child welfare 

Goethe University Frankfurt and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) today announced another significant addition to their existing scientific cooperation in the field of childhood research: The two universities signed a cooperation agreement to establish the Center for Childhood and Child Welfare in Context. 

The collaboration builds on a long-standing partnership characterized by extensive research, support for early career researchers and excellence in university teaching. Notable joint initiatives include an international study on the well-being of children, other empirical studies on the rights, interests and needs of children and adolescents, as well as research on violence and neglect in families or educational institutions in both Germany and Israel. The two universities have also been holding an annual German-Israeli Master's seminar since 2016. 

The main aim of this latest research cooperation is to deepen and expand academic and scientific cooperation in both childhood as well as social science research. The new Center for Childhood and Child Welfare will focus on a number of topics, including the implementation of children's rights, dealing with structural bottlenecks such as a shortage of skilled workers, and experiences with displacement, among others. In addition, the center will also research issues related to professionalization, quality, digitality, digitalization, global warming and biodiversity. Another one of its aims is to help ensure children and adolescents have a voice in research, and to examine age as a social category. 

Scientists from a wide array of different disciplines – such as childhood and family research, educational science, pedagogy, migration research, social work and healthcare – from both universities will be involved in the center, which sets out to deliver an innovative contribution to global childhood research and promote networking in this field. 

Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff: "I am delighted to see our two universities pool their respective strengths and potential even more in the field of childhood research, which is so important to our society. The Center for Childhood and Child Welfare in Context further intensifies and expands our existing close cooperation. I would like to thank everyone involved at both universities, first and foremost among them Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh and Prof. Sabine Andresen, for their great commitment to making this future-oriented international cooperation possible." 

Prof. Sabine Andresen, Professor of Educational Science at Goethe University Frankfurt, with a focus on social pedagogy and family research: "Our experiences with the master's seminars especially, in which students from Frankfurt and Jerusalem not only learn together, but also discuss and compare what it was like to grow up in both countries, have led us to deepen the cooperation. For students who will later work in youth welfare offices or as child protection specialists for example, this exchange about both systems, about tailor-made services or barriers to the protection of children and adolescents is game-changing. We also found that a lot of friendships have emerged from these seminars." 

Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, Dean of HUJI's School of Social Work and Social Welfare, underscores the importance of this latest collaboration: "This cooperation between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Goethe University Frankfurt is proof of our joint commitment to advancing research in the field of childhood studies. By joining forces, we aim to create a better and safer future for children worldwide. Through our combined expertise and dedication, we can better understand and improve the lives of children and families." 

Contact: Prof. Sabine Andresen, Professor for Educational Science with a focus on social pedagogy and family research, Institute for Social Pedagogy and Adult Education, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Goethe University Frankfurt.

Editor: Dr. Dirk Frank, Press Officer / Deputy Head of PR and Communication, Goethe University Frankfurt, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Phone +49 (0)69 798–13753,


Oct 27 2023

Geological analysis of whiteschist shows rapid upward movements – Study by Goethe University Frankfurt, Heidelberg University and the University of Rennes

Alpine rock reveals dynamics of plate movements in Earth’s interior

Examining how plates move in Earth's mantle and how mountains form is no easy feat. Certain rocks that have sunk deep into Earth's interior and then returned from there can deliver answers. Led by the Department of Geosciences at Goethe University Frankfurt, an international team of geologists has now succeeded in analyzing whiteschist from the Alps so precisely by means of computer modeling that it calls a previous theory about plate movement into question. 

FRANKFURT. Geoscientists analyze rocks in mountain belts to reconstruct how they once moved downwards into the depths and then returned to the surface. This history of burial and exhumation sheds light on the mechanisms of plate tectonics and mountain building. Certain rocks that sink far down into Earth's interior together with plates are transformed into different types under the enormous pressure that prevails there. During this UHP metamorphosis (UHP: Ultra High Pressure), silica (SiO2) in the rock, for example, becomes coesite, which is also referred to as the UHP polymorph of SiO2. Although it is chemically still silica, the crystal lattices are more tightly packed and therefore denser. When the plates move upwards again from the depths, the UHP rocks also come to the surface and can be found in certain places in the mountains. Their mineral composition provides information about the pressures to which they were exposed during their vertical journey through Earth's interior. Using lithostatic pressure as a unit of measurement, it is possible to correlate pressure and depth: the higher the pressure, the deeper the rocks once lay. 

