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Bloom this way: US botanists name 19 fern species after Lady Gaga

October 24, 2012 8:17pm
The researchers are all Gaga fans, and the plants' DNA now carry her name.
 
Led by Prof. Kathleen Pryer, Botanists at Duke University found a new genus of ferns in Central and South America, Mexico, Arizona and Texas which consist of 19 species.
 
Science Daily reported, "At one stage of its life, the new genus Gaga has somewhat fluid definitions of gender and bears a striking resemblance to one of Gaga's famous costumes. Members of the new genus also bear a distinct DNA sequence spelling GAGA." 
 

 
GAGA as DNA base pairs
 
Duke University graduate student Fay-Wei Li scanned the DNA of the ferns and found GAGA spelled out in the DNA base pairs – distinguishing this group from all other fern groups.
 
This will be added to pop music star Lady Gaga's list of achievements, together with her six Grammy's.
 
According to the Science Daily report, two of the species are new to science. The first one, Gaga germanotta, found in Costa Rica, is named in honor of the pop icon's family. After all, Lady Gaga's real name is Stefani Germanotta. The other, dubbed Gaga monstraparva – literally, monster little – is named in honor of her fans she calls "little monsters."
 
"We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression," Duke University biology professor and director of the Duke Herbarium Pryer told Science Daily.
 
"And as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice," added the botanist.
 
At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga wore a heart-shaped Armani Prive' costume. Pryer said the giant shoulders of Gaga's costume looked exactly like gametophytes – the bisexual reproductive stage of ferns – with matching right shade of green. Ferns exchange sperms between gametophytes under favorable conditions, but they can also self-fertilize to produce a new fern – if necessary.
 
"The biology of these ferns is exceptionally obscure and blurred by sexual crossing between species," Pryer told Science Daily.
 
She added, "They have high numbers of chromosomes and asexuality that can lead to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant."
 
"So often, people give names in honor of old white guys that have worked on ferns for a long time, but we didn't want to do that," Pryer told MTV.
 
"And there were so many things about these 'Gaga ferns' that we decided to name the new genus after her, to celebrate diversity," she added. The study was funded in part by National Science Foundation.
 
Deserving a new genus
 
Pryer and her group are currently reclassifying the Gaga ferns, save for the  two new species – germanotta and monstraparva.
 
Based on their appearance, the other ferns were previously assigned to genus Cheilanthes.
 
"We study, in particular, a group of ferns called the cheilanthoid ferns, there are about 500 or 600 of them, and many of them tend to be more adapted to living in desert situations, which is unusual for ferns," Pryer told MTV.
 
Li's analysis of DNA, using more than 80 museum specimens and newly collected plants, showed the ferns were in fact distinct and deserving a new genus.
 
"We've been doing a lot of molecular sequencing, looking at a lot of plant material, doing a lot of field work, so we're now at the point where we're concluding some of the work, and we have enough evidence to be able to look at all the data and say, 'Hmmm, there's this group here that is really in the wrong genus… We need to give it a new name,'" she added.
 
'Enormously empowering'
 
Apart from the similarities and the DNA, her lab is composed of huge Gaga fans, the botanist revealed.
 
"We often listen to her music while we do our research. We think that her second album, 'Born this Way,' is enormously empowering, especially for disenfranchised people and communities like LGBT, ethnic groups, women – and scientists who study odd ferns!" Pryer told Science Daily.
 
Duke faculty member Cathy Davidson, who also helped Lady Gaga to create the Born This Way Foundation – a US-wide anti-bullying initiative –told Science Daily, "What a remarkable, unexpected, perfect tribute to name a genus of ferns for Lady Gaga.
 
"Encouraging her fans and kids everywhere to be brave, bold, unique, creative and smart is what Lady Gaga is about," Davidson noted.
 
"It's rare that a celebrity so young gives back so much to society," She added.
 
The famous in taxonomy
 
Still, Lady Gaga is not the only celebrity the scientific community honored by naming species them.
 
Science Daily reported that a California lichen was named after President Barack Obama.
 
In January 2012, a horsefly was associated with Beyonce after its discoverer described the insect as bootylicious. — VS, GMA News
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