New York University College of Dentistry's Dr. Timothy Bromage has received the 2010 Max Planck Research Award. Dr. Bromage will collaborate with Dr. Friedemann Schrenk of Frankfurt's Senckenberg Research Institute to study the microanatomical structure of bones and teeth, and the links between metabolic states, growth rates, life spans, and biological features such as sex and body size.
The award, given by the Max Planck Society and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, includes a stipend of 750,000 Euros ($1.02 million USD). The 2010 award, given annually to two researchers, was presented during the Annual Meeting of the Max Planck Society on June 17th in Hanover, Germany. This year's other recipient is psychologist Michael Tomasello, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.
In citing Dr. Bromage's qualifications for receiving the award, the selection committee noted that his research on the microanatomical structure of ancestral human teeth and bones has established the modern fields of human evolution growth, development, and life history—the pace by which an organism grows. Moreover, noted the committee, his research has shown a relationship between bone and tooth microstructure and body size, metabolic rate, age, and other biological features.
Dr. Bromage, a Professor of Biomaterials and Biomimetics and of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, was the first researcher to use biologically based principles of craniofacial development to reconstruct early hominid skulls. His computer-generated reconstruction of a 1.9-million-year-old skull originally discovered in Kenya in 1972 by renowned paleontologist and archaeologist Richard Leakey showed that Homo rudolfensis, modern man's earliest-known close ancestor, looked more apelike than previously believed. Dr. Bromage's reconstruction had a surprisingly smaller brain and more distinctly protruding jaw than the reconstruction that Dr. Leakey assembled by hand, suggesting that early humans had features approaching those commonly associated with more apelike members of the hominid family living as long as four million years ago.
In human evolution fieldwork, Dr. Bromage's 1992 discovery of a 2.4-million-year-old jaw in Malawi unearthed the oldest known remains of the genus, Homo. The discovery, made in collaboration with Dr. Schrenk, Director of Paleoanthropology at the Senckenberg Research Institute, marked the first time that scientists discovered an early human fossil outside of established early human sites in eastern and southern Africa.
In experimental biology approaches to human evolution research, Dr. Bromage discovered a new biological clock, or long-term rhythm, which controls many metabolic functions. Dr. Bromage discovered the new rhythm while observing incremental growth lines in tooth enamel, which appear much like the annual rings on a tree. He also observed a related pattern of incremental growth in skeletal bone tissue—the first time such an incremental rhythm has ever been observed in bone. The findings suggest that the same biological rhythm that controls incremental tooth and bone growth also affects bone and body size and many metabolic processes, including heart and respiration rates.
"In fact," Dr. Bromage said, "the rhythm affects an organism's overall pace of life and its life span. So, a rat that grows teeth and bone in one-eighth the time of a human also lives faster and dies younger."
"Dr. Bromage has fundamentally altered the field of human evolution by prompting paradigm shifts in morphology, fieldwork, and experimental biology, thereby establishing the modern field of growth, development, and life history in paleoanthropology," said Dean Bertolami.
A portion of the award will be dedicated to training junior scientists in the United States and Germany to assist on this research. Dr. Bromage has been honored for his academic achievements by the National Science Foundation (2009, 2007), the National Geographic Society (2008), and the National Institutes of Health.