Can we teach computers to make like Mendelssohn? Duke Today, Dec. 14, 2017. Duke University researchers are teaching computers to write classical piano music in the mode of great composers like Mendelssohn and Beethoven. The resulting tunes are a pastiche of 19th century style.
Cells bulge to squeeze through barriers. Nov. 27, 2017. Duke scientists have discovered a new tool in the cell’s invasion machinery that may help explain cancer’s ability to spread. Time-lapse imaging of the worm C. elegans reveals a fleeting protrusion that wedges into a tiny gap in the protective layer that surrounds the cell, and swells until the breach is wide enough for the cell to squeeze through. The findings could point to new ways to prevent metastasis, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Picked up by Futurity and STAT.
Chimp females who leave home postpone parenthood. Nov. 20, 2017. Female chimps that lack supportive friends and family wait longer to start having babies, Duke University researchers find. An analysis of more than 50 years’ worth of daily records for female chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania indicates that would-be moms who leave home or are orphaned take roughly three years longer to start a family. Picked up by the Daily Mail.
Bonobos help strangers without being asked. Duke Today, Nov. 7, 2017. The impulse to be kind to strangers was long thought to be unique to humans, but research on bonobos suggests our species is not as exceptional in this regard as we like to think. Famously friendly apes from Africa’s Congo Basin, bonobos will go out of their way to help a stranger get food even when there is no immediate payback, researchers show. What’s more, they help spontaneously without having to be asked first. Picked up by Newsweek, Psychology Today, Daily Mail, National Geographic, Reddit, ABC.es and Le Monde.
Mixing it up. Duke Today, Nov. 7, 2017. To most people, turbulence is a bumpy plane ride. But to one researcher at Duke University, turbulence is a mathematical riddle.
Vital signs. Duke Today, Nov. 7, 2017. Where some see noisy spikes and dips on an electrocardiogram, one researcher sees hidden mathematical problems.
Humans don’t use as much brainpower as we like to think. Duke Today, Oct. 31, 2017. For years, scientists assumed that humans devote a larger share of calories to their brains than other animals. Although the human brain makes up only 2 percent of body weight, it consumes more than 25 percent of the body’s energy budget. But a comparison of the relative brain costs of 22 species found that other animals have hungry brains too. Picked up by the Daily Mail, IFLScience, Futurity and United Press International.
Starvation mode. 1,100 words on Duke Research, Oct. 27, 2017. This roundworm can survive weeks without eating thanks to a coping mechanism similar to humans.
Boundary zone. 1,100 words on Duke Research, Oct. 16, 2017. This pink line of fly cells could help researchers understand Barrett’s esophagus, which can turn into cancer.
iPhone app could guide MS research, treatment. Duke Today, Oct. 3, 2017. For some diseases, a simple blood test is all that’s needed to gauge severity or confirm a diagnosis. Not so for multiple sclerosis. No single lab test can tell doctors what type of MS a patient has, nor whether it’s responding to treatment. By better tracking patients with help from a new iPhone app, researchers hope to take some of the guesswork out of treating MS and pave the way to more personalized care. Picked up by the News & Observer and the Herald-Sun.
Gregg Gunnell, fossil hunter, dies at 63. Duke Today, September 25, 2017. Gregg Gunnell, 63, a Duke University paleontologist who oversaw a collection of more than 30,000 fossils from around the world, died of lymphoma Wednesday, September 20 at Duke University Hospital in Durham. Gunnell spent more than 40 years studying fossils hidden in layers of rock for clues to what kinds of animals lived there, what they looked like and how they changed over time.
Even preschoolers play fair, but chimps? Not so much. Duke Today, Sept. 14, 2017. Chimps don’t care if they’re caught cheating. But preschoolers do, and that’s one of the keys to what makes us human, says Michael Tomasello, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
Why your ancestors would have aced the long jump. Duke Today, Sept. 11, 2017. A 52-million-year-old ankle fossil suggests our prehuman ancestors were high-flying acrobats. For years, scientists thought the ancestors of today’s humans, monkeys, lemurs and apes were relatively slow and deliberate animals, using their grasping hands and feet to creep along small twigs and branches. But a new study suggests the first primates were masters at leaping through the trees. Picked up by New Scientist, the Daily Mail, Futurity and NSF 360.
