STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/14/2007

Top Six

Favorite Creatures (and Other Living Things)
The late paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould once confessed his affection for a very particular creature: the land snail Cerion. We wondered if all biologists, like Gould, have a favorite creature (or other living thing), and posed the question to lab whiz Don Gonzales '95, M.D., when he was on campus in June. His response was immediate and enthusiastic: the African clawed frog Xenopus, an important model organism in developmental biology research. Here is what some of our favorite Gordon biologists said when we asked them the same question.

Editor's Note: We received far more "favorite creatures" than could fit in a STILLPOINT article.
See their full responses

Spring Peeper | Hyla crucifer 
I am convinced that the spring peeper is the reason for many people falling in love in New England, as its early spring chorus awakens sleepy denizens to the joys of the coming season. It is named "crucifer" after the sign of the cross, a dark mark across its back, and sings around Easter, truly comprising a hymn of praise.

Dorothy Boorse, Ph.D.,
associate professor of biology

Moringa | Moringa oleifera
Gordon's ECHO program (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) promotes the moringa as a miracle tree--from India, it grows 15 feet in one season, is drought tolerant, has highly nutritious leaves, has more calcium than milk, has more potassium than bananas and is high in protein. It is also used as a water purifier and has antibacterial and antifungal qualities. The United Nations is promoting this plant in its effort to help those in Sub-Saharan Africa suffering from AIDS.

Grace Ju, Ph.D., adjunct professor of biology

Pacific Yew | Taxus brevifolia
Yew wood is valued for its hardness, workability, fine-grain rose-red color, and durability--yew trees can live as long as 2,000 years. All parts of the yew are poisonous due to a mixture of alkaloids collectively referred to as taxine. The irony: Yew trees also provide one of the most effective treatments for cancer. In 1971 Taxol was extracted from yew and was found to interfere with cell division in tumors, and it was approved in 1992 by the FDA for treatment of ovarian cancer.

Ming Zheng, Ph.D., professor of biology

Eastern Hemlock | Tsuga canadensis
In winter storms when the white pines are shedding branches and birches are acquiring a permanent geriatric stoop, the hemlock folds down like a closing umbrella and just shrugs off the burden of ice and snow, standing tall and straight after the storm. The hemlock provides shelter for birds and beasts, and seemed to be the utter favorite food of the porcupine that dwelt in the crags behind my house. Hemlock lumber is tough--my dad and I were building a chicken coop with used wood which we thought was all pine. One rafter wouldn't take a nail, though; every last one we tried to drive in just folded over. Hemlock, my favorite living thing--if only they were edible!

David Smith, M.D. '79

Protozoan | Vorticella spp.
As a boy I spent many hours with a little hobby microscope examining samples of pond water. One microscopic organism that caught my attention was Vorticella, a ciliated creature named for the rotating water currents created by the ring of cilia rapidly beating around its mouth. The mouth and cilia form an inverted bell-like structure that waves about in the water currents and is attached to a long, thin stalk cemented to a solid surface. What I enjoy most about the vorticellids is their unusual habit of rapidly contracting their long stalk faster than the blink of an eye.

Craig Story, Ph.D., associate professor of biology

Giant Squid  | Architeuthis dux
Colossal Squid | Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni
The giant squid is a favorite of marine legends, along with its newly discovered bigger cousin, the colossal squid, which is found in frigid Antarctic waters. They are the two largest marine invertebrates known. Both are members of the group Cephalopoda, considered by many to be the most intelligent group of invertebrates. The brains of both squids can be as large as a soccer ball, containing billions of neural connections!

Chuck Blend, Ph.D.,
assistant professor of biology, marine biologist/zoologist


Spring Peeper
Pacific Yew
Giant Squid