Opening the lid on criminal sentencing software. July 19, 2017. Many states make decisions about sentencing, bail, probation and parole based on secret computer algorithms, but how they work is a mystery. Duke’s Cynthia Rudin says it doesn’t have to be that way. Picked up by Boing Boing.
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.
Live-in grandparents helped human ancestors get a safer night’s sleep. Duke Today, July 12, 2017. A sound night’s sleep grows more elusive as people get older. But what some call insomnia may actually be an age-old survival mechanism, researchers report. A study of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania finds that, for people who live in groups, differences in sleep patterns commonly associated with age help ensure that at least one person is awake at all times. Picked up by The New York Times, CBS News, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, Science, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Cosmos, The Guardian, BBC News, Mental Floss, Popular Science, Reader’s Digest, USA Today and The Telegraph.
Science on the trail. Duke Research Blog, June 28, 2017. High schoolers head to the backcountry to learn the secret of slug slime and other discoveries of science and self in a new girls camp.
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.
Old love affairs in oaks. 1,100 Words on Duke Research, June 19, 2017. To most people, majestic trees like this white oak are the stuff of wine and whiskey barrels, flooring and furniture, red fall color and shade from the sun. But to biology professor Paul Manos and postdoc John McVay, they’re part of a story.
Microbes give meerkat gangs their signature scents. Duke Today, June 12, 2017. Body odor. To some it’s an embarrassing nuisance. But to meerkats, it’s a calling card. Meerkats produce a pungent “paste” that they use to mark their turf. With one whiff they can tell if a scent belongs to a relative, a rival or a potential mate. But the chemical signals in this stinky graffiti don’t come from the meerkats themselves; they’re made by odor-producing bacteria that thrive in the meerkats’ gooey secretions, researchers find. Picked up by Popular Science, the Daily Mail, Discover Magazine and Science News.
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.
Combating counterfeiters. 1,100 words on Duke Research, May 17, 2017. These bird egg varieties are no accident — they’re an anti-counterfeit strategy.
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.
Building a virtual ark for lemurs. Duke Today, April 11, 2017. X-ray scanning immortalizes endangered primates in the digital afterlife, in 3-D.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.