Until now, research had assumed that UHP rocks were buried at a depth of 120 kilometers. From there, they returned to the surface together with the plates. In the process, ambient pressure decreased at a stable rate, i.e. statically. However, a new study by Goethe University Frankfurt and the universities of Heidelberg and Rennes (France) calls this assumption of a long, continuous ascent into question. Among those involved in the study on the part of Goethe University Frankfurt were first author Cindy Luisier, who came to the university on a Humboldt Research Fellowship, and Thibault Duretz, head of the Geodynamic Modeling Working Group at the Department of Geosciences. The research team analyzed whiteschist from the Dora Maira Massif in the Western Alps, Italy. “Whiteschists are rocks that formed as a result of the UHP metamorphosis of a hydrothermally altered granite during the formation of the Alps," explains Duretz. “What is special about them is the large amount of coesite. The coesite crystals in the whiteschist are several hundred micrometers in size, which makes them ideal for our experiments." The piece of whiteschist from the Dora Maira Massif contained pink garnets in a silvery-white matrix composed of quartz and other minerals. “The rock has special chemical and thus mineralogical properties," says Duretz. Together with the team, he analyzed it by first cutting a very thin slice about 50 micrometers thick and then gluing it onto glass. In this way, it was possible to identify the minerals under a microscope. The next step was computer modeling of specific, particularly interesting areas. 

These areas were silica particles surrounded by the grains of pink garnet, in which two SiO2 polymorphs had formed. One of these was coesite, which had formed under very high pressure (4.3 gigapascals). The other silica polymorph was quartz, which lay like a ring around the coesite. It had formed under much lower pressure (1.1 gigapascals). The whiteschist had evidently first been exposed to very high and then much lower pressure. There had been a sharp decrease in pressure or decompression. The most important discovery was that spoke-shaped cracks radiated from the SiO2 inclusions in all directions: the result of the phase transition from coesite to quartz. The effect of this transition was a large change in volume, and it caused extensive geological stresses in the rock. These made the garnet surrounding the SiO2 inclusions fracture. “Such radial cracks can only form if the host mineral, the garnet, stays very strong," explains Duretz. “At such temperatures, garnet only stays very strong if the pressure drops very quickly." On a geological timescale, “very quickly" means in thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. In this “short" period, the pressure must have dropped from 4.3 to 1.1 gigapascals. The garnet would otherwise have creeped viscously to compensate for the change in volume in the SiO2 inclusions, instead of forming cracks. 

According to Duretz, the previous assumption that UHP rock reaches a depth of 120 kilometers seems less probable in view of this rapid decompression because the ascent from such a depth would take place over a long period of time, which does not equate with the high decompression rate, he says. “We rather presume that our whiteschist lay at a depth of only 60 to 80 kilometers," says the geoscientist. And the processes underway in Earth's interior could also be quite different than assumed in the past. That rock units move continuously upwards over great distances, from a depth of 120 kilometers to the surface, also seems less probable than previously thought. “Our hypothesis is that rapid tectonic processes took place instead, which led to minimal vertical plate displacements." We can imagine it like this, he says: The plates suddenly jerked upwards a little bit in Earth's interior – and as a result the pressure surrounding the UHP rock decreased in a relatively short time. 

Publication: Luisier Cindy, Tajčmanová Lucie, Yamato Philippe, Duretz Thibault: Garnet microstructures suggest ultra-fast decompression of ultrahigh-pressure rocks. Nature Communications (2023) 

Picture download: 

1) Tajcmanova_Lucie_c_SebastianCionoiu_UniHeidelberg.JPEG
Professor Lucie Tajčmanová, Heidelberg University, examines the whiteschist sample from the Dora Maira Massif of the Western Alps.
Photo: Sebastian Cionoiu, Heidelberg University 

2) Whiteschist_c_SebastianCionoiu_UniHeidelberg.JPEG
For the microscopic examination, a thin section of the white shale was glued to a glass slide (center of the picture).
Photo: Sebastian Cionoiu, Heidelberg University 

3) ThinSectionSimulation_c_ThibaudDuretz_GoetheUniversity.jpg 
Fine structure of the whiteschist sample: One of the pink garnet grains (left image, embedded in a matrix of quartz, rutile and phengite) with SiO2 inclusions (quartz inclusions), from which cracks originate. Numerical models (right image) predicts the generation of garnet failure.
Images: Thibaut Duretz, Goethe University Frankfurt

