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.

Admittedly, the research subject isn’t particularly appetizing: Strongyloides stercoralis – small parasitic worms that live in their host’s intestines and have the potential to cause severe problems. Nevertheless, Adrian Streit from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen is fascinated by this threadworm. It has a unique life cycle, and to this day, no one really understands why more
Genes as Parasites
Scientists analyse, how jumping genes can be copied in the DNA more
Climate change: those who wait pay more
The best protection against my unforeseeable small-scale disasters is to take immediate action more
Defence at almost any price
The efforts of bacteria in their defence against predators is so great that they can barely invest resources in offspring more
Evolution in the lab

Evolution in the lab

September 08, 2017
Experiments with bacteria show that genes can fuse together, leading to the production of novel proteins more
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.

Sculpin Liaisons

1/2014 Biology & Medicine
The sculpins of Arne Nolte, head of a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, near Kiel, are no beauties; yet these unprepossessing fish, first discovered in the Lower Rhine in the 1990s, hold a special fascination
The debate surrounding the dangers posed by genetically modified organisms is becoming emotional and increasingly removed from the scientific context – particularly when it comes to the use of these organisms in agriculture. The radical rejection is obstructing its development and leading to problems that its opponents had actually hoped to prevent.
Scientific Computing Services
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön June 19, 2018

Evolution of genes from random sequences

2018 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. more

Migration genetics – how do migratory birds find their way?

2017 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. more

Models of genome evolution and the origin of species

2016 Dutheil, Julien Y.
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics
Modeling the evolution of full genomes in populations is a methodological challenge because of the large number of recombination and mutation events to be accounted for. For that purpose, new models have been developed that introduced simplifications to the standard coalescent theory. When applied to closely related species, these models have shed new light on the speciation process that led to our own species, some 6 Million years ago. In order to be applied to a broader range of organisms, current models need to integrate complex demographic scenarios with heterogenous genomic landscapes. more

Computing phylogenies from genomes

2015 Haubold, Bernhard
Evolutionary Biology Genetics
Computing phylogenies is one of the most popular applications in bioinformatics. For this purpose evolutionary distances are estimated between nucleotide or amino acid sequences and the phylogeny is reconstructed from these distances. However, estimating distances between long sequences is time consuming. Hence an ultrafast method for calculating distances between genomes has been developed. more

Hybridization as an evolutionary motor

2014 Nolte, Arne W.
Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Hybrids have fascinated biologist for a long time. The possible role that such individuals of mixed origin may play for evolutionary processes is increasingly considered. Much like crosses that are employed by animal and plant breeders to generate new varieties, natural hybrids can harbor novelty that can convey critical fitness advantages in evolutionary processes. By integrating crossing experiments with screens for the emergence of novel traits, scientists at the institute analyze if novel traits in hybrids play a role as adaptations to new environments.

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