Two at the Top

Jan 11, 2004

Right now, somewhere in the world, some man or woman or child is no doubt at the seashore, poking into the rust-colored shell of a crab. “A dead crab?” they wonder, ignorant about the nature of skeletons.

Most people, says Carolina biologist Jennifer Taylor, aren’t familiar with molting, the process by which a crab wiggles free from a shell that’s become too small as the crab’s inner organs have grown. That discarded shell on a beach � the exuvium � gets easily mistaken for the remains of a dead crab. While the exuvium is the crab’s skeleton, the crab lives on, with a quickly hardening new and larger shell forming around its body.

But even biologists, it turns out, didn’t completely grasp the significance of the molting process. At least not until Taylor, a graduate student, published her research in Science in July 2003.

Seven weeks later, Julie Canman, at the time another Carolina graduate student, published a paper in Nature. Her research into the way cells divide showed that key instructions for how one cell becomes two come from the chromosomes.

Two students with two keen observations, published as two journal cover stories in two months. Not a bad summer for Carolina. And not a bad summer for science.

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Endeavors Magazine, Winter 2004

Anton Zuiker

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