Further Information:
Professor Thibault Duretz
Department of Geosciences
Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-40128

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Oct 16 2023

Researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt, the Robert Koch Institute and the University of Göttingen have discovered a permanent, sleep-like state in dangerous bacteria

The deep slumber of a hospital pathogen: Why infections with Acinetobacter baumannii can flare up again and again

A research team led by Beate Averhoff and Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt has discovered a fundamental mechanism that helps the dreaded hospital pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii to survive. This mechanism explains why the pathogen is difficult to eradicate in hospitals and why infections flare up again and again in patients: When living conditions become too unfavorable for the bacteria, they fall into a kind of slumber. In this state, conventional diagnostic methods can no longer detect them nor is it possible to kill them off. When living conditions improve again, they awaken from this “deep sleep". 

The bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii is an extremely dangerous pathogen that is found, among other places, in hospitals: Many of the bacterial strains are resistant to different classes of antibiotics. Infections with Acinetobacter baumannii were first observed on a greater scale during the Iraq War and have increased worldwide at a rapid pace ever since. This is the reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked Acinetobacter baumannii top of the list of bacteria for which new drugs are urgently needed. However, the dangerous spread of Acinetobacter baumannii is not only due to antibiotic resistance but also to its enormous adaptability: It flourishes even under harsh conditions, such as desiccation and high salinity, and is therefore able to colonize different ecosystems in the human body such as the bladder, the surface of the skin and the lungs. Research Unit (FOR) 2251 of the German Research Foundation, of which Professor Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt is the spokesperson, has been studying the molecular basis of these adaptation strategies since 2017. 

The research team led by Professor Beate Averhoff and Professor Volker Müller, the two FOR 2251 subproject leaders, has now discovered an adaptation mechanism previously unknown in Acinetobacter. When living conditions become inhospitable, many bacteria enter a dormant state that is almost death-like: They develop permanent forms with no metabolic activity. These are known as spores. 

However, and as the research team discovered, Acinetobacter baumannii can form special cells as an alternative, which are in a kind of deep sleep. Although these cells still show signs of life and breathe, it is no longer possible to cultivate them on culture media in Petri dishes. “We know this state from cholera bacteria, for example; it is referred to as the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state," explains Müller. Patricia König, the first author of the study, which was published recently in the renowned journal mBio, reports that the bacteria can survive for a long time in this state: “We have kept the bacteria in VBNC deep sleep for eleven months now and check regularly whether we can still wake them up. The study is still ongoing and there is no end in sight." 

The researchers were able to trigger the VBNC state in the Acinetobacter bacteria by raising the salt content of the culture medium, but also – with a time delay – through refrigerator (4 °C) and fever temperatures (42 °C), desiccation and by removing oxygen. In all cases, it was possible to “wake the bacteria up again" after two days of “rehab" in the shaker with an optimum supply of nutrients and oxygen. 

The problem is that detecting bacteria by cultivating them on culture media is still the gold standard both in medicine as well as food control. Beate Averhoff explains: “Imagine the following: A patient with an Acinetobacter baumannii infection is treated with antibiotics, and after seven days no more Acinetobacter bacteria grow on the Petri dishes. Doctor and patient assume that the bacterium has disappeared, but it is in fact just asleep in the nooks and crannies of the body, waiting to wake up again at the next, better opportunity, multiply and trigger symptoms in the patient again. This is extremely dangerous, particularly in the case of multidrug-resistant bacteria." 

Patricia König says: “We hope that this will help us to contribute to developing more effective treatment concepts against Acinetobacter baumannii. Above all, we need to use more sensitive methods – in addition to Petri dishes – to detect it, such as PCR, which can also be used to spot VBNC cells." 

In terms of therapy, the proteins that appear to play an important role in the transition to the slumber state might constitute new entry points. The research team has already identified several such proteins. König says: “We must learn to understand the role of these proteins. This will form the basis for developing inhibitors against them, which can be administered together with antibiotics to prevent the bacteria falling into a dangerous slumber." 

