Heidi Colleran | GSHSMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Leipzig

Speaker (Human Sciences Section)

Research Summary:

Our work lies at the intersection of socio-cultural anthropology, demography, and cultural evolution. My main area of interest is the relationship between reproductive behaviour, culture, and population dynamics. The BirthRites research group explores the anthropology of reproduction, broadly construed, and its implications for human evolution and demography. Our interdisciplinary approach combines the strengths of both humanities and social sciences to bridge micro and macro levels of analysis. Three interrelated streams of research involve primary anthropological fieldwork, cross-cultural and macro-level analysis, and theoretical modeling.

Heidi Colleran | GSHSMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Leipzig

Speaker (Human Sciences Section)

Research Summary:

Our work lies at the intersection of socio-cultural anthropology, demography, and cultural evolution. My main area of interest is the relationship between reproductive behaviour, culture, and population dynamics. The BirthRites research group explores the anthropology of reproduction, broadly construed, and its implications for human evolution and demography. Our interdisciplinary approach combines the strengths of both humanities and social sciences to bridge micro and macro levels of analysis. Three interrelated streams of research involve primary anthropological fieldwork, cross-cultural and macro-level analysis, and theoretical modeling.

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Peter Tessarz | BMSMax Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing | Cologne

Speaker (Biology and Medicine Section)

Research Summary:

Our research aims at understanding mechanistically how ageing-dependent alterations in chromatin architecture impacts the regulation of gene expression. One important aspect that we are fascinated about is the tight connection between central metabolism and the chromatin landscape - and how these two pathways influence each other upon ageing onset. We address these questions using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology and next generation sequencing technologies either directly in tissues or in primary culture systems.

Peter Tessarz | BMSMax Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing | Cologne

Speaker (Biology and Medicine Section)

Research Summary:

Our research aims at understanding mechanistically how ageing-dependent alterations in chromatin architecture impacts the regulation of gene expression. One important aspect that we are fascinated about is the tight connection between central metabolism and the chromatin landscape - and how these two pathways influence each other upon ageing onset. We address these questions using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology and next generation sequencing technologies either directly in tissues or in primary culture systems.

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Alexander Badri-Spröwitz | CPTSMax Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems | Stuttgart

Speaker (Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section)

Research Summary:
I am researching the mechanisms leading to dynamic legged locomotion in animals. I focus on aspects of animal biomechanics, morphology, and neurocontrol. My team and I are testing biomechanical and control models, and we develop legged robots, their computer models, and biomechanical experiments.

We apply legged robots as research platforms to produce experimental data under realistic conditions. We can cross-check our data with that of running animals. This enables us identifying the relationship between effects, and draw conclusions about causalities.

My interest include: bioinspired and biomimicking locomotion, bioinspired approaches to sensors, learning locomotion, both in animals and robots.

Alexander Badri-Spröwitz | CPTSMax Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems | Stuttgart

Speaker (Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section)

Research Summary:
I am researching the mechanisms leading to dynamic legged locomotion in animals. I focus on aspects of animal biomechanics, morphology, and neurocontrol. My team and I are testing biomechanical and control models, and we develop legged robots, their computer models, and biomechanical experiments.

We apply legged robots as research platforms to produce experimental data under realistic conditions. We can cross-check our data with that of running animals. This enables us identifying the relationship between effects, and draw conclusions about causalities.

My interest include: bioinspired and biomimicking locomotion, bioinspired approaches to sensors, learning locomotion, both in animals and robots.

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Sonja Vernes | GSHSMax Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics | Nijmegen (Netherlands)

Deputy Speaker (Human Sciences Section)

Research summary:
Our research group focuses on the study of vocal communication in mammals as a way to understand the biological basis of human speech and language and how this trait evolved. Many species of mammal, including our primate cousins, have limited vocal repertoires. But a few mammals such as bats, whales and elephants use complex and varied vocalisations that share some characteristics with human speech, for example, the ability to learn vocalisations from other members of their social group. Currently very little is known about the genetic basis for these sophisticated vocal behaviours in non-human mammals. Studying such species can provide clues about how human language evolved, and how language abilities are encoded in the brain and the genome.
We use cutting-edge neuro-molecular techniques to identify genes and neural circuits that are important for vocal communication and learned vocalisations in bats. Our work has demonstrated the feasibility of neurogenetic studies in bats, identified sites of action for key language-related genes in the brains of vocal learning bats, and their potential to contribute to our understanding of human speech and language. This new research area is allowing us to characterise the biology underlying vocal learning in mammals and will ultimately inform our understanding of spoken language in humans.

