‘Often, people give names in honor of old white guys, but we didn’t want to do that,’ Dr. Kathleen Pryer tells MTV News of ‘Gaga ferns.’
Lady Gaga is a global superstar, fashion icon, entrepreneur and role model to millions, yet despite all that, her impact on the world of pteridophytes has been minimal at best — until now, that is.
Thanks to the work of Dr. Kathleen Pryer, a professor of biology at Duke University and the director of the school’s herbarium, Gaga’s name is now attached to an entire genus of ferns — including two new species — an honor that almost certainly ranks right up there with her six Grammys.
Pryer published her findings in the new issue of Systematic Botany, the quarterly publication of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (we have a subscription) after a five-year study of a particular group of ferns that, like Gaga herself, dares to be a little different. And, as Pryer told MTV News, that’s just part of the reason she thought the name was fitting.
“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 said. “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.’
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“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,” she continued. “And there were so many things about these ‘Gaga ferns’ that we decided to name the new genus after her, to celebrate diversity.”
Pryer explained that there were several inspirations behind the new “Gaga” genus, including a similar DNA trait all 19 species shared — a repeated sequence of “GAGA” nucleotides — and, on a decidedly less scientific note, an Armani dress she wore onstage at the 2010 Grammys that bore a rather striking resemblance to a fern gametophyte.
“A gametophyte is so tiny, it’s the size of your smallest fingernail in nature, so I don’t know if Giorgio Armani knows much about fern gametophytes,” Pryer laughed, “but as a fern biologist, when I was sitting in front of the TV, and I saw her emerge, I was like, ‘Good God, she’s wearing a gametophyte!’ It was like she was speaking to us!”
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Included in the new Gaga genus are two new species of ferns — Gaga germanotta and Gaga monstraparva — that Pryer said were named specifically in tribute to Gaga’s family and the work they do with the Born This Way foundation (Gaga was born Stefani Germanotta) and her fans (Little Monsters). After submitting the name request to Gaga’s camp for approval (“They didn’t say much, just ‘Sounds good’ and a little smiley face,” Pryer said), she published her findings in Systematic Botany, and the rest is scientific history.
And though she’s proudly introduced Lady Gaga’s name to the world of ferns, Pryer said she’s not expecting much in return from the Mother Monster — though she did add that it would be great to have Gaga stop by her lab one day (“I think it would be so cool to show her some of the stuff under the microscope; I know she’d appreciate the biology”) or perhaps even some tickets to the Born This Way Ball. After all, it’s been awhile since Pryer’s been out to a concert.
“That would be awesome. The last concert I went to was in 1975, a Cat Stevens concert. I was an undergraduate at McGill University, and I’m not a big concertgoer, but I do like a lot of music,” she laughed. “In fact, in my dorm back in the ’70s, there was a petition signed to try to kick me out of the dorm because I used to play Black Sabbath and Deep Purple too loud. So I’ve always had interesting taste in music.”
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