Academic World News

Origins of the Avars elucidated with ancient DNA

Less known than Attila’s Huns, the Avars were their more successful successors. They ruled much of Central and Eastern Europe for almost 250 years. We know that they came from Central Asia in the sixth century CE, but ancient authors and modern historians debated their provenance. Now, a multidisciplinary research team of geneticists, archaeologists and historians, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, obtained and studied the first ancient genomes from the most important Avar elite sites discovered in contemporary Hungary.

The dark matter of the brain

They are part of the brain of almost every animal species, yet they remain usually invisible even under the electron microscope. "Electrical synapses are like the dark matter of the brain," says Alexander Borst, director at the MPI for Biological Intelligence, in foundation (i.f). Now a team from his department has taken a closer look at this rarely explored brain component: In the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila, they were able to show that electrical synapses occur in almost all brain areas and can influence the function and stability of individual nerve cells.

High-yielding maize and rice

At the beginning of the development of useful and cultivated plants by humans about 10,000 years ago was the domestication of wild plants. From the multitude of wild plants in a region, humankind selected those that apparently possessed special properties useful to them, e.g. cereal plants whose seeds remain on the plant longer instead of falling out, or those plants that have more or larger seeds.

Max Planck President outlines aid package to Ukraine in the Senate

"Since 24 February 2022, my life story has divided into two parts: the part where I thought that war would never knock on the doors of Odessa again, and the part where the days are filled with air-raid sirens, blasts, bombers, curfews, fear, anger, tears, prayers and morale." With this description by a Max Planck alumna, Martin Stratmann opened his report in the Senate, in which he once again emphasised the Max Planck Society's clear stance in support of the Ukraine.

Max Planck spin-off Meshcapade wins new startup award

Meshcapade, a start-up from Cyber Valley is planning nothing less than a minor revolution: their SMPL technology makes it possible to automatically create accurate and realistic humans in an easily accessible 3D format using a wide variety of data sources, such as images, sensor-based devices and body measurements. The resulting avatars have facial expressions, can reproduce subtle gestures as well as realistic movement, and are compatible with all major 3D visualization programs.

Zebra finch males sing in dialects and females pay attention

Male zebra finches learn their song by imitating conspecifics. To stand out in the crowd, each male develops its own unique song. Because of this individual-specific song, it was long assumed that dialects do not exist in zebra finches.However, with the help of an artificial intelligence technique, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Biological Intelligence, in foundation), have now been able to show that the songs of four different zebra finch populations differ systematically.

Fewer antibody diversity as we age

As we age, our immune system works less well. We become more susceptible to infections and vaccinations no longer work as effectively. A research team led by Dario Riccardo Valenzano investigated whether short-lived killifish undergo aging of the immune system. Indeed, they found that already at four months of age, killifish have less diverse circulating antibodies compared to younger fish, which may contribute to a generalized decrease in the immune function.

Unravelling the mystery of parrot longevity

Parrots are famous for their remarkable cognitive abilities and exceptionally long lifespans. Now, a study led by Max Planck researchers has shown that one of these traits has likely been caused by the other. By examining 217 parrot species, the researchers revealed that species such as the scarlet macaw and sulphur-crested cockatoo have extremely long average lifespans, of up to 30 years, which are usually seen only in large birds.

There is more to Sars-CoV-2 than meets the eye

The Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus does not only cause infections of the respiratory tract. Other organ systems, such as the nervous system, can also be affected. In fact, Sars-CoV-2 mRNA has been detected in the brain in autopsies of patients who died from Covid-19. There is also growing evidence that coronaviruses can enter the retina of the eye, yet it is unclear which retinal structures are infected by Sars-CoV-2 and whether the retinal pathologies identified in Covid-19 patients are a direct or indirect result of retinal infection.

Near-natural, fractal architecture promotes well-being

An interdisciplinary group of researchers uses basic research to obtain hard evidence about how people perceive and navigate their urban environments. Fractal and nature-like design demonstrably promotes physical and mental well-being, according to the researchers. They call for an incorporation of this knowledge into urban planning decisions.

The wild years of our Milky Way galaxy

A very long ago, our Milky Way had a truly eventful life: between about 13 and 8 billion years ago, it lived hard and fast, merging with other galaxies and consuming a lot of hydrogen to form stars. With the help of a new data set, Maosheng Xiang and Hans-Walter Rix from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have reconstructed the turbulent teenage years of our home galaxy. To do this, the researchers had to precisely determine the ages of 250,000 Milky Way stars.

Quantum leap on film

In order to better understand (and possibly control) fast chemical reactions, it is necessary to study the behaviour of electrons as precisely as possible – in both space and time. However, up to now, microscopy methods have delivered only either spatially or temporally sharp images. By cleverly combining established techniques of tunnelling microscopy and laser spectroscopy, a team led by Klaus Kern, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, has now overcome these obstacles. Using their atomic quantum microscope, they can make the movement of electrons in individual molecules visible.