Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology investigate the fundamental laws of evolution. Through their basic research, they attempt to explain fundamental evolutionary processes. The range of research work includes ecological, organismic, molecular and theoretical approaches. Some of this basic research also leads to areas of application such as the prevention of antibiotic resistance or the treatment of cancer. The Institute currently consists of the Theoretical Biology and Microbial Population Biology Departments, five Max Planck Research Groups, Max Planck Fellows and other independent research groups. The researchers combine observations in nature and publicly available data with experiments in the laboratory and in the field. In addition, mathematical models and computer modelling help them to create and test theoretical concepts of evolution.


August-Thienemann-Str. 2
24306 Plön
Phone: +49 4522 763-0
Fax: +49 4522 763-310

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS for Evolutionary Biology

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Microbial Population Biology


Mathematical models show how natural selection increases offspring mortality


A mobile gene region in the genome of a bacterium increases the number of microbes and thus favours the global spread of pathogens in kiwi plants


Researchers show that hybrid sterility is oligogenetically controlled by PRDM9


Under certain circumstances, the abundance of plankton species changes continuously without one species becoming permanently dominant


In endemic settings, behavioral adjustments can fully compensate increasing infection risk

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has moved at lightning speed from the domain of nerdy scientist and science fiction to everyday reality. While there is potential for huge societal benefit, numerous reasons indicate the need for caution, particularly concerning the consequences of creating non-human agents more intelligent than us. Indeed, recently, an open letter advocating a pause in giant AI experiments that go beyond the power of GPT-4 was endorsed and signed by numerous individuals including leading academics, AI researchers and tech industry titans.

This fall, millions of birds in the northern hemisphere once again heading south towards their non-breeding grounds. Miriam Liedvogel will be keeping her fingers crossed that some of them in particular will return safely next spring. The scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön has provided them with a bit of extra luggage to carry: specialized sensors known as light-level geolocators. Upon safe return next spring, these tiny light-sensors should reveal the birds whereabouts throughout the winter.

Cheaters can leave. In the case of the bacteria in Paul Rainey’s lab, that’s exactly what is wanted. In his laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Ploen, the evolutionary biologist studies how multicellular life emerges from individual cells. Their findings show that too much cohesion can be counterproductive.

Everything has its price – especially health, of course. At the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Ploen, Tobias Lenz and his team are researching what the evolutionary costs of perfect immunity might be and why we are not immune to all pathogens.

Around 40 percent of all species on Earth are parasitic – apparently a highly successful way of life. Even a fish such as the three-spined stickleback is plagued by up to 25 different parasites. One of them particularly appealed to Martin Kalbe, Tina Henrich and Nina Hafer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön: the tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus. The scientists are researching the numerous tricks that host and parasite use to outdo each other.

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Mysterious Meiosis

2023 Odenthal-Hesse, Linda

Evolutionary Biology

New life arises only if two healthy germ cells fuse. However, the process of meiotic cell division, essential for germ cell formation, is often faulty, or even nonfunctional - leading to miscarriages and infertility. Despite the central importance of germ cells, the cellular mechanisms by which they are formed remains mysterious. Our goal is to uncover and understand the genetic and epigenetic players that control the central processes of meiotic recombination.


Microbial interactions within the leaf of a wheat plant

2022 Stukenbrock, Eva H.

Behavioural Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Plants are colonized by diverse microbial communities. Some of the microbial species produce antifungal compounds that inhibit the growth of fungal and other pathogens. Likewise, fungal pathogens can produce antibacterial compounds to manipulate the plant microbiota.


Ancient Darwinian replicators nested within bacterial genomes

2021 Bertels, Frederic; Rainey, Paul

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Self-replicating sequences are not unusual in genomes, they make up more than 50% of the human genome. Usually, such sequences are molecular parasites that do not benefit the host. However, we have identified populations of self-replicating sequences that provide a benefit to their bacterial hosts. The evolution of these sequences is fascinating, not only because one generation in these populations lasts thousands of years, but also because evolutionary conflicts, reminiscent of those between organisms and cells, can be observed between the sequence populations and their bacterial hosts.


Population genetic models for the evolution of antibiotic resistance

2020 Uecker, Hildegard; Santer, Mario

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? Often, extra-DNA, so-called plasmids, that bacteria carry in addition to their chromosomes plays an important role. At cell division, the plasmids are passed on to the daughter cells, however not neatly, but with some randomness. Stochastic models can elegantly describe this process over many generations, contributing to a clear picture of the dynamics of plasmid-encoded genes, for example resistance genes. This knowledge is the basis for influencing the evolution of bacterial populations and preventing the emergence of resistance.


Mathematical models for life cycles of simple organisms

2019 Traulsen, Arne; Pichugin, Yuriy

Evolutionary Biology

Even among simply structured organisms a fascinating variety of cellular communities from chain-forming bacteria to the formation and coordinated dissolution of large colonies can be found. Where does this diversity come from? And are there any fundamental rules for this diversity? General statements actually can be made applying mathematical models: Even without detailed knowledge about the biology of living organisms, one can understand which life cycles are theoretically feasible, and thus identify the conditions for the emergence of simple life cycles.

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