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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Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing) captive by S. Rae, Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World on Flickr

Study Reveals Speciation More Complicated Than Imagined

November 1, 2019

Jim Mallet and PhD students Nate Edelman (Mallet Lab) and Michael Miyagi (Desai & Wakeley Labs) have found evidence for widespread hybridization and gene flow between different species of Heliconius butterflies. The team looked at a group of neotropical butterflies and found that different species have been hybridizing with each other throughout their millions-of-years-old history. They developed a new method to identify parts of the genome that were particularly impacted by hybridization and showed the process of recombination is widespread and important to the evolutionary process....

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Image from Molecular Cell

CRISPR Enzyme Programmed to Kill Viruses in Human Cells

October 11, 2019

Pardis Sabeti and researchers at the Broad Institute have turned a CRISPR RNA-cutting enzyme into an antiviral that can be programmed to detect and destroy RNA-based viruses in human cells. Many of the world's most common or deadly pathogens are RNA-based viruses. The study in Molecular Cell is the first to harness CAS 13 enzyme, or any CRISPR system, as an antiviral in cultured human cells....

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Images courtesy of Harvard SEAS & Lori K. Sanders

Shape-shifting Structures Take The Form of A face, Antenna

October 7, 2019

Prof. L Mahadevan and researchers with the Harvard Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering have created the most complex shape-shifting structures to date -- lattices composed of multiple materials that grow or shrink in response to changes in temperature. The team printed flat lattices that shape morph into a frequency-shifting antenna or the face of pioneering mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss in response to a change in temperature. The study is published in the...

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George Lauder with Tunabot. Photo by Jon Chase, The Harvard Gazette

Tunabot: The First Robotic Tuna to Mimic Tuna's Swimming Style

September 18, 2019

Tuna are highly efficient swimmers, migrating thousands of miles across the Pacific from California to Japan. They are also among the fastest fish in the water reaching speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour. George Lauder has been trying to understand how they are capable of both by developing robots to model tuna's flexible underwater gait.

Working with a team of researchers from the University of Virginia, Lauder developed Tunabot, the first robotic tuna that accurately mimics both their highly efficient swimming style and high speed. Tunabot is described in a...

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