News

DURHAM, N.C. -- When most people think of a plant, they picture stems, leaves, flowers, and all the parts that are visible above ground. But Duke biologist Philip Benfey is more interested in the hidden half of the plant that is buried beneath the soil. Roots: they may be out of sight, Benfey says, but they play critical roles, anchoring the plant and taking up water and nutrients. Now, Benfey and colleagues Masashi Yamada and Xinwei Han have pieced together new details in the cascade of events that guide root growth --… read more about The Making of a Root »

DURHAM, N.C. -- Five Duke University students and alumni have been named Schwarzman Scholars, a program that funds one year of study in Beijing, China. Seniors Charles Berman of Durham, North Carolina, and Max Labaton of Washington, D.C., were named Schwarzman Scholars. They join 2019 Duke graduates Yunjie Lai of Chongquing, China, and Kevin Zheng of Glenelg, Maryland, and 2017 graduate Steven Soto of Phoenix, Arizona, as members of the Schwarzman Class of 2021. They are among 145 scholars chosen from more than 4,700… read more about Five From Duke Named Schwarzman Scholars »

Biology major Joy Duer was definitely intrigued when she heard that she could win a ride in an F-15 fighter if she helped personnel ant Seymour Johnson Air Force Base solve a communication problem.  The task was part of the Hacking 4 Defense class and required Duer and her teammates, Mary Gooneratne and Linda Zhang, to invent a fallback system if normal communication networks were knocked out in battle.  The team's idea, employing lasers and drones, emerged only after multiple interviews with Air Force personnel and lots of… read more about Biomajor Scores Trip Through the Clouds »

Insights from the recent Innovative Careers for Ph.D.s workshop There is no doubt in Jacqueline Olich’s mind that her Ph.D. was crucial to landing a job at RTI International, which has about 900 Ph.D.s in its 5,000-strong workforce. But just as important, she said, was a financial accounting course she squeezed into her schedule while working in administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jacqueline Olich (left) and Sharlini Sankaran discuss Olich's professional journey during the first session of the… read more about Your Ph.D. Is A Passport, Not a Roadmap »

We join the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology in congratulating Associate Professor Jenny Tung on winning a MacArthur Fellowship.  According to the MacArthur Foundation, fellowships are awarded based on three criteria:  exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments, and potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.  "The fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person's originality,… read more about Congratulations to Professor Jenny Tung »

BioMajor Thomas Barlow is making a name for himself as a nature photographer; the Duke Research Blog recently featured some of his work.  His ingenious images combine biological specimens with items of lab equipment, shiny objects, and extreme closeups.  His technique is exacting, but it produces images of amazing clarity and depth.  Thomas has recently begun photographing lichens for Daniele Armaleo and Jolanta Miadlikowska.  The sculptural shapes and unusual colors of lichens suit his eye perfectly.  Thomas finds the… read more about Duke Research Blog Features BioMajor's Photography »

The American Society of Primatologists has given its 2019 Distinguished Primatologist Award to Prof. Susan Alberts in recognition of her long-term research on the relationship between behavior, development, and the environment in wild baboons.  This award recognizes a primatologist who has had “an outstanding career and made significant contributions to the field.”  Susan will deliver the Distinguished Primatologist Address next year in Denver, at the ASP’s annual meeting.  She joins a set of true pioneers in the field (… read more about Susan Alberts Receives 2019 Distinguished Primatologist Award »

Daniele Armaleo and collaborators from nine countries have published the first parallel genomic analysis of the two main symbiotic partners in a lichen, the fungus and alga comprising Cladonia grayi. The article appears in BMC Genomics, Vol. 20 (see link). Their search for symbiosis-related genes opens to molecular analysis targets whose potential significance was previously unsuspected. To name a few: ribosomal DNA introns with likely roles in the lichen’s slow growth and stress resistance; a fungal sugar… read more about Armaleo et al. Publish on Lichen Symbiosis »

Nature has published a ground-breaking paper by the Pei Lab on how plants perceive salt in the August 13 issue, “Plant cell-surface GIPC sphingolipids sense salt to trigger Ca2+ influx.”  A News and Views article highlights the importance of this research: Excess salinity affects about 7% of all land, and 30% of irrigated crops.  First author Zhonghao Jiang and the Pei team have demonstrated the mechanism whereby a plant recognizes and adapts to increased environmental sodium chloride.  This knowledge should… read more about Pei Lab Publishes in Nature Magazine »

