News

DURHAM, N.C. -- We know that the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 crisis lived harmlessly in bats and other wildlife before it jumped the species barrier and spilled over to humans. Now, researchers at Duke University have identified a number of “silent” mutations in the roughly 30,000 letters of the virus’s genetic code that helped it thrive once it made the leap -- and possibly helped set the stage for the global pandemic. The subtle changes involved how the virus folded its RNA molecules within human cells. For the … read more about 'Silent' Mutations Gave the Coronavirus an Evolutionary Edge »

DURHAM, N.C. -- Transcription factor proteins are the light switches of the human genome. By binding to DNA, they help turn genes “on” or “off” and start the important process of copying DNA into an RNA template that acts as a blueprint for a new protein. By being choosy about which genes they turn on, transcription factors determine which rooms in the house are lighted and which aren’t, or rather, which components of a person’s genome are activated. A team of Duke researchers has found that transcription factors have a… read more about Transcription Factors May Inadvertently Lock in DNA Mistakes »

Check this out!  The Gibert Lab has contributed video of a protist eating a smaller protist to Duke Today.  Euplotus sp. creates water currents that sweep the smaller protozoan into its mouth.  Down the hatch! Three Biograds have won fellowships as Bass Instructors of Record and will teach special topics seminar courses next spring.  Stepping out will be: Emily Levy (Alberts Lab), Ecology & Evolution of Being Social Emily Ury (Bernhardt Lab), Wetland Ecology in a Changing… read more about News Shorts!  »

“Salicylic acid (SA) is a plant hormone that is critical for resistance to pathogens.”  So begins a pivotal new study by Xinnian Dong’s lab in collaboration with Ning Zheng’s lab at the University of Washington (“Structural basis of salicylic acid perception by Arabidopsis NPR proteins.” Nature 586, 311-316).  Plant pathologists have long known that the NPR proteins are responsible for sensing the presence of SA, but not how they do it.  Now Dong and Zheng et al. have unfolded the crystal structure of two… read more about Dong Lab Collaboration Brings Big Results »

Professor Masayuki Onishi has published “Cleavage-furrow formation without F-actin in Chlamydomonas” (PNAS Aug. 4, 2020. 117 (31): 18511ff.) based on postdoctoral research he did at Stanford. Masa studied how cells without a canonical division machinery, the contractile actomyosin ring, can form a cleavage furrow. Surprisingly, although the myosin-less furrows are still associated with F-actin, complete removal of this structure caused only partial delay rather than complete blockage of cytokinesis. In contrast,… read more about Masa Onishi Finds a Surprise in Cell Division Study »

Congratulations to Professor Gustavo Silva! Gustavo's lab has been awarded a 5-year NIH R35 MIRA grant to study the roles of ubiquitin in translation control under stress. Former Professor Bill Schlesinger and Professor and Chair Emily Bernhardt have published the fourth edition of Biogeochemistry: An Analysis of Global Change. This edition is dedicated to "planet Earth" and takes readers on a journey that extends from the Big Bang and the origins of elements in supernovae all the way to the latest understanding of modern… read more about News Shorts! »

Getting Ideas out of the Lab Duke’s Office of Licensing & Ventures (OLV) oversees the management of innovations resulting from Duke research – from creation, to feasibility and marketing, to protection, and on into licensing to commercial partners, for both startups and existing companies. Our research faculty and staff worked tirelessly in FY20, helping the office break multiple records. OLV received an all-time high of 405 invention disclosures, 26 of them COVID-19 related innovations. Revenue from… read more about OLV Breaks Idea-Generating Records: FY20 »

The Duke University Herbarium houses samples of roughly half of the known mosses in North America. It total, it holds 800,000 specimens. Soon, they will all be available to explore online. A collaboration between Duke and 24 other universities across the country has received a $3.6 million National Science Foundation grant to digitize and study nearly 1.2 million specimens of lichens and mosses housed in their collections. The project will allow for deeper investigation of species that “have global relevance and perform… read more about Duke Herbarium Part of $3.6 Million Grant »

The Biology Department faculty voted to certify completion of the major for seniors graduating in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 if they have a completed at least one upper-level lab course (beyond Bio 203L) or approved Research Independent Study, rather than a minimum of two as specified in the Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction. Please note that this revision is only for the lab requirement - all other requirements for the major are still in force. Note also that it applies only to this year’s seniors, as an accommodation… read more about Announcement: Requirement Update for Fall 2020 & Spring 2021 Majors »

