Life

Old Love Affairs in Oaks

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. By analyzing the genetic similarities across 81 species, the researchers have reconstructed the relationships among different oaks as they diverged from one another over 30 million years.

Combating Counterfeiters

These egg varieties are no accident -- they’re an anti-counterfeit strategy. Some birds lay lookalike eggs in other species’ nests to trick the foster parents into raising their chicks. While the impostors try to go undetected, their victims evolve more distinctive eggs to make them harder to fake. Duke graduate student Eleanor Caves analyzed the color patterns of hundreds of eggs from 11 African warbler species and the cuckoo finches that imitate them.

Heart in a Dish

One way to learn how something works is to take it apart. But researchers in Nenad Bursac’s lab use the opposite approach – to understand human tissue, they build it themselves. Graduate student Chris Jackman is engineering synthetic tissue that mimics the structure and function of heart muscle. To create this heart-in-a-dish, he embedded red-striped mouse heart muscle cells into a hydrogel base.

Pint-Sized Monkey

This stunning x-ray of a Callimico monkey skeleton, posed as if preparing to jump, was collected by visiting Professor Hesham Sallam at the Duke SMIF lab. In the wild, these pint-sized monkeys can be found in the dense underbrush of the upper Amazon rainforest, leaping from branch to branch in search of tasty berries or bugs.

The Scale of a Whale

You can’t measure the length of a humpback whale with a tape measure. So biologists at the Duke Marine Lab have found a way to estimate whale size from above, using cameras mounted on flying drones. To perfect this technique, graduate student Elizabeth Mason took aerial images of this life-sized inflatable whale laid out across the football field at Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington, NC.

Gut Bouquet

This Valentine’s day, everything is coming up roses -- even our guts. This cellular bouquet, composed by research associate Chong Li Yen at Duke-NUS in Singapore, is in fact a slice of human colon tissue viewed under a microscope. The tissue is cut to reveal the cross-sections of intestinal glands, tiny wells in the gut wall that absorb water and nutrients while oozing mucus and digestive enzymes.

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