Duke Magazine
Departments
Biblio-FileBooksForumGalleryGazette Mini-ProfilesCampus ObserverQ&ARegisterRetrospectiveSportsSyllabusExtra CreditHome


Sea Census Complete
Duke contributes map of world's marine life

Hot spots: The map’s rainbow shading represents varying degrees of biodiversity. Researchers used statistical models to make predictions about marine life in areas that have not been well explored.
Hot spots: The map’s rainbow shading represents varying degrees of biodiversity. Researchers used statistical models to make predictions about marine life in areas that have not been well explored.
Hot spots: The map’s rainbow shading represents varying degrees of biodiversity. Researchers used statistical models to make predictions about marine life in areas that have not been well explored.
Patrick Halpin

After ten years of research conducted by thousands of scientists worldwide, the Census of Marine Life, which has turned up nearly 6,000 newly discovered ocean-dwelling species, was completed last year. Using the results, researchers at Duke, led by Patrick Halpin, associate professor of marine geospatial ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment, have created a new map that provides the most detailed overview yet of the planet’s marine life.

The two-sided, poster-sized map identifies the regions that are home to the world’s greatest concentrations of marine biodiversity and abundance; the long-distance migration paths of key predators; the regions that have been most affected by human activities; and the locations of coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, seeps, seamounts, and other geological features that foster high diversity and abundance of marine life.

“Ninety-nine percent of the data from the census isn’t here, but the key themes—that life in Earth’s oceans is richer, more connected, and more altered than expected—are represented,” Halpin says.

View the map.



Many Sad Returns
Teenage women more likely to have depression relapse

Researchers at Duke are trying to understand why teenage girls who suffer from major depression are at a greater risk of relapsing within five years than their male counterparts.

While nearly all teens studied recovered from an initial incidence of the disorder after seeking treatment, more than half of all females, but only one-third of males, saw symptoms return, researchers found.

John Curry, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, hypothesizes that young women may be at risk for a second depression if they have a feeling that they cannot personally make any impact in society, which affects the desire to set or reach goals. Also, young women may have a tendency toward unproductive, repetitive thoughts that focus on their negative experiences, personal weaknesses, or bad feelings.

Although females are more likely to become depressed than males during adulthood as well as adolescence, adult women are not more likely than men to have a second bout of major depression, Curry says.

Major depression is characterized by sadness; loss of interest; disruptions in appetite, sleep, or energy; poor concentration; feelings of worthlessness; and suicidal thoughts or behavior. Adolescents in the study had to have at least five of those symptoms to be diagnosed with the disorder.



Lid for Life
Duke engineers develope a hardhat to prevent accidents

Heading in the right direction: early prototype of the SmartHat.
Heading in the right direction: early prototype of the SmartHat.
Jochen Teizer/Georgia Tech

The hardhat—a ubiquitous, low-tech presence at construction sites for some eighty years—may soon be receiving an upgrade into the digital age. Matt Reynolds, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has designed a microprocessor that can be fitted inside a hardhat and alert a worker if he is coming close to a piece of heavy machinery. Despite the best efforts of contractors and government regulators, accidents on construction sites cause more than 800 deaths each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Earth movers, bulldozers, and cranes emit radio waves with information about their position. The microprocessor, which Reynolds dubs the SmartHat, will capture those signals and emit a high-pitched alarm when there is danger of a collision. Reynolds and his partners still have work to do to integrate the chip into the hardhats without compromising their structural integrity.



Potti Resigns
Researcher's collaborator initiates retraction of findings

Anil Potti, the embattled Duke cancer researcher charged with falsifying academic credentials and research findings, has voluntarily resigned from his positions in the medical school and the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP).

Potti’s collaborator, Joseph Nevins Ph.D. ’76, Barbara Levine Professor of breast cancer genomics and director of the IGSP Center for Applied Genomics & Technology, began the process of retracting a paper initially published in Nature Medicine after concerns were raised about other researchers’ inability to reproduce its results. The three clinical trials based on this research, which were suspended in mid-July, have all been terminated.

View previous coverage of Potti from The Chronicle.



Fast Grass
Gene alteration may make crops used for biofuels grow more quickly

Putting down roots: miscanthus grass field.
Putting down roots:
miscanthus grass field.

Tinkering with a single gene may give perennial grasses used to make biofuels more robust roots and speed up their growth, according to researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.

But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.

“These biofuel crops usually can’t be harvested until the second or third year,” says Philip Benfey, lead researcher and Paul Kramer Professor of biology. “A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm-season grasses.”

Benfey’s team identified a gene that regulated the production of a certain enzyme that could control complex aspects of the growth process in perennial grasses such as switchgrass and miscanthus. Benfey believes that by manipulating this gene, the grasses can be made to grow more quickly. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with that potential in mind.