The journal Cell has published a new study by Dr. Raul Zavaliev and colleagues in Xinnian Dong’s group. Formation of NPR1 Condensates Promotes Cell Survival during the Plant Immune Response sheds light on the biochemical function of the plant immune regulator NPR1. Activated by salicylic acid, it promotes cell survival against a broad spectrum of pathogens and environmental stresses by forming protein condensates. These condensates are enriched with protein-degrading enzymes as well as stress-responsive proteins,… read more about Raul Zavaliev leads team to reveal enzymatic function of NPR1 »

DURHAM, N.C. -- You know the type: Loud. Swaggering. Pushy. The alpha male clearly runs the show. Female alphas are often less conspicuous than their puffed up male counterparts, but holding the top spot still has its perks. Wearing the crown means privileged access, like never having to wait your turn. And now, a study of female baboons points to another upside to being No. 1: less stress. In a Duke University-led study, researchers describe how, after 18 years of collecting fecal samples from 237 female baboons in… read more about Baboon Matriarchs Enjoy Less Stress  »

Take it from Carlos Taboada, postdoc in the Johnson Lab.  He and his collaborators have published a deep dive into frogs’ green coloration in PNAS, “Multiple Origins of Green Coloration in Frogs Mediated by a Novel Biliverdin-Binding Serpin.”  While most species of frogs produce their color in the usual way, by chromatophores or pigment-carrying cells in the skin, a subset has very few chromatophores.  These species, which are mostly treefrogs, have transparent skin as well as a phenomenal excess of bilirubin, a normally… read more about It’s Not Easy Being Green »

Davis, with colleagues in the Johnsen Lab and the Smithsonian, trawled Monterey Bay and the Gulf of Mexico for fish living a mile deep, where almost no light penetrates.  The results of their quest have been published in “Ultra-black Camouflage in Deep-Sea Fishes."  Predators at that depth use bioluminescence to locate prey.  After finding 18 different species, Davis et al. used the wavelength of available light in the “Midnight Zone” (480 nanometers) to measure how much light each fish reflected back.  Sixteen qualified as… read more about BioGrad Alex Davis Illuminates the Midnight Zone »

For some of The Graduate School’s current and former students, adding the title of podcaster to their already impressive credentials has been a way to dive deeper into their respective fields of study, connect with professionals, or learn a new skill. We take a look at four podcasts that several members of The Graduate School community have helped to create, produce, and host.  The Gastronauts Podcast After being challenged by his Ph.D. mentor to expand the Gastronauts Network, an organization committed to exploring topics… read more about From Science to Basketball, Grad Students and Alumni Find Their Voice in Podcasting »

The signs of change were all around: Students walking around campus wearing face masks, talking to new friends in distanced circles.  Socializing tents scattered around campus. Seminars in large rooms with seats spaced out. But the first day of classes also had much that was familiar. Students strolled along pathways with coffee and food-for-later in hand. Groundskeepers zipped past on riding mowers while joggers circled the East Campus loop, albeit giving each other plenty of room. Most importantly, there was excitement… read more about The First Day of Classes Start With Masks, Distancing and Vigorous Classrooms »

If you’ve ever been woken up before sunrise by the trilling and chirping of birds outside your window, you may have wondered: why do birds sing so loud, so early in the morning? Researchers at Duke University say there may be a good reason why birds are most vocal at first light. By singing early and often, a new study suggests, birds perform better during the day. The morning cacophony is mostly males, whose songs are meant to impress potential mates and rivals. “It’s like they’re warming up backstage, before the sun comes… read more about Songbirds, Like People, Sing Better After Warming Up »

How did the oaks come to rule North American forests?  As champions of diversification and hybridization the oaks both became essential species in forest ecology and created a baffling evolutionary history.  Professor Paul Manos, together with two colleagues, has published an article in the August issue of Scientific American broadly describing the evolution and diversification of oaks since the start of the Eocene.  Starting as a single population in the Canadian Arctic, the oaks spread south as the climate cooled… read more about The Oaks Rule, says Paul Manos »

With such a prosaic name, you’d think basement membranes were no big deal-a stable substrate for cellular activity.  But the Sherwood lab has come out with an important paper demonstrating their significance as active players in the dance of life (“Comprehensive Endogenous Tagging of Basement Membrane Components Reveals Dynamic Movement within the Matrix Scaffolding.” Dev Cell. 2020; 54(1):60-74).  Basement membranes are common to many forms of life, from the most primitive to our human selves.  They line many… read more about Sherwood Lab Publishes on Basement Membranes »

Paul Manos, a professor in the Department of Biology, details the fascinating evolutionary history of oak trees, as revealed by genomes and fossils. Read the article at Scientific American. read more about How Oak Trees Evolved to Rule the Forests of the Northern Hemisphere »