Sonja Vernes | GSHSMax Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics | Nijmegen (Netherlands)

Deputy Speaker (Human Sciences Section)

Research summary:
Our research group focuses on the study of vocal communication in mammals as a way to understand the biological basis of human speech and language and how this trait evolved. Many species of mammal, including our primate cousins, have limited vocal repertoires. But a few mammals such as bats, whales and elephants use complex and varied vocalisations that share some characteristics with human speech, for example, the ability to learn vocalisations from other members of their social group. Currently very little is known about the genetic basis for these sophisticated vocal behaviours in non-human mammals. Studying such species can provide clues about how human language evolved, and how language abilities are encoded in the brain and the genome.
We use cutting-edge neuro-molecular techniques to identify genes and neural circuits that are important for vocal communication and learned vocalisations in bats. Our work has demonstrated the feasibility of neurogenetic studies in bats, identified sites of action for key language-related genes in the brains of vocal learning bats, and their potential to contribute to our understanding of human speech and language. This new research area is allowing us to characterise the biology underlying vocal learning in mammals and will ultimately inform our understanding of spoken language in humans.

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Edda Schulz | BMSMax Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics | Berlin

Deputy Speaker (Biology and Medicine Section)

Research summary:
We are interested understanding how transcriptional states are established in response to multiple quantitative input signals and how they can then be stably maintained. As a model, we study the regulatory principles that restrict expression of Xist, the master regulator of X-chromosome inactivation, to exactly one randomly chosen X-chromosome in females. To this end, we combine theoretical, computational and experimental approaches. We have recently developed the first experimentally-validated mathematical model of the Xist regulatory network that can explain seemingly diverse Xist expression patterns in different species. Moreover, we use pooled CRISPR screens to identify missing regulators and cis-regulatory elements, combined with genome-engineering and (single-cell) genomics to quantitatively profile the players and interactions within the Xist regulatory network. In this way we aim to elucidate the principles the govern transcriptional and epigenetic regulation in the mammalian genome.

Edda Schulz | BMSMax Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics | Berlin

Deputy Speaker (Biology and Medicine Section)

Research summary:
We are interested understanding how transcriptional states are established in response to multiple quantitative input signals and how they can then be stably maintained. As a model, we study the regulatory principles that restrict expression of Xist, the master regulator of X-chromosome inactivation, to exactly one randomly chosen X-chromosome in females. To this end, we combine theoretical, computational and experimental approaches. We have recently developed the first experimentally-validated mathematical model of the Xist regulatory network that can explain seemingly diverse Xist expression patterns in different species. Moreover, we use pooled CRISPR screens to identify missing regulators and cis-regulatory elements, combined with genome-engineering and (single-cell) genomics to quantitatively profile the players and interactions within the Xist regulatory network. In this way we aim to elucidate the principles the govern transcriptional and epigenetic regulation in the mammalian genome.

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Kathryn Fitzsimmons | CPTSMax Planck Institute for Chemistry | Mainz

Deputy Speaker (Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section)

Research summary:
The Quaternary is arguably one of the most significant epochs in Earth’s history. It has overseen substantial climatic and environmental changes, the evolution of humans, and their colonisation of most terrestrial landscapes. My research encompasses many aspects of this important time period, at different time and spatial scales.

My research aims to understand and quantify the nature of Quaternary land surface and environmental change, and the thresholds and causes of those changes. I also investigate the interactions between people and their environments over Quaternary timescales. I focus on abrupt environmental changes that may influence behavioural changes by people, and vice versa on instances where people overwhelmingly contribute to a breach of environmental thresholds, leading to landscape instability. To investigate these questions, we need well resolved, unambiguous palaeoenvironmental archives embedded within robust chronological frameworks.

With my group, I am working to develop new terrestrial proxy methods for the timing and variability of past change, in long sediment records deep in the continental zone, far from marine and ice core records. We combine the geochronological method of luminescence dating with geochemical, geomorphological, stratigraphic and sedimentological approaches. We are especially interested in generating the missing links in land-climate dynamics for wind-blown dust (loess) piedmonts and desert margin regions at risk of desertification.

Kathryn Fitzsimmons | CPTSMax Planck Institute for Chemistry | Mainz

Deputy Speaker (Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section)

Research summary:
The Quaternary is arguably one of the most significant epochs in Earth’s history. It has overseen substantial climatic and environmental changes, the evolution of humans, and their colonisation of most terrestrial landscapes. My research encompasses many aspects of this important time period, at different time and spatial scales.

My research aims to understand and quantify the nature of Quaternary land surface and environmental change, and the thresholds and causes of those changes. I also investigate the interactions between people and their environments over Quaternary timescales. I focus on abrupt environmental changes that may influence behavioural changes by people, and vice versa on instances where people overwhelmingly contribute to a breach of environmental thresholds, leading to landscape instability. To investigate these questions, we need well resolved, unambiguous palaeoenvironmental archives embedded within robust chronological frameworks.

With my group, I am working to develop new terrestrial proxy methods for the timing and variability of past change, in long sediment records deep in the continental zone, far from marine and ice core records. We combine the geochronological method of luminescence dating with geochemical, geomorphological, stratigraphic and sedimentological approaches. We are especially interested in generating the missing links in land-climate dynamics for wind-blown dust (loess) piedmonts and desert margin regions at risk of desertification.

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