An August 8 article in the New York Times cast a spotlight on Sheila Patek’s research.  At center stage was the larva of the gall midge, a tiny maggot about the size of a grain of rice.  While perhaps not as accomplished as Simone Biles, the larvae are able to jump more than 30 times their own body length.  Curling into a circle, they use special fibers on head and tail to create a latch against which they build up force.  When the latch lets go, off they fly.   Mike Wise of Roanoke College first noticed the larva… read more about NY Times Singles out Patek Research »

Professor Sönke Johnsen joined a team of researchers on the NOAA Research Vessel Point Sur to explore animal life in the midnight zone of the Gulf of Mexico.  The group included Sönke's former student and Duke graduate Dr. Lorian Schweikert, now a postdoc at Florida International University.  The "Journey into Midnight" expedition used a Tucker Trawl to retrieve animals for lab study and the Medusa stealth camera system to take video footage at 1400+ to 1800+ meters.  On one memorable day the team experienced a lightning… read more about Giant Squid Filmed by NOAA Research Team »

Duke and the Biology Department have recognized a number of Biology students for their accomplishments during their student career: Ariana Eily was one of eight graduate students given the Forever Duke Student Leadership Award from the Duke Alumni Association, recognizing service "going above and beyond to give back to the Duke community during their time on campus." BioMajor Sydney Grob published an article in Duke Today about her experience as a team member on the Bass Connections project "Expressive Writing for… read more about Biology Student Accomplishments »

The Biology Department is pleased to announce that Pelin Volkan has been promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure, and Sheila Patek to the rank of full Professor. Both these appointments will take effect on July 1.  In addition, Professor Emily Bernhardt has been named James B. Duke Professor of Biology.  Congratulations to all! read more about Faculty Accomplishments »

Assistant Professor Gustavo Silva has joined with other junior faculty to establish the Duke Black Think Tank (BTT), with a view to supporting Black faculty, reaching out to Black students and staff, and fostering a more inclusive environment at Duke.  Gustavo and his colleagues hope to encourage multidisciplinary collaborations uniting BTT faculty.  The first project is "Bahia, Brazil and the US South: Race, Genetics, and Culture in the African Diaspora," whose goal is "to illuminate how two racially and culturally… read more about Gustavo Silva Co-founds Duke Black Think Tank »

Duke professors Susan Alberts and Sue Jinks-Robertson have been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which is widely considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. They are among 100 newly elected members and 25 foreign associates who are recognized for their achievements in original research -- 40 percent of whom are women, the most ever elected in any one year to date. Alberts studies how animal behavior evolved in mammals, with a focus on the social behavior, demography and genetics of the… read more about Two Duke Faculty Elected to National Academy of Sciences »

At its 2019 Annual Meeting, held April 27 - 30, the National Academy of Sciences elected Professor Susan Alberts to membership. Well done, Susan!  The Biology Department offers its heartiest congratulations. Susan is one of 100 new members and 25 foreign associates. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars, established by an Act of Congress in 1863. The NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.… read more about Susan Alberts Elected to National Academy of Sciences »

Congratulations to Professor Mark Rausher, who has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The Academy was founded in 1780 with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington among its charter members.  The many purposes defined by its Charter include promoting knowledge of the natural history of the country and the use of its natural resources, medical discoveries, philosophical enquiries and experiments, improvements in agriculture; "and, in fine to cultivate every art and science which may tend to… read more about Mark Rausher Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences »

Several current and incoming Biology graduate students have competed for Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation.  Five students won Fellowships and three received Honorable Mentions.  Our winners were continuing student Hannah Devens (Wray Lab) and Jason Dinh (Patek Lab), and incoming students Blake Fauskee (Pryer Lab), Jake Nash (Vilgalys Lab), and Anita Simha (Wright Lab).  We congratulate them and wish them continued success in their graduate studies.  Honorable Mentions went to current… read more about BioGrads Compete for Fellowships »

Our heartiest congratulations go to Mohamed Noor for winning the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded annually by the Society for the Study of Evolution "to recognize individuals whose sustained and exemplary efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science and its importance …."  The award recognizes Mohamed's work in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), "An Introduction to Genetics and Evolution," and his recent book, Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics, and… read more about Mohamed Noor Wins Stephen J. Gould Prize »

Grad Student Rachel Roston is featured in Duke Today for her work on whale skulls.  Cetacean skulls are remarkably different from those of other mammals, which have the same bones in the same relative position.  “We’re weirded out by these skulls,” said one of her undergraduate students.  You can read all about it at the link. read more about Rachel Roston's Work Featured in Duke Today »

