Upward mobility boosts immunity in monkeys. Duke Today, Nov. 24, 2016. The richest and poorest Americans differ in life expectancy by more than a decade. Health inequalities across the socioeconomic spectrum are often attributed to medical care and lifestyle habits. But a study of rhesus monkeys shows the stress of life at the bottom can impact immunity even in the absence of other risk factors. Infection sends immune cells of low-ranking monkeys into overdrive, but social mobility can turn things around, researchers report in Science. Picked up by BBC News, Scientific American, The Telegraph, The Scientist, Science Magazine, Science News, the Daily Mail, New Scientist and The New York Times.
As life expectancy grows, men still lagging. Duke Today, Nov. 21, 2016. Babies born in the longest-lived countries today can expect to live, on average, at least to their 80th birthday, and some will even manage to pass 100. But despite big gains in life expectancy males still lag behind females, and not just in humans but across the primate family tree. Picked up by Fox News, Huffington Post, Vocativ, U.S. News & World Report, the Daily Mail and Voice of America.
Underfed worms program their babies to cope with famine. Duke Today, Oct. 27, 2016. Worms whose mothers didn’t get enough to eat during pregnancy cope better with famine, finds a new study of the tiny nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The findings are consistent with a decades-old idea for humans, namely that pregnant women who don’t get enough to eat produce babies with “thrifty” metabolisms that are good at rationing nutrients and storing fat.
‘Mean girl’ meerkats can make twice as much testosterone as males. Duke Today, Oct. 20, 2016. Testosterone. It’s often lauded as the hormone that makes males bigger, bolder, stronger. Now researchers have identified one group of animals, the meerkats of Africa, in which females can produce even more testosterone than males — the only animals known to have such a pattern. Female meerkats with high levels of testosterone-related hormones are more likely to be leaders, but they also pay a price for being macho, according to two new studies. Picked up by the Daily Mail and the daily news feed of the National Science Foundation.
Artificial intelligence meets big data. Duke Today, Oct. 11, 2016. Duke professor Cynthia Rudin is training computers to find patterns in crime, medical and other data that humans miss.
Apes understand that some things are all in your head. Duke Today, Oct. 6, 2016. We all know that the way someone sees the world, and the way it really is, aren’t always the same. This ability to recognize that someone’s beliefs may differ from reality has long been seen as unique to humans. But new research on chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans suggests our primate relatives may also be able to tell when something is just in your head. Picked up by The New York Times, The Guardian, Science Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Independent, CBC, Cosmos, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Daily Mail.
Fact-checking Senate campaign ads just got easier. Duke Today, Sept. 29, 2016. If you live in one of the battleground states in this year’s races for U.S. Senate, you have probably been inundated with political ads, many of which talk about a candidate’s willingness to toe the party line or vote across the aisle. Now, analyzing such claims for accuracy is about to get easier, thanks to a new website that lets visitors fact-check claims about congressional voting records against the data behind them.
Analog DNA circuit does math in a test tube. Duke Today, Aug. 23, 2016. Duke University researchers have created strands of synthetic DNA that, when mixed together in a test tube in the right concentrations, form an analog circuit that can add, subtract and multiply as the molecules form and break bonds. While most DNA circuits are digital, their device performs calculations in an analog fashion by measuring the varying concentrations of specific DNA molecules directly, without requiring special circuitry to convert them to zeroes and ones first. Picked up by NPR affiliate WFDD.
In the ocean, clever camouflage beats super sight. Duke Today, Aug. 23, 2016. Some fish blend seamlessly into their watery surroundings with help from their silvery reflective skin. Researchers have long assumed that squid, shrimp and other ocean animals could see through this disguise, thanks to an ability to detect a property of light — called polarization — that humans can’t see. But a new study finds that not even polarization vision helps animals spot silvery fish from afar. Picked up by Cosmos.
Of butterfly wings and caterpillar brains. Duke Today, August 8, 2016. To most people, the spectacular diversity of butterfly wing patterns is a chaotic riot of color, dots and squiggles. But to biologist Fred Nijhout, they’re variations on the same basic theme
Of heartbeats, bones and brushstrokes. Duke Today, Aug. 1, 2016. It takes a well-trained eye to spot an irregular heartbeat in the peaks and valleys of an electrocardiogram. The same goes for identifying an extinct ape from a single fossilized tooth, or telling an original van Gogh from a fake. But in recent years, applied mathematician Ingrid Daubechies has been training computers to churn through ECG tracings, high-resolution scans of fossils, paintings and other complex digital data and work things out automatically.
Lemur DNA paints a picture of Madagascar’s forested past. Duke Today, July 18, 2016. While there’s no question that human activities such as logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have dramatically altered Madagascar’s forests since the first settlers arrived about 2000 years ago, just how much of the island was forested before people got there remains a matter of debate. Now, a DNA study of tree-dwelling mouse lemurs suggests that humans did not arrive to find the island as blanketed by forests as frequently assumed. Picked up by the Daily Mail, the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post.
Disentangling the plant microbiome. Duke Today, July 12, 2016. With the human population expected to climb from 7.4 billion to more than 11 billion people by 2100, some scientists hope that manipulating the microbial communities in, on and around plants, the plant microbiome, could open up new ways to meet the growing demand for food. But breeding a better microbiome may be easier in some plant tissues and growing conditions than others, finds a study led by researchers at Duke University.
