2021

Senesced fertile leaf from last year, alongside a new developing fertile leaf from the current year. The current year's developing fertile leaf will eventually senesce and look like the adjacent leaf from last year.

Humidity changes in dead fern fronds drives unique timing of spore dispersal in a widespread fern species

November 30, 2021

The sensitive fern – named due to its sensitivity to drought and frost – is a widespread species found throughout eastern North America and eastern Asia. It is a dimorphic plant because it has two distinct types of leaves – one for photosynthesis and one for reproduction. While most fern species in temperate regions produce and disperse their spores in the summer, the sensitive fern has an atypical timing of spore dispersal. In the early summer they produce heavily modified spore-bearing fronds (or leaves) with leaflets tightly enveloping their sporangia and spores. These fronds...

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Whole three-banded panther worm with muscle glowing in green. Image courtesy of Lorenzo Ricci

Harvard scientists take the study of regeneration to the next level by making three-banded panther worms transgenic

November 9, 2021

Three-banded panther worms are an incredibly impressive marine animal. Known scientifically as the acoel worm named Hofstenia miamia, these tiny animals that grow to only 500 micrometers can perform one of the greatest feats in the animal world, whole-body regeneration.

Remove Hofstenia miamia’s tail and it will grow another. Remove its head and another one, including everything from a mouth to the brain, will grow in its place. Cut the worm in three separate pieces and within eight weeks there’ll be three fully formed worms. Their power of...

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Left side of the skull of the dicynodont Dolichuranus from Tanzania. Photo by K. Angielczyk

Fossil dental exams reveal how tusks first evolved and why they are unique only to mammals

October 27, 2021

Most people picture an elephant when imagining animals with tusks. But many other animals have tusks including warthogs, hippopotamuses, Arctic-dwelling walruses, and even a five-pound, guinea pig looking animal called hyraxes. Though the size of the animal and their tusks can vary they all have one unique thing in common in that they are only found on mammals – there are no known fish, reptiles, or birds with tusks. Despite being an iconic feature of modern and fossil mammals the mystery remains of what evolutionary steps led to the development of this dental phenomenon and why are...

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L.Mahadevan shape shifting material_PNAS

Shape-shifting materials with infinite possibilities

October 21, 2021

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) led by L Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics, have developed a shape-shifting material that can take and hold any possible shape. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paves the way for a new type of multifunctional material that can be used in a range of applications, from...

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Cretapsara athanata: The first crab in amber from the dinosaur era.  CREDIT Xiao Jia (Longyin Amber Museum)

International team of researchers discover first dinosaur era crab fully preserved in amber

October 20, 2021

Fossils trapped in amber provide a unique snapshot of the anatomy, biology, and ecology of extinct organisms. The most common fossils found in amber, which is formed from resin exuded from tree bark, are land-dwelling animals, mainly insects. But on very rare occasions scientists discover amber housing an aquatic organism.

In a study published October 20 in Science Advances an international team of researchers describe the first crab from the Cretaceous dinosaur era preserved in amber. The study...

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Artistic reconstruction of Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus by Holly Sullivan

Researchers describe new tardigrade fossil found in 16 million year old Domincan amber

October 6, 2021

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are a diverse group of charismatic microscopic invertebrates that are best known for their ability to survive extreme conditions. A famous example was a 2007 trip to space where tardigrades were exposed to the space vacuum and harmful ionizing solar radiation, and still managed to survive and reproduce after returning to Earth. Tardigrades are found in all the continents of the world and in different environments including marine, freshwater, and terrestrial.

Tardigrades have survived all five Phanerozoic Great Mass Extinction events,...

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Pomme by Kristina Servant

How apples get their shapes

October 5, 2021

L Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a team of mathematicians and physicists have used observations, lab experiments, theory and computation to understand the growth and form of the cusp of an apple. 

The team collected apples at various growth stages from an orchard at Peterhouse College at University of Cambridge in the U.K. They then mapped the growth of the dimple, or cusp...

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Cassandra Extavour. Credit: Erica Derrickson 2020

Cassandra Extavour Selected as HHMI Investigator

September 23, 2021

Congratulations to Cassandra Extavour selected as one of 33 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigators. Extavour is investigating the ancient origins of germ cells, which are the only cells in the body to pass on their genes, making germ cells central to the process of evolution. Extavour studies the evolutionary processes that led to the formation of the first egg cell. “While my research...

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Charles Davis

Herbaria awarded $4.7 million to mobilize digital collections of Asian plant biodiversity

September 15, 2021

Charles Davis, OEB Professor and Curator of Vascular Plants at Harvard University Herbaria, has been awarded $4.7 million from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections Grant for his team’s collaborative project "Bringing Asia to digital life: mobilizing underrepresented Asian herbarium collections in the US to propel biodiversity discovery.”

Asia is the largest continent on Earth, and includes the world’s tallest mountains, lowest...

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Freshly deposited bowfin eggs attached to nest material. Male bowfin build nests in which females lay eggs. After the male fertilizes the eggs, it will remain with the nest to guard the young. Credit: Brent Hawkins

Bowfin genome reveals old dogfish can teach researchers new tricks

August 30, 2021

The fish species Amia calva goes by many names including bowfin, freshwater dogfish, grinnel, and mud pike. No matter what you call it, this species is an evolutionary enigma because it embodies a unique combination of ancestral and advanced fish features.

In a paper published August 30 in Nature Genetics an international and collaborative team of researchers, headed by Ingo Braasch and Andrew Thompson of...

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LIFE RECONSTRUCTION OF TAYTALURA. Original artwork by scientific illustrator Jorge Blanco

The Dawn of Modern Reptiles

August 26, 2021

Lizards and snakes are a key component of most terrestrial ecosystems on earth today. Along with the charismatic tuatara of New Zealand (a “living fossil” represented by a single living species), squamates (all lizards and snakes) make up the Lepidosauria—the largest group of terrestrial vertebrates in the planet today with approximately 11,000 species, and by far the largest modern group of reptiles. Both squamates and tuataras have an extremely long evolutionary history. Their lineages are older than dinosaurs having originated and diverged from each other at some point around 260...

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Late Devonian early tetrapods. Original artwork by scientific illustrator Davide Bonadonna

Sustained fast rates of evolution explain how tetrapods evolved from fish

August 23, 2021

One of the biggest questions in evolution is when and how major groups of animals first evolved. The rise of tetrapods (all limbed vertebrates) from their fish relatives marks one of the most important evolutionary events in the history of life. This “fish-to-tetrapod” transition took place somewhere between the Middle and Late Devonian (~400-360 million years ago) and represents the onset of a major environmental shift, when vertebrates first walked onto land. Yet, some of the most fundamental questions regarding the dynamics of this transition have remained unresolved for decades....

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