RALEIGH, N.C. (The News & Observer) — She boasts a closetful of Emmy, Grammy and MTV music awards, but outlandish pop diva Lady Gaga just collected a more coveted compliment from Duke University: 19 species of ferns named in her honor.
To a team of Duke scientists, a new genus of the plants growing between South America and Texas bears an uncanny likeness to the green, glittery, heart-shaped costume the New York-born songstress wore to the Grammy awards in 2010.
“It just spoke to me,” said Kathleen Pryer, the Duke biology professor who led the fern study. “We tend to be seen as nerdy, lab-coated people, but we see so many beautiful things, and she’s very inspiring in her fashion. If she saw half of what we saw under a microscope.“
Two of the Gaga fern species are new to science, classified for the first time. And sticking with the theme, the Duke team gave them glam-inspired titles: Gaga germanotta, for the singer’s last name, and Gaga monstraparva, which translates roughly to “little monsters,” a nickname for her fans.
“In my field, it’s all about diversity, and she’s all about diversity in our species,” Pryer said. “We’re all in this together.”
The Duke study appears in the current issue of Systematic Botany, aimed at grouping ferns in their proper categories thanks to advances in genetic analysis. Other than the two new species, the other 17 in the new Gaga genus are reclassified from another group.
In an infant stage of their growth, called the gametophyte stage, the Gaga ferns have a bisexual gender. This seemed an appropriate tie to the singer because of the swarm of media interest in her sexuality and her outspoken campaign for gay rights.
Born Stefani Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s sales top 20 million worldwide, influencing fashion and music with her dance hits.
In her Grammy outfit, Gaga’s elaborate raised shoulders and green hue appeared to Pryer as a dead ringer for a gametophyte. Watching from home, she couldn’t help but recognize her fern.
One other element of their research cinched the name. Graduate student Fay-Wei Li scanned the ferns’ DNA — and found the base pairs spelled out G-A-G-A in genetic lingo.
But mostly, said Pryer, ferns are enigmatic plants, cryptic and difficult to study because they don’t flower-as multifaceted as a
5-foot-1 Italian girl who once dressed as a giant egg.