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Explorations in Science and Technology

What Can Strawberries Tell Us About Sex?


How did the elephant get its trunk? What are the origins of gender? Evolutionary biologists tend to ask fascinating questions, and those in Pitt’s biological sciences department are no exception.

Mark Rebeiz’s interest in evolution begins with questions like “How did the elephant get its trunk?” and “How did the turtle get its shell?” Rebeiz, who was named a 2011 Sloan Foundation Fellow for his work, looks for the moment when a gene’s function and expression change to produce characteristics with no genetic precedent, such as the horn of a beetle or shell of a turtle.

Tia-Lynn Ashman investigates the evolution of sexual systems. Her research, funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, focuses on strawberry plants, and looks to understand how plants that are initially hermaphroditic (dual-sexed) develop flowers with separate genders.