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News/Press releases

Contact: Sandra Jacob (e-mail: info@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de, phone: +49 (0) 341-3550 122)

July 14, 2017: FOXI3 gene is involved in dental cusp formation
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

The teeth of hairless dogs teach researchers about the development and evolution of mammalian teeth

Hairless dog breeds differ from other dogs not only by lacking a coat, but also in the number and nature of their teeth. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena studied the skulls and teeth of pedigreed hairless dogs from the collection of the Phyletisches Museum of the University of Jena. Thus, they furthered our understanding of the involvement of the FOXI3 gene in the development of teeth – not only in hairless dogs, but potentially also in other mammals including humans.

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Original publication

July 12, 2017: In fathering, peace-loving bonobos don't spread the love
© Zanna Clay/ LuiKotale Bonobo Research Project

Female bonobos often tend to choose the same attractive male for mating, researchers observed

Bonobos have a reputation for being the peaceful, free-loving hippies of the primate world. But, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Arizona State University in Tempe, USA, have discovered that despite friendly relations between the sexes, particular males have a surprisingly strong advantage over others when it comes to fathering offspring. For example, researchers found in one group that the most reproductively successful bonobo male fathered more than 60 percent of the next generation.

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Original publication

June 27, 2017: For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
Chimpanzees provide food to conspecifics – but only if those previously proved to be cooperative themselves. © MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Apes only provide food to conspecifics that have previously assisted them

For us humans, it goes without saying that we reward others as an indication of the gratitude we feel towards them. Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig have now demonstrated that similar social behaviours exist among chimpanzees. In a behavioural experiment, one animal rewarded another with food if the latter had previously come to its assistance. This suggests that some main motivations for human cooperation might have been present in our common ancestor already while supporting findings from game theory.

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Original publication

June 20, 2017: Chimpanzees are looking for trouble
© Thurston Cleveland Hicks

Territorial aggressions and instigating trespasses pay off among chimpanzees

Many animals cooperate with group members because what they can achieve by working together exceeds what they can obtain on their own. Chimpanzees, for example, are patrolling their territory and trespass into enemy territory. If they meet rivals, they attack and sometimes kill them. Researchers of Arizona State University have now found that it pays off for the animals to take this risk: In the long run they protect their group and increase its size. Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy contributed to the study by analyzing the chimpanzees' family relationships.

Link to press release (Arizona State University)

Original publication

June 16, 2017: Bioengineered Livers Mimic Natural Development

Scientists discover that three-dimensional liver buds grown in a dish from stem cells mimic the molecular signatures observed during the natural development of human liver

An international team of researchers led by Barbara Treutlein of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Takanori Takebe of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, USA, and Yokohama City University, Japan, used novel genomic and stem cell technologies to understand how individual cells work together and use their genomes to develop into human liver tissue. This new research greatly advances efforts to bioengineer healthy and usable human liver tissue from human pluripotent stem cells. Still, researchers say the tissues need additional rounds of molecular fine tuning before they can be tested in clinical trials.

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Original publication

June 07, 2017: The first of our kind
© Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig (License: CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Scientists discover the oldest Homo sapiens fossils at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco

New finds of fossils and stone tools from the archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, push back the origins of our species by one hundred thousand years and show that by about 300 thousand years ago important changes in our biology and behaviour had taken place across most of Africa.

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Original publication (Hublin et al.)

Original publication (Richter et al.)

June 07, 2017: Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree
© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt

Using state-of-the-art methods researchers decipher the DNA of ancient elephants and discover their family relations to be quite different

New research reveals that a giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago - ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct - is more closely related to today's African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savannah elephant. The study challenges a long-held assumption among paleontologists that the extinct giant, Paleoloxodon antiquus, was most closely related to the Asian elephant. The findings, reported in the journal eLife on 06 June 2017, also add to the evidence that today's African elephants belong to two distinct species, not one, as was once assumed.

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Original publication

May 10, 2017: Extended analytical methods facilitate species conservation
© Paul Cools

Researchers develop new analytical methods that help them estimate the size of wild animal populations from a distance

Camera traps are a useful means for researchers to observe the behaviour of animal populations in the wild or to assess biodiversity levels of remote locations like the tropical rain forest. Researchers from the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research recently extended distance sampling analytical methods to accommodate data from camera traps. This new development allows abundances of multiple species to be estimated from camera trapping data collected over relatively short time intervals – information critical to effective wildlife management and conservation.

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Original publication

May 03, 2017: Warfare may explain differences in social structures in chimpanzees and bonobos
© Zanna Clay (LuiKotale Bonobo Research Project)

Researchers found that chimpanzees associate more with partners of the same sex while bonobos of either sex associate preferentially with females

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, compared data collected from several wild communities of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, which show that chimpanzees associate more with partners of the same sex while bonobos of either sex associate preferentially with females. This result can be explained by different needs for cooperation. While male chimpanzees cooperate with each other during strong between-group competition, comparable to human warfare, which is absent in bonobos, bonobo males mainly rely on the help of females, especially their mothers, in conflicts with other males within their community. Females of both species, however, cooperate with other females in raising offspring.

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Original publication

April 27, 2017: DNA from extinct humans discovered in cave sediments
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ J. Krause

Researchers have developed a new method to retrieve hominin DNA from cave sediments – even in the absence of skeletal remains

While there are numerous prehistoric sites in Europe and Asia that contain tools and other human-made artefacts, skeletal remains of ancient humans are scarce. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have therefore looked into new ways to get hold of ancient human DNA. From sediment samples collected at seven archaeological sites, the researchers “fished out” tiny DNA fragments that had once belonged to a variety of mammals, including our extinct human relatives. They retrieved DNA from Neandertals in cave sediments of four archaeological sites, also in layers where no hominin skeletal remains have been discovered. In addition, they found Denisovan DNA in sediments from Denisova Cave in Russia. These new developments now enable researchers to uncover the genetic affiliations of the former inhabitants of many archaeological sites which do not yield human remains.

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Original publication

April 21, 2017: Leipzig conservationist Julia Cissewski wins "Goldene Bild der Frau" award
© Ronny Barr, MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Leipzig conservationist Julia Cissewski is one of this year’s five winners of the “Goldene Bild der Frau”, awarded for charitable work by Germany’s most important women’s magazine “Bild der Frau”. Julia Cissewski, a staff member of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, is the president of the charity „Orang-Utans in Not e.V.” (Orangutans in peril). The organization works to protect wild orangutans and their habitat, the rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra. This is the first time that the prize has been awarded to a conservation project. The award ceremony will take place on October 21st, in Hamburg.

Link to press release (Orang-Utans in Not e.V., in German)

"Goldene Bild der Frau" award, winners 2017 (in German)

March 20, 2017: Bushmeat consumption decreases during the Ebola epidemic
© Jessica Junker

Household income and knowledge about health risks drive the consumption of wild animal meat in West Africa

New analyses of interview data collected in Liberia show a decrease in bushmeat consumption and meal frequency during the Ebola crisis. However, wealthy households reduced their consumption of bushmeat less than poor households. Moreover, people who had knowledge on the health risks associated with eating bushmeat reduced their consumption substantially more than people who lacked this knowledge.

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Original publication

March 14, 2017: A newly discovered fossil human cranium from Portugal dated to be 400,000 years old
© Elena Santos

U-series (U-Th) dating of associated calcite formations constrains the age of the Middle Pleistocene cranium between 390,000 and 436,000 years.

An international team recently discovered a fossil human cranium in Portugal. The cranium was excavated in Gruta da Aroeira which is part of the Almonda cave system (Torres Novas, Portugal). The cranium was found in sediments which accumulated on top of a stalagmite column and calcite crusts also formed on the cranium after its burial. U-series dating of the calcite formations was done by Dirk Hoffmann from the Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The results provided maximum and minimum ages for the cranium and revealed an age between 390,000 and 436,000 years. The Aroeira specimen is the westernmost Middle Pleistocene cranium found in Europe and one of the best dated Middle Pleistocene specimen. It might help elucidate hominin evolution in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, including the origin of the Neandertals. The study, led by J. Daura from the University of Lisbon, included researchers from Portugal, Spain, Germany and the US.

Link to press release (University of Lisbon)

Original publication

February 24, 2017: "It's a miracle that there are still chimpanzees at all"
© Wild Chimpanzee Foundation

Interview with primate researcher Christophe Boesch

Christophe Boesch, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has been researching chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast for over 35 years. In Taï National Park, the Max Planck scientist oversees three research camps that scientists can use for their research projects. Scientists have observed these wild chimpanzees, which have grown used to the presence of humans, over the course of several years. This has afforded them a wealth of new insights into the animals’ lives.

Interview with Christophe Boesch