Video privacy software lets you select what others can see. Duke Today, June 28, 2016. Camera-equipped smartphones, laptops and other devices make it possible to share ideas and images with anyone, anywhere, often in real-time. But in our cameras-everywhere culture, the risks of accidentally leaking sensitive information are growing. Computer scientists at Duke University have developed software that helps prevent inadvertent disclosure of trade secrets and other restricted information within a camera’s field of view by letting users specify what others can see. Picked up by the Daily Mail and NPR affiliate WFDD radio.
Moving beyond race-based drugs. Duke Today, May 26, 2016. Prescribing certain medications on the basis of a patient’s race has long come under fire from those uneasy with using race as a surrogate for biology when treating disease. But there are multiple challenges to overcome before we can move beyond race-based treatment decisions, experts say.
Hijacked cell division helped fuel rise of fungi. Duke Today, May 10, 2016. The more than 90,000 known species of fungi may owe their abilities to spread and even cause disease to an ancient virus that hijacked their cell division machinery, researchers report. Over a billion years ago, a viral protein invaded the fungal genome, generating a family of proteins that now play key roles in fungal growth. The research could point to new antifungals that inhibit cell division in fungi but not in their plant or animal hosts.
Lemurs mix smelly secretions to make richer, longer-lasting scents. Duke Today, April 19, 2016. Humans aren’t alone in their ability to mix perfumes and colognes. Lemurs, too, get more out of their smelly secretions by combining fragrances from different scent glands to create richer, longer-lasting scents, finds a study led by Duke University. Picked up by Mental Floss, Scientific American, Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, and the Daily Mail.
Rough childhoods have ripple effects for wild baboons. Duke Today, April 19, 2016. Numerous studies show that childhood trauma can have far-reaching effects on adult health; new research finds the same is true for wild baboons. Baboons that experience multiple misfortunes in early life grow up to live shorter adult lives, researchers report. The results show that early adversity can have long-term negative effects even in the absence of factors commonly evoked to explain similar patterns in humans, such as smoking, drinking or medical care. Picked up by New York Magazine, Pacific Standard, Washington Post, CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, and Smithsonian Magazine.
Why bearcats smell like buttered popcorn. Duke Today, April 13, 2016. The bearcat. The binturong. Whatever you call this shy, shaggy-haired creature from Southeast Asia, many people who have met one notice the same thing: it smells like a movie theater snack bar. Most describe it as hot buttered popcorn. And for good reason — the chemical compound that gives freshly made popcorn its mouthwatering smell is also the major aroma emitted by binturong pee, finds a new study. Picked up by Huffington Post, Scientific American, Discovery News, National Geographic, NPR in Boston, New York Magazine, the Daily Mail, Science News and Popular Science.
Fossil expert and primate conservationist Elwyn Simons dies at 85. Duke Today, March 9, 2016. Duke scientist-explorer Elwyn Simons, who studied living and extinct primates for more than 50 years, died in his sleep on Sunday, March 6, in Peoria, Arizona. He was 85. Widely regarded as the founder of modern primate paleontology, Simons was an expert on the history of primates leading up to humans. Simons’ fossil-hunting expeditions and primate conservation work took him all over the globe, from the badlands of Wyoming to the Egyptian desert and the rainforests of Madagascar. From 1961 to 2012, he led more than 90 field expeditions and wrote or coauthored more than 300 books and research articles. Picked up by The New York Times.
Black widows are color-coded to deter predators without tipping off prey. Duke Today, Feb. 29, 2016. Secret codes and hidden messages aren’t just for computer security experts or kids passing notes in class — animals use them too. The telltale red hourglass of the black widow spider appears brighter and more contrasting to birds than to insects, finds a new study. The red-and-black color combination sends a “beware!” signal to predators without scaring off their prey. Picked up by Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery News and the Daily Mail.
Free site lets you download and 3-D print your own fossils. Duke Today, Feb. 17, 2016. Duke assistant professor Doug Boyer’s office is more than 8,000 miles away from the vault at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the fossil remains of a newly discovered human ancestor, Homo naledi, rest under lock and key. But with a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, he can have models of any one of hundreds of Homo naledi bone fragments delivered to his desk in a matter of minutes, thanks to a free online database of digital fossil scans that anyone can download and print in 3-D. Picked up by Discovery, the Raleigh News & Observer, Science News, CBS news and CBS North Carolina.
Same switches program taste and smell in fruit flies. Duke Today, Feb. 3, 2016. A Duke study helps explain how fruit flies get their keen sense of smell. Researchers have identified a set of genetic control switches that interact early in a fly’s development to generate dozens of types of specialized nerve cells for smell. The findings could reveal how the nervous systems of other animals — including humans, whose brains have billions of neurons — produce a dazzling array of cell types from just a few genes.
New way to detect human-animal diseases tested in lemurs. Duke Today, Jan. 27, 2016. RNA sequencing is uncovering emerging diseases in wildlife that other diagnostic tests cannot detect. Researchers used a technique called transcriptome sequencing to screen for blood-borne diseases in Madagascar’s lemurs, distant primate cousins to humans. The animals were found to be carrying several previously unknown parasites similar to those that cause Lyme disease in humans. The approach could pave the way for earlier, more accurate detection of disease outbreaks that move between animals and people.