Patricia Brennan

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences; on leave 2021-2022
Specialization: 
Morphological evolution of reproductive structures, sexual conflict, post-copulatory sexual selection.
Patricia Brennan is interested in the morphological evolution of genital morphology in vertebrates, and the mechanisms that drive genital diversification, sexual conflict in particular.  She has a BSc in Marine Biology from her native Colombia, where she studied cardiac physiology of marine mammals. She went on to work in the Galapagos Islands aboard a research vessel (R/V Odyssey).  Brennan completed her Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell University, where she studied the breeding biology and reproductive system of the Great Tinamou (Tinamus major), a basal bird from south america related to the ostrich.  During this time she developed an interest on post-copulatory selection in birds, and went on to do her post-doctoral work on genital and sperm traits in ducks.  Her current interests have expanded to understanding genital evolution in vertebrates, in particular examining female genital morphology and coevolution. She worked as a research professor at Umass Amherst before joining the faculty at Mount Holyoke College. 
 
Brennan’s research has received much media attention and she has become very interested in public outreach and education, and is an advocate (in print and lectures) of the importance of science communication and defense of basic science. 

Recent Campus News

This is a stock image of a dolphin swimming.

A deeper dive

Mount Holyoke researcher Patrica Brennan’s research found that dolphin clitorises have more in common with the human organ than previously known.

Photo of Patricia Brennan

The evolutionary payout for prickly sex

Mount Holyoke expert Patricia Brennan explains that both males and females benefit from the thorny genital arms race in seed beetles.

Photo of Patricia Brennan

Separating the baby from the backwater

Anuses segregate babies from back ends, says Patricia Brennan, Mount Holyoke College assistant professor of biology.

This is a composite graphic showing featuring photographs of people presenting against a blue background. The words "Senior Symposium" are written in white against a green background.

Senior Symposium 2021

The culmination of Mount Holyoke students’ academic careers, Senior Symposium marks the metamorphosis from student to expert.

This is an artist's rendering of two dinosaurs circling each other; the cloaca of one is clearly visible.

A revealing look

Researchers have developed a 3D model of a dinosaur’s cloaca, a glimpse into prehistoric pudenda that has never before been seen.

Recent Grants

Received a grant from the National Science Foundation for the project 'CAREER: Integrating Form and Function in the Coevolution of Copulatory Traits. The project is for five years.

Recent Publications

Poo, S., Whitfield, S., Watkins-Colwell, G., Gil, N., Goodwin, J, Brennan, P.L.R., … Chakrabarthi, P. 2022. Bridging the research gap between live collections in zoos and preserved collections in natural history museums. Bioscience. doi:10.1093/biosci/biac022

Brennan, P.L.R., Cowart, J. and D. O. Orbach. 2022. Functional morphology of the dolphin clitoris. Current Biology. 31: R1-R3.

Brennan, P.L.R., Sterett, M. [MHC '20]., DiBuono, M.[MHC '20], Lara Granados, G. [MHC '21]. Klo, K.[MHC '20], Marsden, R.[MHC '20], Schleinig, P.[MHC '19], Tanner, L[MHC '19]. and S. Purdy. 2021. Intra-horn penile intromission in the alpaca and consequences to genital morphology. Integrative and Comparative Biology. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icab050, pp:1-10

Moore, B.C., Brennan, P.L.R., Francis, R., Penland, S. Shiavone, K. Wayne, K. Woodward, A.R., Does, M.R.  Kim, D. K. and D.A. Kelly. (2021). Effect of inflation on the morphology of phallic glans tissues in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and their relation to interactions with female reproductive tracts. Reproductive Biology, 104(2), 374-386.

Orbach, D.O. Brassey, C. Gardiner, J and Brennan, P.L.R. (2021)3D Genital Shape Complexity in Female Marine Mammals. Ecology and Evolution. 00:1-9. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.7269. 

Recent Honors

Gave departmental seminars on her research on sexual conflict and genital evolution at the OEB graduate program at UMass, and at George Mason University (March 25 and April 8, 2022).

Recent article in Current Biology was covered by several press outlets including the New York Times and New Scientist () and was featured in the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Gave departmental seminars on her research at University of California Riverside (February 17, 2022), and at Michigan State University (March 15, 2022).

Was a featured speaker at the Wisconsin Symposium on Feminist Biology in October 8, 2021. Her talk was entitled: "Examining female genitalia yields amazing insights: What has taken so long?"