Stewards of a legacy
The Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology is heir to a long tradition established at Harvard more than a century ago by Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray. Our inheritance includes superb resources embodied in our Cambridge laboratories, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, and the Concord Field Station in Bedford, Massachusetts, as well as unexcelled museum collections that document life's history and diversity. Additionally, Harvard is unusual among American universities in dedicating more than thirty faculty positions to the study of organisms and ecosystems.
As professor of natural history at Harvard from 1842, Asa Gray was the teacher of many eminent botanists. Through his voluminous writings in periodicals and his well-known textbooks, he helped popularize the study of botany. He helped to revise the taxonomic procedure of Linnaeus on the basis of a more natural classification.
In 1848, Louis Agassiz accepted a professorship at Harvard. He immediately set about organizing and acquiring funding for a great museum of natural history. In 1859 his dream came true with the founding of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, which opened its doors in 1860.
The driving idea
All of life evolved -- and chiefly by natural selection. Life has immensely complex diversity that can be understood and managed only by the understanding of its long genetic history and the special features of each species. That, in essence, is the central concern of organismic and evolutionary biology.
A frontier of scientific vision
We seek to develop new knowledge in four key areas of organismic and evolutionary biology:
- Biological Diversity and the History of Life
- The Integrated Biology of Organisms
- Integration of Molecular and Organismic Evolution
- The Biological Component of Biogeochemistry.
These areas are fundamental to biology and where our physical, biological, and human resources, as well as actual and potential interactions with other departments and schools at Harvard, dictate that we can and should provide leadership.