Postdoc News

Leeches floating in ethanol in vial

Researchers use leeches to map biodiversity

April 6, 2022

Researchers in Professor Naomi Pierce's lab teamed with researchers at the Kunming Institute, China, in a new study that used DNA samples extracted from the blood meals of leeches to map which animals live where in the Ailaoshan Nature Reserve in Yunnan, China. The study, published in Nature Communications, showed that the DNA samples can be used to find out which wild animals are present across large, protected areas such as national parks...

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Henry-Tuatara Southland by Larry Koester on flickr.com

New study shows modern tuatara are little changed from 190 million year old ancestors

March 6, 2022

The modern tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) found in New Zealand may look like a lizard, but it is actually the last remnant of a mysterious and ancient order of reptiles known as the Rhynchocephalians. The Rhynchocephalians peaked in the Jurassic period and then mostly vanished from the fossil record. These odd creatures with jaws that slide back and forth and a third eye on the top of their heads can live for more than a century, and they prefer a chilly climate.

The decline following the Jurassic period created a patchy fossil record making it difficult for...

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Aquilegia by Amanda Slater on flickr

New study reveals novel interactions in the key processes that establish floral morphology

February 17, 2022

A new study in Development reveals novel interactions between cell division and cell expansion in the key process that establish floral morphology.

The study, led the PhD candidate Ya Min and co-author Stephanie J. Conway, postdoctoral fellow, and senior author Professor Elena M. Kramer, used a newly developed live-...

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Artistic reconstruction of Utaurora comosa by F. Anthony

A century later, International team of researchers describe second opabiniid ever discovered

February 9, 2022

In his book Wonderful Life the late Stephen Jay Gould, former professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, popularized the “weird wonder” stem-group arthropods Opabinia and Anomalocaris, discovered in the Cambrian Burgess Shale, turning them into icons in popular culture. While the “terror of the Cambrian" Anomalocaris – with its radial mouth and spiny grasping appendages – is a radiodont with many relatives, the five-eyed Opabinia – with its distinctive...

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horseshoe crabs copulating during low tide in Cape Cod. Gonzalo Giribet

New study suggests horseshoe crabs colonized the sea from a land ancestor

February 8, 2022

A new study in Molecular Biology and Evolution led by Professor Gonzalo Giribet's lab disproves the monophyly (a group composed of only one ancestor) of Arachnida, suggesting horseshoe crabs colonized the sea from a land ancestor.

Chelicerata (Arachnids, horseshoe crabs, and their kindred taxa) are one of the two major branches of arthropods. They have long been considered a diverse group with many Paleozoic marine fossils. For instance, the horseshoe crabs is considered...

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Mollisonia_symmetrica_collage

Fossils reveal the nervous system of a 508-million-year-old chelicerate

January 24, 2022

A new study in Nature Communications describes the exceptionally preserved nervous system of the soft-bodied euarthropod Mollisonia symmetrica from the mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale in British Columbia.

Mollisonia symmetrica is a member of a relatively inconspicuous group of euarthropods knows as mollisoniids, which have a simple dorsal exoskeleton consisting of a head shield, multisegmented trunk, and a...

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Artistic reconstruction of Callichimaera perplexa by Masato Hattori

The ‘Platypus’ of the crab world was an active predator that lurked the Cretaceous seas

January 12, 2022

Eyes are crucial players in the evolution of organisms. They allow an animal to find food, a mate, potential prey, to avoid predators and aid in regulating the internal clock by differentiating day from night. Eyes are also delicate features that tend to be not well preserved in fossil crustaceans.

One such rare finding is Callichimaera perplexa, a 95-million-year-old crab fossil discovered by senior author Javier Luque, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, and fully...

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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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