Alumni News

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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The carbonate chimneys at the Point Dume methane seep off southern California are covered with colorful microbial mats and permeated by methane-eating microbes. Courtesy of the Schmidt Ocean Institute

Microbes in Ocean Play Important Role in Moderating Earth’s Temperature

June 14, 2021

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas that plays a key role in Earth’s climate. Anytime we use natural gas, whether we light up our kitchen stove or barbeque, we are using methane.

Only three sources on Earth produce methane naturally: volcanoes, subsurface water-rock interactions, and microbes. Between these three sources, most is generated by microbes, which have deposited hundreds of gigatons of methane into the deep seafloor. At seafloor methane seeps, it percolates upwards toward the open ocean, and microbial communities consume the majority of this...

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Roe Deer courtesy of Nathan Ranc

Memory Drives the Foraging Behavior of Large Wild Mammals

April 13, 2021

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the foraging decisions of roe deer are guided primarily by memory, and not sensory perception alone.

The cognitive processes underlying the foraging decisions of large mammals in nature are not well understood, in part because it has been difficult to disentangle the effects of sensory perception and memory on the animals’ movements. Nathan Ranc (Ph'D '...

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Can a fin become a limb?

Can a fin become a limb?

February 4, 2021

Fin-to-limb transition is an icon of key evolutionary transformations. Many studies focus on understanding the evolution of the simple fin into a complicated limb skeleton by examining the fossil record. In a paper published February 4 in Cell, researchers at Harvard and Boston Children's Hospital examined what's occurring at the genetic level to drive different patterns in the fin skeleton versus the limb skeleton.

Researchers, led by M. Brent Hawkins, a recent doctoral...

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Spring Cutting by Daniel Flynn

Predicting Shifts in Nature's Lifecycles

October 19, 2020

In nature, the timing of recurring annual lifecycle events affects many aspects of the ecosystem and ecology. In trees the timing of a leaf’s developing bud dictates the length of the growing season and carbon cycling, it mediates competition among plants and controls interactions with pests and pathogens.

The timing of spring buds developing in woody plants – trees, shrubs – is mainly controlled by environmental cues...

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JEB Cover Photo by Roy and Marie Battell

Mallard ducks' vertical takeoff requires different hindlimb kinematics and muscle function

September 10, 2020

Mallard ducks are capable of performing a wide range of behaviors including nearly vertical takeoffs from both land and water. The hindlimb plays a key role during takeoffs for both; however, the amount of force needed differs in fluid and solid environments. In a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology, recent graduate Kari Taylor-Burt (PhD '20) and Prof. Andrew Biewener hypothesize that hindlimb joint motion and muscle shortening are faster...

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Ballerini and Kramer_PNAS Cover Art

POPOVICH gene controlling development of nectar spurs in Aquilegia

August 26, 2020

The evolution of novel features - traits such as wings or eyes - helps organisms make the most use of their environment and promotes increased diversification among species. Understanding the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms involved in the origin of these traits is of great interest to evolutionary biologists.

The flowering plant Aquilegia, a genus of 60-70 species found in temperate meadows, woodlands and mountain tops around the world, is known for a novel feature - the nectar spur, which is important for pollination, and for the ecology and...

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Shayla Salzman in field with zamia

An ancient push-pull pollination mechanism in cycads

June 12, 2020

Pollination is often a mutual relationship between flowering plants and insects. Understaning how these plants entice diverse insects to pollinate has major implications across evolutionary, ecological, organismal and conservation biology. One mechanism that can provide a window into ancient insect pollination, before the rise of flowering plants, are Cycads. Cycads are primary seed-producing plants and represent one of the oldest lineages of seed plants. These plants rely on insect pollination, yet do not display the colorful visuals that signals to pollinators, which is...

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