Data geeks go head to head

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Data geeks go head to head. Duke Research Blog, April 6, 2017. For North Carolina college students, “big data” is becoming a big deal. The proof: signups for DataFest, a 48-hour number-crunching competition held at Duke last weekend, set a record for the third time in a row this year.

Mating mix-up with wrong fly lowers libido for Mr. Right

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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.

Jumping genes suspected in Alzheimer’s

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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.

Creative people have better-connected brains

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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.

People far from urban lights, bright screens still skimp on sleep

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People far from urban lights, bright screens still skimp on sleep. Duke Today, Feb. 16, 2017. Screen time before bed can mess with your sleep. But people without TV and laptops skimp on sleep too, researchers say. A Duke University study of people living without electricity or artificial light in a remote farming village in Madagascar finds they get shorter, poorer sleep than people in the U.S. or Europe. But they seem to make up for lost shuteye with a more regular sleep routine, the researchers report. Picked up by Huffington Post.

Model shows female beauty isn’t just sex appeal

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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 MailTime Warner Cable News and North Carolina NPR affiliate SciWorks Radio.

Why baboon males resort to domestic violence

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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.

Seeing nano

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Seeing nano. Duke Research blog, Jan. 9, 2017. Take pictures at more than 300,000 times magnification with electron microscopes at Duke.

Genetic opposites attract when chimpanzees choose a mate

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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

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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

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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 ScientistScience Magazine, Science News, the Daily Mail, New Scientist and The New York Times.

As life expectancy grows, men still lagging

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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

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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

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‘Mean girl’ meerkats can make twice as much testosterone as males. Duke Today, Oct. 20, 2016Testosterone. 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

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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 TimesThe Guardian, Science Magazine, the Los Angeles Times,  the Washington Post, Huffington PostThe Independent, CBCCosmos, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Daily Mail.

Fact-checking Senate campaign ads just got easier

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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

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Analog DNA circuit does math in a test tube. Duke Today, Aug. 23, 2016Duke 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

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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.

Breakneck bite

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Breakneck bite. 1,100 words, Aug. 1, 2016The jaws of trap-jaw ants can generate forces hundreds of times their body weight and snap shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour — over 2,000 times faster than the blink of an eye. Duke biologists are using 3-D X-ray imaging to peer inside the insects’ heads and study the internal structures that power their impressive mandibles.

Of heartbeats, bones and brushstrokes

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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.