Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology study the fundamental laws of evolution. They are keen to understand how new characteristics become established and how new species emerge. One of the major research subjects at the Institute is the analysis of genes that enable mice to adapt to their environment. In addition to this, they also examine how evolution brought forth sexuality, and what evolutionary advantages result from this. To this effect, the scientists combine field observations with lab and field experiments. Furthermore, they compile genealogical trees of related species with the help of genetic analyses. Computer models help them to formulate and test theoretical concepts of evolution as well.


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.

Research shows factors that contribute to irreversible somatic differentiation providing an evolutionary advantage


Peg13 regulates genes for behavioral control


mRNA molecules from retrogenes are reverse transcribed to DNA and incorporated into the genome


Bacteria can compensate for the loss of a tRNA gene by duplicating another gene


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.

Wherever people live, there are mice. It would be difficult to find another animal that has adapted to the habitats created by humans as well as the house mouse has. It thus seemed obvious to Diethard Tautz at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön that the species would make an ideal model system for investigating how evolution works.

Sunshine, water, blue skies and a castle in the background – many people associate the lakes in and around Plön, in northern Germany, with carefree vacation days. The scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology have certainly not lost sight of the beauty of the landscape, but the main focus of their interest is one of the lakes’ inhabitants and its genes. The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) feels very much at home along the shores of Great Plön Lake. And right here, amid the natural nesting grounds of these small fish, is where the Institute’s open water research labs are located.

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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.


Exploring the limits of evolutionary forecasting

2018 Rainey, Paul B.

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Molecular biology can be repeated in the laboratory and in wild populations. This could mean that evolution might follow rules. Work with experimental bacterial populations suggests the genotype-to-phenotype map to be an important central contributor. Recent work using mathematical models and experimental evolution shows that short-term mechanistic-level predictions of mutational pathways to new adaptive phenotypes can be made. Future challenges stem from the current inability to a priori predict locus-specific mutational biases and environment-specific fitness effects.


Evolution of genes from random sequences

2017 Tautz, Diethard

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

How can new genes evolve? It was long thought that this happens only through duplication and recombination of existing genes. An experimental evolution approach now shows that a large fraction of randomly composed protein sequences can positively or negatively influence the growth of cells. These results indicate how new genes can also arise out of non-coding sequences of the genome. Concurrently, this opens a practically unlimited source of new bioactive molecules for pharmacological and biotechnological applications.


Migration genetics – how do migratory birds find their way?

2016 Liedvogel, Miriam

Behavioural Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

One characteristic of bird migration is its variability, both within and among species. Particularly fascinating are young birds on their first migratory journey covering thousands of kilometers that often span continents. These tiny birds travel to wintering areas they have never been before - without the guidance of their parents, but with amazing accuracy. How do they do this? From selection experiments we know that variation in migratory behaviour is largely due to genetic differences, but the number and identity of genes involved in controlling migratory traits remains elusive.

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