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.
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.
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.
Building a virtual ark for lemurs. Duke Today, April 11, 2017. X-ray scanning immortalizes endangered primates in the digital afterlife, in 3-D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lemur poop could pinpoint poaching hotspots. Duke Research Blog, Sept. 22, 2016. DNA detective works aims to map the illegal pet lemur trade in Madagascar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Big butts aren’t everything to male baboons. Duke Today, April 20, 2015. While the female baboon’s big red bottom may be an eyesore to some, it has an aphrodisiac effect on her mates. Biologists have long thought that baboon males prefer females with bigger backsides as the mark of a good mother, but a Duke study reveals that the size of a female’s swollen rump doesn’t matter as much as previously thought. Picked up by the Washington Post and Fox News.
Being born in lean times is bad news for baboons. Duke Today, April 2, 2015. The saying ”what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Baboons born in times of famine are more vulnerable to food shortages later in life, finds a new study. The findings are important because they help explain why people who are malnourished in early childhood often experience poor health as adults.
Baboon friends swap gut germs. Duke Today, March 16, 2015. The warm soft folds of the intestines are teeming with thousands of species of bacteria that help break down food, synthesize vitamins, regulate weight and resist infection. If they’re so key to health, what factors shape an individual’s gut microbial makeup? Previous studies have pointed to the food we eat, the drugs we take, genetics, even house dust. Now, a new study in baboons suggests that relationships may play a role, too. Picked up by The Scientist.