Spore This Way

New genus of ferns named for Lady Gaga

Duke University researchers have named a recently discovered genus of South American ferns for pop superstar Lady Gaga, the school announced Oct 19. Lead scientist Kathleen Pryer, a biology professor, said her team named the plants in honor of Gaga’s “fervent defense of equality and individual expression.”

The 19 species of fern now belong to the genus Gaga, and two of the species are new to science—giving Duke researchers the opportunity to expand on the taxonomical theme. One is named Gaga germanotta, after the singer’s real life surname, and the other is dubbed Gaga monstraparva (“little monster”).

Some characteristics of the petite green plants mimic the Grammy-winning pop star in more than just moniker. The ferns’ appearance during the bisexual reproductive stage of its life cycle closely resembles the aqua-green heart-shaped costume Gaga wore at the 2010 Grammy Awards. Its unfurled fronds reminded Pryer of Gaga’s claw-like salute to her devotees. And there’s more: “When graduate student Fay-Wei Li scanned the DNA of the ferns being considered for the new genus, he found GAGA spelled out in the DNA base pairs as a signature that distinguishes this group of ferns from all others,” the university said in a statement.

The Gaga plants display intriguing sexual fluidity, a common characteristic of their fellow ferns. As “homosporous” plants, they produce minute spores that eventually sprout into gametophytes—the aforementioned heart-shaped growths—which can be female, male or bisexual. Gametophytes reproduce with one another, or can reproduce asexually if necessary.

It’s no surprise, then, that Pryer and her team count themselves among the little monsters. “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 said.

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