The "Jurassic Park Moment"

| by Charlotte Fuchs

A person wearing a protective suit and gloves scrapes tartar from a human jawbone with a metal instrument
Microbes are Nature’s greatest chemists, and by studying the genomes of ancient bacteria, it may be possible to discover new uses for very old molecules. Source: Werner Siemens Foundation, Felix Wey

We are delighted that our press office has been awarded the prize for the best press release by the German Science Information Service (Informationsdienst Wissenschaft - idw)! With the press release "Scientists “revive” Stone Age molecules" we were able to convince the jury and were honored won third place at today's award ceremony.

idw is a news portal for science and research news that publishes around 20,000 press releases every year. Once a year, outstanding press releases are awarded the idw Prize for Science Communication. The jury evaluates the technical quality, scientific relevance and originality of the news. The prize is not only awarded to the author of the press release, but to the entire press office - because a good press release is often the result of successful teamwork.

Hands in blue gloves hold a glass flask on which paleofurans is written and the structural formula of a molecule is painted on it
Using ancient DNA, biochemists have succeeded in producing molecules - paleofurans (shown here in powder form). Source: Anna Schroll/Leibniz-HKI

Of the 99 submissions, our press release on the discovery of prehistoric molecules, published in Science by the team led by Pierre Stallforth and Christina Warinner, came out on top and convinced the jury in all criteria. Jury member Mike Zeitz from Spektrum der Wissenschaft says: "Those who succeed in unexpectedly linking the new with the familiar are able to fascinate. People from the Stone Age are familiar, but seemingly far away. Bringing a tiny part of them - their oral flora - back to life in the laboratory builds a bridge between fields as diverse as archaeology and biotechnology." He explained that the press release made the reader excited about the emergence of a new field of research - paleobiotechnology. The jury spoke of the "Jurassic Park moment among this year's submissions." The high quality of the published photos was also recognized.

A trail leads to a cave entrance the size of a house
Entrance to the El Mirón cave, Spain, where 19.000-year-old “Red Lady” human remains were found. Source: L.G. Straus

Just as the scientific work on the reconstruction of up to 100,000-year-old natural microbial compounds from the dental calculus of humans and Neanderthals was a collaboration between different disciplines, the press release is also a joint effort. "The researchers contacted us early on, and we as the press office immediately realized that the topic was really exciting," recalls Ronja Münch, who was head of the Leibniz-HKI press office at the time and wrote the press release. "In Christina Warinner, one of the two study directors, we also had a scientist who is very interested in science communication and, for example, provided us with images that we would otherwise not have had. We also had a lively exchange with the other authors, such as the second principal investigator Pierre Stallforth, as well as the first authors."

This year, the idw jury awarded first place to the news African smoke over the Amazon from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, while second place went to the report That was probably nothing to do with Generation X: Sociologist refutes popular assumptions about generations from the Saarland University press office. Audience prizes were also awarded for the first time this year. These went to Meerkats fall ill more often and die earlier - climate change alters the gut microbiome of wild animals, submitted by the University of Ulm, and also to the winner of the second place by the jury, the Saarland University.

We look forward to another year full of exciting research press releases.


Charlotte Fuchs
Friederike Gawlik
Ronja Münch