Larger-than-life pollen. 1,100 Words on Duke Research, Aug. 31, 2017. Lodged on the head of a daisy, these spiky pollen grains were photographed at 2,200 times magnification using a portable scanning electron microscope that can be brought into classrooms.
Captive lemurs get a genetic health checkup. Duke research blog, Aug. 21, 2017. Careful matchmaking can restore genetic diversity for endangered lemurs in captivity, researchers report.
Pinpointing where Durham’s nicotine addicts get their fix. Duke Research blog, Aug. 10, 2017. It’s been five years since Durham expanded its smoking ban beyond bars and restaurants to include public parks, bus stops, even sidewalks. While smoking in the state overall may be down, 19 percent of North Carolinians still light up, particularly the poor and those without a high school or college diploma. Now, new maps show where Durham’s nicotine addicts get their fix.
Sizing up Hollywood’s gender gap. Duke Research blog, Aug. 4, 2017. If Hollywood has seen a number of recent hits with strong female leads, from “Wonder Woman” and “Atomic Blonde” to “Hidden Figures,” it doesn’t signal a change in how women are depicted on screen — at least not yet.
Mapping electricity access for a sixth of the world’s people. Duke Research blog, Aug. 1, 2017. To get power to people who lack electricity, first officials need to locate them. But for much of the developing world, reliable, up-to-date data on electricity access is hard to come by. Now, Duke students are applying machine learning to satellite images to make the job easier.
Helping robots learn to see in 3-D. July 14, 2017. While it’s relatively straightforward for robots to “see” objects with cameras and other sensors, interpreting what they see, from a single glimpse, is difficult. New technology enables robots to spot a new object and recognize what it is, whether it is right side up or upside down, without examining it from multiple angles. It can also fill in the blind spots in its field of vision and “imagine” any parts that are hidden from view. Picked up by NPR affiliate WFDD radio.
Live-in grandparents helped human ancestors get a safer night’s sleep. Duke Today, July 12, 2017. A sound night’s sleep grows more elusive as people get older. But what some call insomnia may actually be an age-old survival mechanism, researchers report. A study of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania finds that, for people who live in groups, differences in sleep patterns commonly associated with age help ensure that at least one person is awake at all times. Picked up by The New York Times, CBS News, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, Science, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Cosmos, The Guardian, BBC News, Mental Floss, Popular Science, Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest, USA Today and The Telegraph.
Science on the trail. Duke Research Blog, June 28, 2017. High schoolers head to the backcountry to learn the secret of slug slime and other discoveries of science and self in a new girls camp.
Lemur research gets a gut check. Duke Research blog, June 19, 2017. Researchers have tracked changes in lemur gut microbiomes during and after infection with a widespread intestinal parasite called Cryptosporidium. The diarrheal illness caused by the parasite wipes out much of the animals’ gut flora, the researchers found, but fecal transplants can help them recover. The team says their findings could help develop probiotic treatments for captive primates, as well as humans battling similar diarrheal diseases.
Old love affairs in oaks. 1,100 Words on Duke Research, June 19, 2017. To most people, majestic trees like this white oak are the stuff of wine and whiskey barrels, flooring and furniture, red fall color and shade from the sun. But to biology professor Paul Manos and postdoc John McVay, they’re part of a story.
Microbes give meerkat gangs their signature scents. Duke Today, June 12, 2017. Body odor. To some it’s an embarrassing nuisance. But to meerkats, it’s a calling card. Meerkats produce a pungent “paste” that they use to mark their turf. With one whiff they can tell if a scent belongs to a relative, a rival or a potential mate. But the chemical signals in this stinky graffiti don’t come from the meerkats themselves; they’re made by odor-producing bacteria that thrive in the meerkats’ gooey secretions, researchers find. Picked up by Popular Science, the Daily Mail, Discover Magazine and Science News.