Faculty News

Edward O. Wilson 1929-2021

In Memoriam: Edward O. Wilson 1929 - 2021

December 27, 2021

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Edward O. Wilson on December 26th. He was 92. Professor Wilson was called "Darwin's natural heir," and was known as "the ant man" for his pioneering work in entomology. He authored over 30 books, twice receiving a Pulitzer Prize along with many other distinguished awards during his six decades at Harvard. He was a pillar of our community and an inspiration to many. He will be greatly missed.

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Jacks of Gold by Laszlo Ilyes on Flickr

Convergence of undulatory swimming movement across a diversity of fishes

December 7, 2021

Fish move not just by swimming but also by jumping, burrowing, walking, and flying. Many species though move by undulating their body and caudal fin (the tail fin that is used for propulsion). These body-caudal-fin (BCF) swimmers, as they are called, exert force against the surrounding water to support and move their body in an undulating motion. Traditionally, these fishes were classified based on key morphological traits and then grouped into four expected swimming modes based on four model species: eel, trout, mackerel, and tuna. But do all fish swim in certain ways based on this...

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HUH Baccharis neglecta, Collected in Mustang Island State Park.

Global database of plants reveals human activity biggest driver of homogenization of plant communities

December 6, 2021

Species extinction, the introduction of non-native plants, climate change, and pollution are all major drivers of changes in biological communities due to human activity. Though these patterns have been well studied, most investigations focus on only one of these drivers and often in a localized area rather than more globally.

In a study published December 6 in Nature Communications researchers have compiled a dataset of over 200,000 plant species worldwide to demonstrate the extent to which...

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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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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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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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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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