New Genus of Ferns Named for Lady Gaga

A new genus of ferns found in Central and South America, Mexico, Arizona and Texas, has been named for Lady Gaga, an American singer and songwriter.

Lady Gaga and the fern gametophyte (Duke University)

Two of the 19 species in the Gaga genus are new to science: Gaga germanotta from Costa Rica is named to honor the family of the artist, who was born Stefani Germanotta. And a newly discovered Mexican species is being dubbed Gaga monstraparva in honor of Gaga’s fans, whom she calls ‘little monsters.’

According to biologists, ferns of the new genus bear a striking resemblance to one of Gaga’s famous costumes. They also bear a distinct DNA sequence spelling GAGA.

“We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression. And as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice,” said Prof Kathleen Pryer of the Duke University, co-author of a paper describing the new genus in the journal Systematic Botany.

Except for the two new species, G. germanotta and G. monstraparva, the rest of the Gaga ferns are species that are being reclassified by Prof Pryer’s team. They had previously been assigned to the genus Cheilanthes based on their outward appearance. But the new painstaking analysis of DNA using more than 80 museum specimens and newly collected plants showed they’re distinct and deserving of their own genus.

“New tools for genetic analysis are reorganizing the family tree of ferns,” Prof Pryer said.

“Like most ferns, the Gaga group is homosporous. They produce tiny spherical spores that drift to the ground and germinate into heart-shaped plants called gametophytes. These independent little organisms can be female, male or even bisexual, depending on growth conditions and what other kinds of gametophytes are around. When conditions are right, they exchange sperm between gametophytes, but when necessary they sometimes can also self-fertilize to produce a new fern.”

“The biology of these ferns is exceptionally obscure and blurred by sexual crossing between species,” Prof Pryer said. “They have high numbers of chromosomes and asexuality that can lead to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant.”

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Bibliographic information: Fay-Wei Li et al. 2012. Gaga, a New Fern Genus Segregated from Cheilanthes (Pteridaceae). Systematic Botany, vol. 37, no. 4, 845-860; doi: 10.1600/036364412X656626