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.
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, Futurity and United Press International.
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.
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.
New tools safeguard Census data about where you live and work. Duke Today, May 18, 2017. New methods enable people to learn as much as possible from Census data for policy-making and funding decisions, while guaranteeing that no one can trace the data back to your household or business. Census-related statistics are used to allocate billions of dollars annually for things like disaster relief, roads and schools. Researchers have developed algorithms that guarantee your information stays private without compromising research about your community.
Researchers identify genes that help trout find their way home. Duke Today, April 26, 2017. In the spring when water temperatures start to rise, rainbow trout that have spent several years at sea traveling hundreds of miles from home manage, without maps or GPS, to find their way back to the rivers and streams where they were born for spawning. Researchers have identified genes that enable the fish to perform this extraordinary homing feat with help from Earth’s magnetic field. Picked up by the Daily Mail, Nature, The Herald-Sun, IFLScience and the News & Observer.
Mating mix-up with wrong fly lowers libido for Mr. Right. Duke Today, March 16, 2017. If you’ve ever suffered a nightmare date and were hesitant to try again, fruit flies can relate. Female flies that have been coerced into sex by invasive males of the wrong species are less likely to reproduce with their own kind later. Invasive species are known to threaten native biodiversity by bringing in diseases, preying on resident species or outcompeting them for food. But these results show invasives pose a risk through unwelcome advances, too. Picked up by The Discovery Files, a podcast from the National Science Foundation.
Jumping genes suspected in Alzheimer’s. Duke Today, Mar. 8, 2017. A string of failed drug trials for Alzheimer’s has researchers questioning the reigning approach to battling the disease, which focuses on preventing amyloid buildup in the brain. Duke scientists have identified a molecular mechanism that could help explain how neurons begin to falter even before amyloid clumps appear. The culprit, they say, may be “jumping genes” that lose their normal controls with age and start to disrupt the machinery that fuels brain cells. Picked up by STAT and Science News.
Creative people have better-connected brains. Duke Today, Feb. 20, 2017. Seemingly countless self-help books and seminars tell you to tap into the right side of your brain to stimulate creativity. But forget the “right-brain” myth — a new study suggests it’s how well the two brain hemispheres communicate that sets highly creative people apart. People who score high on common tests of creativity have significantly more white matter connections between their right and left hemispheres, finds a new analysis. Picked up by the Daily Mail and Psychology Today.
Model shows female beauty isn’t just sex appeal. Duke Today, Jan. 30, 2017. Female beauty may have less to do with attracting the opposite sex than previously thought, at least in animals. Results of a mathematical modeling study suggest that romantic attention, by itself, is not enough to give attractive females an evolutionary edge over their plainer counterparts — even when their good looks help them snag superior mates. For females, the benefits of beauty likely go beyond their success in the mating market, the model shows. Picked up by the Daily Mail, Time Warner Cable News and North Carolina NPR affiliate SciWorks Radio.
Why baboon males resort to domestic violence. Duke Today, Jan. 18, 2017. Some baboon males vying for a chance to father their own offspring expedite matters in a gruesome way — they kill infants sired by other males and attack pregnant females, causing them to miscarry, researchers report. Infanticide has been documented in other animals including baboons, lions and dolphins, but rarely feticide. The perpetrators are more prone to commit domestic violence when forced to move into a group with few fertile females, the study finds. Picked up by The Times (South Africa), Cosmos Magazine, Smithsonian and Seeker of the Discovery Channel.
Genetic opposites attract when chimpanzees choose a mate. Duke Today, Jan. 11, 2017. Duke University researchers find that chimpanzees are more likely to reproduce with mates whose genetic makeup most differs from their own. Many animals avoid breeding with parents, siblings and other close relatives, researchers say. But chimps are unusual in that even among virtual strangers they can tell genetically similar mates from more distant ones. Chimps are able to distinguish degrees of genetic similarity among unfamiliar mates many steps removed from them in their family tree. Picked up by UPI.com and the Daily Mail.
Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists. Duke Today, Dec. 6, 2016. As a plant extends its roots into the soil, the cells that form at their tips assume different roles, from transporting water to sensing gravity. A study points to one way by which these newly-formed cells take on their special identities, despite containing the same DNA. Researchers have identified a set of DNA-binding proteins in Arabidopsis roots that help precursor cells selectively read different parts of the same genetic script.
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.
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.
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.
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.