Assistant Professor Jean Philippe Gibert has been awarded a Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award by the American Society of Naturalists.  The award was established in 1984 to recognize outstanding and promising work by investigators who received their doctorates in the three years preceding the application deadline or who are in their final year of graduate school.  According to the notice, "The committee was tremendously impressed both with your integrative research accomplishments to date, and with your… read more about JP Gibert Wins Jasper Loftus-Hills Award »

Nina Sherwood will join faculty from other departments, as well as staff, administrators, and students, in a working group to explore ways that science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, and humanities (broadly referred to as STEAM) interface with one another.  The "Exploring STEAM (Science, Arts, and Humanities) at Duke" group hopes to catalogue current interdisciplinary work and stimulate future research, coursework, and public engagement.  The project will be funded by seed money from the Provost's Office. … read more about Nina Sherwood Participates in Intellectual Community Grant »

Laura Kelley and colleagues from the Sherwood Lab show that invasive cells adapt their invasion program in the absence of matrix metalloproteinase enzymes, explaining the failure of cancer clinical trials targeting these enzymes.  Described by Prof. Sherwood as "very cool," the reults "could lead to better ways to prevent metastasis, the spread of the disease responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths" (Science Daily, 24 January 2019).  Congrats, Sherwood Lab for showing how basic science goes to work!  And kudos… read more about New Paper from Sherwood Lab On Effects of MMP Enzymes on Cell Invasion »

The Ph.D. Program in Biology has been selected to receive the 2019 Dean’s Award for Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education. The Program was selected from a highly competitive pool of nominees for its "consistent and intentional creation of an environment that demonstrates and is dedicated to exemplary inclusiveness and diversity in graduate education." BioGrad Lauren Carley, a member of the Biology Graduate Student Diversity Committee, prepared and submitted the application. The Award brings with it $5,000 for… read more about Doctoral Program Wins the 2019 Dean’s Award for Inclusive Excellence! »

Francois Lutzoni, together with Jolanta Miadlikowska, David Swofford, and colleagues at other institutions, has published an important paper on the interconnections of fungi and plants in evolutionary history.  (Lutzoni et al. 2018. Contemporaneous radiations of fungi and plants linked to symbiosis. Nature Communications 9:5451.)  Lutzoni's study brought together 14 researchers with varying expertise to infer the global phylogenies and dates of major evolutionary events for the two kingdoms – plants and fungi.  Analysis of… read more about Lutzoni et al. Publish on Evolution of Plants and Fungi »

UPGG student Niba Nirmal has recently received two honors: she was named a 2020 Yale Ciencia Scholar, and she was featured in the Volunteer Spotlight of the Hub Farm Annual Report. The Yale Ciencia Academy for Career Development is a one-year program helping graduate students connect with mentors, network, develop career skills, and contribute through science outreach.  It includes video chats with role models, peer discussions, workshops and attendance at the AAAS meeting.  Only 40 students are selected nationally, so big… read more about Niba Nirmal Appointed Yale Ciencia Scholar »

Prof. Greg Wray is one of six Duke faculty to be named a lifetime Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The Association recognizes Fellows "for their extraordinary achievements across disciplines."  Wray was honored by the Division of Biological Sciences for contributing to the understanding of evolution and mechanisms of development, using sea urchins and primates as model systems.  Congratulations Greg! read more about AAAS Names Greg Wray a Fellow »

The Department of Biology proudly congratulates Kushal Kadakia on the receipt of a Rhodes Scholarship, which fully funds a degree at Oxford University.  Kadakia is a double major in Biology and Public Policy, and led the successful campaign to make Duke Campus smoke-free.  He has done research in health and innovation policy, as well as scientific research in cardiology and radiation oncology.  He plans to study medicine and public policy, with the goal of making health care accessible to all.  Congratulations to Kushal! read more about BioMajor Kushal Kadakia Wins Rhodes Scholarship »

Congratulations to Sarah Longo, who has been named the Outstanding Postdoc at Duke for 2018! Sarah was nominated by her mentor, Sheila Patek, who wrote, "Sarah has developed a novel and exciting postdoctoral research project that involves real-time analysis of elastic energy release and measurements of the power density of biological systems, such as trap-jaw ants and snapping shrimp. . . . She is curious about [other lab members'] projects, looks at details, and then dives in to help. . . . She has such a delightful way of… read more about Sarah Longo is the 2018 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke »