Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (German: Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie) is a research institute based in Leipzig, Germany, founded in 1997. It is part of the Max Planck Society network.
The institute comprises five departments (Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Evolutionary Genetics, Human Evolution, Linguistics, and Primatology) and several Junior Scientist Groups, and currently employs about three hundred and thirty people.
Well-known scientists currently based at the institute include Svante Pääbo (genetics), Bernard Comrie (linguistics), Michael Tomasello (psychology), Christophe Boesch (primatology), and Jean-Jacques Hublin (evolution).
In July 2006, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences announced that they would be sequencing the Neanderthal genome over the next two years. At three billion base pairs, the Neanderthal genome is roughly the size of the human genome and likely shares many identical genes. It is thought that a comparison of the Neanderthal genome and human genome will expand understanding of Neanderthals as well as the evolution of humans and human brains.
DNA researcher Svante Pääbo tested more than 70 Neanderthal specimens and found only one that had enough DNA to sample. Preliminary DNA sequencing from a 38,000-year-old bone fragment from a femur found in 1980 at Vindija Cave in Croatia shows that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens share about 99.5% of their DNA. It is believed that the two species shared a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago. Nature has calculated the species diverged about 516,000 years ago, whereas fossil records show a time of about 400,000 years ago. From DNA records, scientists hope to confirm or deny the theory that there was interbreeding between the species.
World Atlas of Language Structures
In 2005, the World Atlas of Language Structures, a project of the institute's Department of Linguistics, was published. The Atlas consists of over 140 maps, each displaying a particular language feature – for example order of adjective and noun – for between 120 and 1370 languages of the world. In 2008 the Atlas was also published online and the underlying database made freely available.
Early childhood language acquisition
Researchers at the institute have developed a computer model analyzing early toddler conversations to predict the structure of later conversations. They showed that toddlers develop their own individual rules for speaking with slots into which they could put certain kinds of words. The rules inferred from toddler speech were better predictors of subsequent speech than traditional grammars.
- Moulson, Geir. "Neanderthal genome project launches". MSNBC.com (Associated Press). Retrieved 2006-08-22.
- Wade, Nicholas (November 15, 2006). "New Machine Sheds Light on DNA of Neanderthals". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- "Toddlers develop individualized rules for grammar", October 5, 2009, PhysOrg