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.
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.
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.
Togetherness relieves stress in prairie voles. Duke Today, Jan. 19, 2016. Many people feel anxious in crowds. But not so for prairie voles. When these mouse-like creatures live in close quarters, they are less stressed out, researchers report. The study is part of a larger field of research on how social stresses such as crowding and isolation affect brain chemistry and behavior.
Gregarious chimps harbor richer gut microbiomes. Duke Today, Jan. 15, 2016. Spending time in close contact with others means risking catching germs and getting sick. But being sociable may also help transmit “good” microbes, finds a new study. Researchers monitored changes in the gut microbiomes and social behavior of chimpanzees over eight years in Tanzania. The number of bacterial species in a chimp’s GI tract increased when the chimps were more gregarious. The results help scientists understand the factors that maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Picked up by Quartz, Pacific Standard, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, Scientific American, Futurity, The Scientist, Daily Mail, PBS News Hour and Popular Science.
Humans evolved to get better sleep in less time. Duke Today, Dec. 14, 2015. Insomniacs take heart: Humans get by on significantly less sleep than our closest animal relatives. The secret, according to a new study of slumber patterns across 21 species of primates, is that our sleep is more efficient. Picked up by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, the Daily Mail, BBC, Huffington Post, WPTV, News & Observer, Futurity, U.S. News & World Report and Voice of America.
Predicting cancer’s growth when clues are hard to come by. Duke Today, Nov. 2, 2015. Duke mathematicians are developing ways to help doctors predict how different cancers are likely to progress when measurements of tumor growth are hard to come by. In a new study, they describe a way to compare common models of tumor growth, using only two time-point measurements of tumor size — often the maximum available before patients begin treatment. Determining which models work best for different cancers is key to designing optimum treatment strategies.
‘Tree of life’ for 2.3 million species released. Duke Today, September 18, 2015. A first draft of the tree of life for all 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes has been released. Thousands of smaller trees have been published over the years for select branches, but this is the first time those results have been combined into a single tree. The end result is a digital resource that is available online for anyone to use or edit, much like a “Wikipedia” for evolutionary relationships. Picked up by the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, CBS, NBC, Huffington Post, Scientific American, The Scientist, BBC World Service, EarthSky, Discovery News, SciWorks Radio and Science.
Cell phones help track flu on campus. Duke Today, August 18, 2015. New methods for analyzing personal health and lifestyle data captured through smartphone apps can help identify college students at risk of catching the flu. With help from a mobile app that monitors who students interact with and when, researchers have developed a model that enables them to predict the spread of influenza from one person to the next over time. Unlike most infection models, their approach gives a personalized daily forecast for each patient. Picked up by Time Warner Cable News, WRAL, Futurity and the Huffington Post.
‘Caveman instincts’ may favor deep-voiced politicians. Duke Today, August 7, 2015. When politicians debate an opponent, it’s not just what they say that matters — it’s also how they say it. A new study by researchers at the University of Miami and Duke shows that voters naturally prefer candidates with deeper voices, which they associate with strength and competence more than age. The researchers say our love lower-pitched voices may harken back to “caveman instincts” associating leadership with physical prowess more than wisdom and experience. Picked up by Newsweek, Popular Science, Science Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Scientific American, the Herald-Sun, Discovery News, CBS and The Independent.
Plant light sensors came from ancient algae. Duke Today, July 28, 2015. The light-sensing molecules that tell plants whether to germinate, when to flower and which direction to grow were inherited millions of years ago from ancient algae, finds a new study. The findings are some of the strongest evidence yet against the prevailing idea that the ancestors of early plants got the red light sensors that helped them move from water to land by engulfing bacteria, the researchers say.
Stress ‘sweet spot’ differs for mellow vs. hyper dogs. Duke Today, July 21, 2015. People aren’t the only ones who perform better on tests or athletic events when they are just a little bit nervous — dogs do too. But in dogs as in people, the right amount of stress depends on disposition. A new study by researchers at Duke University finds that a little extra stress and stimulation makes hyper dogs crack under pressure but gives mellow dogs an edge. Picked up by the Daily Mail, the News & Observer and CBS News.
Gut worms protect babies’ brains from inflammation. Duke Today, July 20, 2015. A study in rats finds that gut worms can protect babies’ brains from inflammation and long-term learning and memory problems caused by bacterial infections in newborns. Expectant mother rats with tapeworms even passed the protective benefits on to their worm-free pups, the researchers found. The findings could point to new ways to prevent or treat the chronic brain inflammation linked to cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, autism and depression. Picked up by Science Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Old World monkey had tiny, complex brain. Duke Today, July 3, 2015. The brain hidden inside the oldest known Old World monkey skull has been visualized for the first time. The ancient monkey, known as Victoriapithecus, first made headlines in 1997 when its 15 million-year-old skull was discovered on an island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria. Now, X-ray imaging reveals that the creature’s brain was tiny but surprisingly wrinkled and complex. The findings suggest that brain complexity can evolve before brain size in the primate family tree. Picked up by NBC, Science News, the History Channel and the Huffington Post.
Model could help counteract poisoning from popular painkiller. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. New research could help reverse deadly side effects caused by excessive doses of the drug acetaminophen, the major ingredient in Tylenol and many other medicines. Duke University researchers have developed a mathematical model of acetaminophen metabolism based on data from rats. The findings suggest that giving patients glutamine — a common amino acid in the body — alongside the standard antidote for acetaminophen overdose could prevent liver damage and boost the body’s ability to recover. Picked up by the Durham Herald-Sun.
Dual internal clocks keep plant defenses on schedule. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. Time management isn’t just important for busy people — it’s critical for plants, too. A new study in the journal Nature shows how two biological clocks work together to help plants deal with intermittent demands such as fungal infections, while maintaining an already-packed daily schedule of activities like growth. The researchers also identified a gene that senses disturbances in the “tick-tock” of one clock, and causes the other clock to tighten its timetable.
Island rodents take on nightmarish proportions. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. Duke University researchers have analyzed size data for rodents worldwide to distinguish the truly massive mice and giant gerbils from the regular-sized rodents. They found that the furry animals with chisel-like teeth are 17 times more likely to evolve to nightmarish proportions on islands than elsewhere. The results are in keeping with an idea called the “island rule,” which previous studies claimed didn’t apply to rodents. Picked up by the Daily Mail, the Charlotte Observer, BBC, and National Public Radio’s WUNC.
Lowly ‘new girl’ chimps form stronger female bonds. Duke Today, May 21, 2015. Low-ranking “new girl” chimpanzees seek out other gal pals with similar status, finds a new study. The results are based on 38 years’ worth of daily records for 53 adult females in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, where Jane Goodall first started studying chimpanzees in the 1960s.