Strategic networking is key to career success, and not just for humans. A new study of wild bottlenose dolphins reveals that in early life, dolphins devote more time to building connections that could give them an edge later on. Researchers at Georgetown University and Duke University report that dolphins under age 10 seek out peers and activities that could help them forge bonds and build skills they’ll need in adulthood. The results were published July 14 in the journal Behavioral Ecology. The team analyzed nearly 30… read more about Young Dolphins Pick Their Friends Wisely »

Biograd Alex Davis and Sonke Johnson et al. have published “Evidence That Eye-Facing Photophores Serve as a Reference for Counterillumination in an Order of Deep-Sea Fishes” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, June 2, 2020.  The paper examines three families of fish who live at intermediate depths with some light from the surface, and whose bodies therefore cast a shadow downward.  In order to make the shadow disappear, they must match the light output from photophores on their bellies to the… read more about Alex Davis and Sonke Johnson on the Hatchetfish »

If there were a stagehand of the sea, wearing black to disappear into the darkness backstage, it might be the dragonfish. Or the common fangtooth. These fish live in the ocean’s inky depths where there is nowhere to take cover. Even beyond the reach of sunlight, they can still be caught in the glow of bioluminescent organisms that illuminate the water to hunt. So they evade detection with a trick of their own: stealth wear. Scientists report that at least 16 species of deep-sea fish have evolved ultra-black skin that… read more about Ultra-Black Skin Allows Some Fish to Lurk Unseen »

DURHAM, N.C. -- Frogs and toads are green for a very good reason – it makes them harder to  see  in their leafy environments. Good camouflage allows them to eat and not be eaten. But not all frogs have arrived at this life-saving greenness in the same way. Most of these animals rely on color-controlling structures in their skin called chromatophores that use crystals to bend light to specific colors and make them appear green. But there are hundreds of species of frogs and toads that have nearly translucent skin and very… read more about Green is More Than Skin-Deep for Hundreds of Frog Species »

Duke University researchers have made the first time-lapse movies of the sheet-like latticework that surrounds and supports most animal tissues. A thin layer of extracellular matrix known as the basement membrane lines many surfaces of the body such as the skin, blood vessels and urinary tract; and it surrounds muscles, fat, and peripheral nerves. While basement membranes play key roles in development, tissue function, and human disease, visualizing them in living organisms has been difficult to do, until now. By… read more about Green Glowing Worms Provide Live-Action Movies of the Body’s Internal Scaffolding »

Bio Grad Songhui Zhao, Neurobiology grad Bryson Deanhardt (co-first authors), and Professor Pelin Volkan have published significant findings in Science Advances: “Chromatin-based reprogramming of a courtship regulator by concurrent pheromone perception and hormone signaling.”  It has been understood that mature male flies use their sense of smell to determine when and with whom to mate, and further that male flies raised in isolation are less able to detect female pheromones.  This paper describes for the first time the… read more about Volkan Lab Publishes in Science Advances »

Coronavirus may have shut down campuses and closed labs, but that hasn’t stopped some Duke students from brainstorming ways to improve COVID-19 testing while working from home -- with help from artificial intelligence. A student-led team is building a machine learning system that could help doctors analyze CT scans of people’s lungs and diagnose COVID-19 more quickly and accurately than nasal swab tests. Their system is able to distinguish COVID-19 from other common infections, such as pneumonia. And unlike many AI tools… read more about Duke Students Taught a Computer to Detect COVID-19 in Lung Scans »

Every morning, Duke Biology staff, faculty and students receive a pick-me-up from Randy Smith.  Smith, departmental manager for Biology, has been sending a daily email to everyone in the department that includes updates on labs and on mask and glove donations and tips for working from home. “My role has become a cross between a cheerleader and an air traffic controller,” Smith said. “Biology is pretty tight community. It’s important to me that we maintain that while we're all separated." Smith began preparing the department… read more about Dedicated Devils: Randy Smith »

Much like people, fruit flies must decide when the time and place are right to make a move on a mate. Male fruit flies use cues such as age and pheromones to gauge their chances of success, but just how they do that on a molecular level was a mystery. New research suggests that the answer lies, in part, in their DNA. A new study finds that the scent of other flies, coupled with signals from a male’s internal hormones, alter the activity of a gene that controls how turned on he is by pheromones when he reaches maturity. A… read more about How a Male Fly Knows When to Make a Move on a Mate »

Like many Duke faculty Sherryl Broverman was forced to convert her class “AIDS and Other Emerging Diseases” from a large lecture addressing 200 or more students to an online conversation.  Even she was surprised, though, by how quickly the medium influenced the message.  “For my first Zoom class, on a Tuesday, I sat at my desk and wore a blazer.  By Thursday, I was on my couch and it was just more like having a conversation.  My cat even visited.” The unexpected intimacy of Zoom changed the quality and content of… read more about How a Master Teacher Transitions to Teaching Online »