Faculty News

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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Artistic Reconstruction of Ctenorhabdotus campanelliformis (top) and Thalassostaphylos elegans (bottom)  Illustrated by Holly Sullivan

Rare Cambrian fossils from Utah reveal unexpected anatomical complexity in early comb jellies

August 20, 2021

Ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, are a group of over 200 living species of invertebrate animals with a transparent gelatinous body superficially resembling that of a jellyfish. There is much interest in ctenophore evolution in recent years as their controversial phylogenetic position in the animal tree of life has prompted conflicting hypotheses. While some studies suggest they might represent the earliest branching animals, others suggest a more traditional position as close relatives of jellyfish.

These hypotheses carry different and important implications for...

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Richard Lewontin 1976

In Memoriam: Richard Lewontin 1929-2021

July 9, 2021

It is with profound sadness that we share the news that OEB Professor Richard (Dick) Lewontin died on Sunday, July 4th, he was 92. Professor Lewontin is considered one of the most brilliant population geneticists and pioneered the study of genetic variation among humans and other animals. He was a much loved and respected member of the department as well as more broadly at Harvard and, indeed, worldwide.

Professor Lewontin retired in 2003, but remained active until recent years. He...

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