Evolutionary Diversification and Innovation:
Dr. Nathalie Feiner becomes new research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology

June 17, 2024

Since June 1, 2024, Dr. Nathalie Feiner has been heading the first Lise Meitner Group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön. With her research group focusing on Evolutionary Diversification and Innovation, Dr. Feiner assumes her position to pursue new research approaches in evolution and developmental biology.

The diversity of life on Earth is immense, yet there are significant differences in the capacity of organisms to generate new diversity. Nathalie Feiner and her team are dedicated to exploring the mechanisms that make biological systems accessible to evolution. Her integrative approach utilizes lizards as a model system to decipher the developmental rules underlying evolutionary diversification and the emergence of new colors, patterns, and forms.

Dr. Feiner brings a rich background in evolutionary and developmental biology, having extensively researched various vertebrate models. After completing her PhD in comparative genomics at the University of Konstanz, she conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Oxford, exploring various aspects of evolutionary biology and identifying lizards as a suitable model system. Her work has provided insights into classic evolutionary questions, such as the extent to which genomic characteristics can explain the adaptive radiation of Anolis lizards, and how plastic responses to the environment influence evolution. Her projects integrated ecological, developmental, and phylogenetic aspects to comprehensively understand the evolutionary history of this genus.

Most recently, Dr. Feiner was a researcher at Lund University in Sweden, where she expanded her research on evolutionary diversification to lizards in the Mediterranean region. She is particularly interested in the interplay between developmental processes and evolution – how ontogenetic factors can influence evolution and the extent of this influence.

Current research projects by Dr. Feiner

At the Max Planck Institute in Plön, the Lise Meitner Group under Dr. Feiner's leadership will primarily pursue one question: What gives organisms the ability to evolve, and why are there such large differences in this ability? Special focus will be placed on developmental biological processes that are key to understanding the emergence of new traits. Lizards of the genus Podarcis, widespread in the Mediterranean region, have fascinated naturalists since the late 19th century, and their immense diversity has been a challenge for classification for decades. Today, this "chaos of variation" offers the Lise Meitner Group an excellent opportunity to understand evolutionary diversification and the emergence of new traits.

Dr. Feiner brings not only her outstanding scientific expertise but also her commitment to promoting the next generation of female scientists. Her innovative approach and passion for evolutionary biology make her a valuable addition to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology. After nearly ten years in Sweden, the native of Regensburg is looking forward to life in Germany again: "With its fantastic lake scenery, Plön feels almost like a piece of Sweden, and I already feel quite at home here."

About the Lise Meitner Excellence Program

The Lise Meitner Excellence Program of the Max Planck Society was established to provide exceptional career opportunities to highly talented young female scientists who completed their PhD no more than nine years ago. The program aims to increase the number of women in leadership positions and reduce the existing underrepresentation of women at the W2 career level. Applications from women are given preferential treatment to the extent permitted by law, though qualification-related reasons always take precedence.

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