Life

Boundary Zone

This pink line of cells belongs to a fruit fly, marking the boundary between its small and large intestines. Duke cell biologist Don Fox and postdoc Jessica Sawyer are studying how cells in this zone protect the border between these two organs as the fly develops, and what happens when the border breaks down. Normally the pink boundary zone helps keep neighboring cells from dividing, but damage to the area results in tumor-like growths that invade across the organ boundary.

Mosquito Spit

For scientists in Emily Derbyshire’s lab, the search for new malaria treatments requires mosquito spit -- lots and lots of mosquito spit. The team studies the initial stages of malaria infection in humans, after the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite sets up shop in the liver but before it infects the blood. To catch Plasmodium early in its development, students dissect the salivary glands of thousands of infected mosquitos and harvest the young parasites, which glow green in this microscope image of the spit glands.

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.

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