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Max Planck Institute

The Institute unites scientists with various backgrounds whose aim is to investigate the history of humankind from an interdisciplinary perspective with the help of comparative analyses of genes, cultures, cognitive abilities and social systems of past and present human populations as well as those of primates closely related to human beings.

group of wild chimpanzeesLed by Christophe Boesch, the Department of Primatology observes apes in their natural habitats, and investigates issues related to the evolution of social systems and social behavior, cultural differences and reproductive strategies in apes. The scientists are interested in fundamental cognitive processes like communication, cooperation, conflict solving strategies, social learning in apes and humans.

neandertal skullThe Department of Human Evolution, led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, primarily studies fossil hominids and aims at reconstructing their biology, behavior and cultural evolution. The department is interdisciplinary with three areas represented: Palaeoanthropologists, who study fossil material with a special emphasize on the use of 3D imaging to assess phylogenetic reconstructions, brain development and analysis of the growth processes. Archaeological scientists, who undertake biochemical analyses of fossils to study dietary adaptations and migrations, as well as dating the ages of sites and fossils. And, Palaeolithic archaeologists who study the cultural adaptation of hominids to their environment. The three groups are involved in the development of international field projects.

Led by Richard McElreath, the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture investigates the role of culture in human evolution and adaptation. The evolution of fancy social learning in humans accounts for both the nature of human adaptation and the extraordinary scale and variety of human societies. The integration of ethnographic fieldwork with mathematical models and advanced quantitative methods is the department’s methodological focus.

human and ape comparisonLed by Svante Pääbo, the Department of Evolutionary Genetics studies the genetic history of humans, apes and other organisms. The scientists are interested both in the forces that affect the genome directly, such as mutation and recombination, and in the effects of selection and population history.

December 10, 2021
NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo has been awarded the 2021 Massry Prize for the Discovery of Ancient DNA and has been elected foreign member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Pääbo […]
March 5, 2021
NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo and colleagues developed a COVID-19 test called Cap-iLAMP (capture and improved loop-mediated isothermal amplification) which combines a hybridization capture-based RNA extraction of gargle lavage samples with […]
September 30, 2020
In an article in Nature, NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo and colleague Hugo Zeberg have reported that the version of the gene cluster associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 […]
August 3, 2020
NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo and colleagues have discovered that people who have inherited nerve-altering mutations from the ancient hominins tend to experience more pain. The findings were published in Current […]
June 19, 2020
NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo and colleagues have published their findings describing how stem cells and organoids are being used to study the Neandertal DNA found in humans. Studying the Neandertal […]
May 26, 2020
NOMIS Awardee Svante Pääbo and his colleagues have published new findings about the progesterone receptor in Neandertals. Women with Neandertal gene give birth to more children One in three women […]
December 21, 2018
2018 was a banner year for discoveries about our species’s evolution and extinct relatives like the Neanderthals. Here are the biggest finds, sorted according to how they fit into our […]
December 20, 2018
In China, the first genetically modified babies are said to have seen the light of day. This once-taboo act shows how far genetic engineering can revolutionize life on the planet. Swiss radio […]
December 12, 2018
The Public Library of Science (PLOS) has included in its post “Top 6 Human Evolution Discoveries of 2018” Svante Pääbo’s and Viviane Slon’s discovery of interbreeding between Neandertals and Denisovans. Denisovans are […]
June 6, 2018
Svante Pääbo has been granted the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific and Research for having developed precise methods to study ancient DNA that have permitted the recovery […]
October 26, 2017
Karl Deisseroth, Tony Wyss-Coray and Svante Pääbo Recognizing not only scientific excellence, but also celebrating researchers who push for unconventional paths and show exceptional engagement in insight-driven research and collaboration, […]
October 25, 2017
NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award 2017
September 30, 2017
Swiss newspaper Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) has published an interview with NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Svante Pääbo about his work in the field of paleogenetics, and more specifically, about the relevance […]
February 23, 2017
Svante Pääbo studies DNA preserved in the remains of ancient organisms and what it can tell us about human evolution. NOMIS supports his investigation of the changes that occurred in […]
January 29, 2017
Karl Deisseroth, recipient of the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award and D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, California, is known for […]