Michel Brunet spent most of his childhood in a farm in Poitou (South-West of France). He entered the Sorbonne in Paris where he studied Natural Sciences and paleontology. He defended his doctorate in paleontology in 1966. Then he went to the University of Poitiers to study Paleogene mammals and completed his Natural Sciences State doctorate in 1975 (and became a tenured professor of paleontology in 1989). In 1976, his research concentrated on hominid paleontology in Afghanistan and Iraq. Due to the dangerous political situation in both countries Michel Brunet turned his attention to Africa where he decided to explore western Africa for ape and hominid fossils.
His first surveys took place in Cameroon in 1984 and in Chad in 1993, when he received a research permit from the Chad government to conduct excavations in the Lake Chad basin, today the Djurab Desert. He founded the Mission Paléoanthropologique Franco-Tchadienne (M.P.F.T.) to research the origin, the evolution and the environments of early hominids. In 1995, Michel Brunet described a new hominid dated to 3.5 My, Australopithecus bahrelghazali the first Australopithecine known west of the Rift Valley. He nicknamed this individual, “Abel,” in honor of the memory of a colleague and close friend who died during a field mission in Cameroon. In 2002 and 2005, Michel Brunet published the earliest hominid yet found (7 My): a nearly complete cranium, lower jaws and isolated teeth from Toros Menalla, Djurab desert (Northern Chad). The fossil, nicknamed, "Toumaï" (meaning “hope of life” in the local Goran language), was classified in Nature by Michel Brunet as: Sahelanthropus tchadensis.
More recently he has also led field surveys and diggings for fossil mammals and primates in Libya and Egypt (with the Al Fateh University of Tripoli and Cairo University).
Michel Brunet is currently Professor of the College de France, Chaire de Paleontologie humaine, in Paris, and a Member of the Institut International de Paleoprimatologie et Paleontologie humaine: evolution et paleoenvironnements (I.P.H.E.P.) UMR CNRS 6046 of the University of Poitiers.