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Ancient Indian Amber Preserves

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A rare fossil discovered by an international team of scientists that includes Museum researchers documents a biological partnership that makes the survival of most terrestrial plants possible. For 52 million years in a piece of Indian amber the size of a walnut, the fossil preserved a symbiotic relationship between soil fungi and plant roots called mycorrhizae.

In this longstanding relationship, the fine thread-like cells of the fungus increase the root surface for the plant, enabling the host plant to access more nutrients. In return, the fungus receives energy from the plant in the form of sugars. This symbiosis also has been shown to enhance a plant’s resistance to pathogens and the effects of drought. This mycorrhizal relationship is believed to have arisen more than 400 million years ago, as plants began to colonize terrestrial habitats.

Tags: Our Research

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New Book by Museum Anthropologist

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Located high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the now-deserted Inka city of Huánuco Pampa was a place of festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from the surrounding area. Only a few hundred people lived in the city year-round, working to prepare the massive complex for religious and political social functions. This unique urban center is explored in a book recently released as a volume of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History.

Tags: Anthropology

The Hayden Letters

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In 1950, the Museum’s Hayden Planetarium began accepting reservations for the first trip into space as part of a publicity campaign for its exhibition Conquest of Space. Letters poured in from around the world with requests to book trips to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and beyond, capturing the public’s passion and curiosity for space exploration. One would-be space traveler even drew detailed diagrams of how he would get to space, what he would wear, and where he would live—appearing to anticipate some of the designs highlighted in Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.

Tags: Hayden Planetarium, Rose Center for Earth and Space

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Stray Western Hummingbird Visits the Museum’s Flowers

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Earlier this week, a crowd gathered around the shrubbery at the Museum’s 81st Street entrance.

They were looking for a Western hummingbird that found its way to the Museum grounds. Noah Burg of the Museum’s Education Department first spotted the stray on Wednesday, though it may have been there for several days.

Tags: Birds

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Researchers Create the Largest Seed Plant Tree of Life

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Working with colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the New York Botanical Garden, and New York University, Museum scientists have created the largest genome-based tree of life for seed plants. Their findings plot the evolutionary relationships of 150 different species of plants based on advanced genome-wide analysis of gene structure and function. This new approach, called “functional phylogenomics,” allows scientists to reconstruct the pattern of events that led to the vast number of plant species we see today and could help identify genes used to improve seed quality for agriculture.

The research, performed by members of the New York Plant Genomics Consortium, was funded by the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Program to identify the genes that caused the evolution of seeds, a trait of important economic interest.

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