Faculty News

Peter Girguis courtesy of The Moore Foundation

Peter Girguis Awarded Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Grant

March 11, 2020

The Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology proudly announces Professor Peter Girguis as one of fifteen scientists awarded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant as part of the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative investigator program. The international cohort of current and emerging leaders in aquatic symbiosis research will...

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Exhibit specimen of Edaphosaurus, a pelycosaur synapsid, from the collections at the Museum of Comparative Zoology

Spinal Changes in Mammalian Evolution

February 3, 2020

Postdoc, Katrina Jones and Prof. Stephanie Pierce teamed with the Field Museum of Natural History to find how and when changes happened in the spine of mammals during evolution. Jones says the study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, tries to answer a fundamental evolutionary question, "How does a relatively simple structure evolve into a complex one that can do lots of different things?"


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Infrared photographs of butterflies. The brighter the color, the bigger the capability of radiative cooling. Credit: Nanfang Yu and Cheng-Chia Tsai/Columbia Engineering.

Butterfly Wings Are A Matrix of Living Cells

January 28, 2020
Naomi Pierce and PhD candidate, Richard Childers teamed with researchers at Columbia University to examine the wings of Lepidoptera. Butterfly wings contain a matrix of living cells whose function requires appropriate temperatures. However, given their small thermal capacity, wings can overheat rapidly in the sun. The team analyzed wings across a wide range of simulated environmental conditions and found regions containing living cells are maintained at cooler temperatures. The wings act like temperature sensors, which allows butterflies to respond swiftly to... Read more about Butterfly Wings Are A Matrix of Living Cells
James McCarthy

In Memoriam: Jim McCarthy 1944-2019

December 13, 2019

With profound sadness, we note the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Jim McCarthy, on December 11th after a protracted illness. Jim was a towering figure, whose impact as a scholar, policy advisor, and human being was extraordinary. The OEB community is greatly diminished by his loss, and we will all feel Jim’s absence deeply.

Notable remebrances by the Harvard Center for the Environment and ...

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Twisted images courtesy of SEAS

Study Sheds Light on Soft Artificial Muscles

November 15, 2019

Artificial muscles will power the soft robots and wearable devices of the future, but the underlying mechanics is not well known. Professor L. Mahadevan's study in Physical Review Letters uncovers some of the fundamental physical properties of artificial muscle fibers. The thin soft filaments can stretch, bend and twist into extreme deformations. Mahadevan's study explains the theoretical...

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Still image from Joystick Angle Task Trial courtesy of Ölvecsky and Dhawale

Predicting Evolution

November 13, 2019

New research by Bence Ölvecsky and Postdoc, Ashesh Dhawale, suggests errors resulting from variability in motor function is a feature, not a bug, of our nervous system and play a critical role in learning. The study published in Current Biology addresses the issue of how the brain regulates variability, which is necessary for learning, but not useful when a successful...

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Figure 2: Time-calibrated phylogeny of sampled synapsid taxa.

How Does Biological Complexity Arise?

November 7, 2019

Stephanie Pierce and Postdoc Katrina Jones tackle the question of biological complexity using the complex mammalian spine as an evolutionary example. Using phylogenetic modeling, Pierce and Jones were able to discover why the mammalian vertebral column became more complex over time. The data published in Nature Communications shows major shifts in spine complexity are associated with increases in aerobic capacity, thus supporting the hypothesis for...

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