Publication: Patricia König, Alexander Wilhelm, Christoph Schaudinn, Anja Poehlein, Rolf Daniel, Marek Widera, Beate Averhoff, Volker Müller. The VBNC state: a fundamental survival strategy for Acinetobacter baumannii. mBio (2023) 

Picture download: 

Caption: When stressed by high salt concentrations, a number of the cultured Acinetobacter baumannii bacteria die after a few days (orange dots), but many continue to live in a kind of deep sleep (VNBC, green dots). Photo: Volker Müller, Goethe University Frankfurt 

Further Information:
Department of Molecular Microbiology & Bioenergetics
Institute for Molecular Biosciences
Goethe University Frankfurt 

Professor Volker Müller
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29507 

Professor Beate Averhoff
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29509 

Patricia König
Tel.: +49 (0)69 798-29510 

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Oct 16 2023

Zefis Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen launches winter semester online lecture series

Islam in Digital Spaces

Digitalization continues to encompass more and more areas of life, including many facets and dimensions of religion. The online lecture series “Islam in Digital Spaces" will explore the concrete impact of digitalization in Islamic contexts, bringing together perspectives from international research and practice. The first lecture of the series, organized by the Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen [Zentrum für islamische Studien Frankfurt/Gießen, Zefis], which is affiliated with Goethe University Frankfurt and Justus-Liebig University Giessen, will take place on 

Thursday, October 19, 6 c.t. to 8 p.m.
via Zoom (link below)

Among other things, the lecture series will address the following questions: How does digitality affect religious authority and the reception of texts? In what way does it influence the form and content of discourse and religious positioning? What effects can be identified for the Islamic learning and teaching process? 

The lecture series will take place on Thursdays in German or English (see dates below). The event is organized by Professor Armina Omerika (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Professor Naime Çakır-Mattner (Justus Liebig University Giessen) within the framework of the Zefis Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen. The opening session will be held by Dr. Anna Piela (Northwestern University, USA), who will share her insights into various phenomena associated with digitality and Islam. Interested parties are welcome to join the online lecture via Zoom. 

Dates of the English-language lectures

Insights into Islam in Digital Spaces
Dr. Anna Piela (Northwestern University, USA) 

Breaking the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim Binary: The Intersectional Feminist Activism of Muslims in North America
Prof. Dr. Kristin Peterson (Boston, USA)
Note: Lecture begins at 7 p.m. 

Muslim Women's Gendered Identities in the Digital Age
Prof. Dr. Sahar Khamis (University of Maryland, USA) 

Shifting Dimensions: the Evolution of Religious Authority in Islamic Digital Spaces
Prof. Dr. Gary R. Bunt (University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK) 

Islamophobia online - structures of devaluation
Dr. Kyriaki Topidi (European Centre for Minority Issues, Flensburg, Germany) 

Dates of the German-language lectures:

Becoming a Digital Activist - Strategien der Digitalen Zivilcourage [Becoming a Digital Activist – Strategies of digital civil courage]
Juliane Chakrabarti (Ichbinhier e.v.) 

Aktivitäten und Erfahrungen junger Muslim:innen in digitalen Kontexten - empirische Erkenntnisse [Activities and Experiences of Young Muslim Women in Digital Contexts - Empirical Findings]
Dr. Said Topalovic (Friedrich-Alexander Universität, Erlangen)

Strukturen religiöser online Kommunikation - Moscheen im Netz [Structures of religious online communication - mosques on the net]
Samira Tabti (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) 

Die Konstruktion von Identitäten in DĀʿESHs Bildwelten [The Construction of Identities in DĀʿESH's Imagery]
Dr. Christoph Günther (Universität Erfurt) 

Macht des Buches - Koranübersetzungen Medien und Digitalität [Power of the Book - Quran Translations Media and Digitality]
Prof. Dr. Johanna Pink (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) 

Digitales Lehren und Lernen im Islamischen Religionsunterricht [Digital Teaching and Learning in Islamic Religious Education]
Aida Tuhcic (Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg, Österreich) 

The lectures will be held on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. c.t., aside from the October 26 event, which will only begin at 7 p.m. 

Zoom Link: 

Participating institutions:
Institute for the Study of Islamic Culture and Religion, Goethe University Frankfurt (in German) 

Institute of Islamic Theology (focus on Muslim Approaches to Life), Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen 

Prof. Dr. Armina Omerika
Prof. Dr. Naime Çakır-Mattner
Ulrika Kilian 

Further Information:
Ulrika Kilian Coordinator of the Center for Islamic Studies Frankfurt/Giessen

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