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August 01, 2013 - MIDP graduate receives Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/08/01 09:14:31
Michael Spolum, a 2012 graduate of the Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program, is one of 18 Duke University students and recently graduated alumni to receive a Fulbright Fellowship for the 2013-14 academic year.
Spolum received the Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship (formerly the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship), which places post-graduate fellows in foreign government ministries to serve as "special assistants". He will spend the next 10 months in the Office of the President of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) working on pro-poor economic development strategies.
Spolum said he was excited to receive the Fulbright, especially since competition for fellowships in Myanmar was fierce. In addition, he will be in the country at a critical juncture in its development, as it emerges from more than 20 years of economic isolation.
During his fellowship, Spolum plans to investigate “green growth” policy options that will support the efficient use of natural resources and benefit people of all economic levels. He said that Myanmar has an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other resource-rich developing countries that failed to harness their natural wealth in a way that facilitated sustained economic growth and social development.
“The long-term costs of irresponsible and rushed resource development policies more often than not far outweigh the short-term economic benefits,” he said. “If you don’t have policies and safeguards in place that are sensitive to environmental and social impacts, you run the real risk of exacerbating social and political instability as well as poverty.”
Spolum’s research during his fellowship will focus on the role that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geospatial analysis can play in evidence-based policymaking and economic planning.
“Rather than relying on laborious and costly on-the-ground surveys, you’re getting very precise, detailed data that allow you to make intelligent, efficiency-driven decisions with respect to economic policy and planning,” he said.
During the MIDP program, Spolum’s research centered around environmentally sustainable hydropower development and corporate social responsibility strategies designed to enhance rural communities’ resilience to socio-economic and climatic shocks.
“The program gave me a cutting edge, cross-sectoral and holistic understanding of the complex development challenges I’m hoping to address in Myanmar,” he said.
He applied to the MIDP program in 2009, drawn by Duke’s strong reputation and the program’s focus on practitioners.
“The curriculum is tuned to mid-career professionals with on-the-ground experience, mature networks, passion and knowledge,” he said. “I wanted actual tools to do my work, not just development theory.”
Spolum has more than seven years of experience in Southeast Asia. Prior to attending Duke, he served as assistant director of a Bangkok-based business and risk consultancy. He also worked as an independent development consultant, partnering with multinational energy companies, grassroots communities, international NGOs, the World Bank as well as the Thai and Tanzanian government on issues such as rural electrification, renewable energy policy, climate change adaptation and forestry management.
A native of Colorado, Spolum earned a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 2004.
The Fulbright Program, one of the most prestigious international educational exchange programs worldwide, was created in 1946 to promote mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries. The program has provided almost 310,000 participants with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research abroad.
July 12, 2013 - DCID faculty support capacity building in Zambia
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/07/12 14:27:13
LIVINGSTONE, ZAMBIA - Faculty of the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) delivered a two-week Project Appraisal and Economic Management Program in Zambia June 10-21, 2013.
The executive training program, which was successfully completed by 42 public sector officials, is part of a human resource capacity building program aimed at increasing capabilities in financial, economic, risk and distributive analysis. The program was organized by Zambia’s Ministry of Finance in partnership with DCID.
Fredson Yamba, Secretary to the Treasury of Zambia, endorsed the program during an opening event on Tuesday, June 11, in Livingstone.
“Before resources are spent on projects and programs, there is need to vigorously undertake ex-ante assessment to determine their investment worthiness,” he said.
Pamela Chibonga Kabamba, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, added that participants from the ministry, as well as other major government agencies, would be able to draw on what they learned from the seminar to enhance the performance of government programs.
In a meeting held in Lusaka after the completion of the seminar, Zambian officials met to confirm their commitment to incorporating analytical processes in the ongoing formulation of the 2014 budget, especially for major capital investment projects.
The seminar was conducted by Duke University professors Fernando Fernholz and Rosemary Morales Fernholz; Fernando Cossio, professor of economics and public finance at the Catholic University in La Paz, Bolivia; and Alimamy Kamara, 2009 graduate of the Master of International Development Policy program at Duke.
July 10, 2013 - Staff visit China in advance of SAFEA program
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/07/17 09:43:10
Staff of the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) traveled to China from June 15-25 to meet with participants in the upcoming State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) executive education program. The four-month program begins Thursday, Aug. 1.
Executive Director Jonathan Abels and Program Coordinator Derek DeLong introduced the 30 government officials to topics that will be covered in the program and answered their questions about living and studying in North Carolina.
During the trip, staff also had the chance to reunite with many SAFEA alumni, including 2005 alumnus Xia Bing.
"The program gave us not only the class theory but also useful tools for public policy making. For example, I always use the data analysis we learned for my daily work now," Bing said. "In addition, DCID has a group of highly experienced faculty members that gave us full directions and care. They are not just our teachers, but our lifelong friends also."
This summer marks the 10th year DCID has offered the SAFEA program. Designed specifically for mid- and senior-level officials from various ministries within China’s central government, the program covers topics such as public finance, policy analysis, management, conflict resolution and environmental policy. Since 2003, it has trained approximately 330 government officials from ministries such as finance, foreign affairs and commerce.
Over the years, the program has evolved to incorporate various topics that are of growing interest to participants, such as the global financial crisis and emergency management.
In addition to classroom training, SAFEA participants meet with and learn from civic and business leaders through site visits to various institutions and organizations throughout the Research Triangle, including the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, the Supreme Court of North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly, the SAS Institute and Cisco.
The group also travels to Washington, D.C., and New York City where they attend meetings at international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations and visit popular U.S. monuments and landmarks.
“We were very pleased to see students from previous years and to learn what they are doing now, to hear how their experience at Duke and the Sanford School influenced their work and broadened their perspective, and to feel the warmth of their reunion with their classmates and with us,” Abels said. “We are proud that Duke is having an immediate and long-term impact on their lives and, I believe, on the services they are providing their citizens.”
June 29, 2013 - USAID officials trained in Public Financial Management
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/06/29 10:40:31
Eighteen officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and foreign governments completed a weeklong course on fiscal policy and public financial management reforms on Friday, June 28.
The customized training program, led by faculty from the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), exposes participants to the principles and recent trends in governing fiscal policy, taxation, budgeting and fiscal decentralization, along with the new USAID PFM risk assessment framework.
“This course is for anyone who is interested in looking more closely at the public financial management systems of developing countries,” said Tyler Holt, economist at USAID. “It helps us do our due diligence and better understand what governments are doing so we can address areas of weakness.”
The program brings together a number of senior faculty members of Duke University as well as practitioners from Deloitte, USAID and international multilateral institutions, all with extensive experience in real-world policy reform, technical assistance and training.
Thomas Solomon, public financial management advisor with USAID, took the course last year and returned in 2013 to present a case study on Liberia’s public financial management system and reform. He said the program is very timely, considering USAID’s mandate to have 30 percent of funds managed by local partners and host governments by 2015.
“Sustainability at the end of the day is only achieved when a country is managing its own finances,” Solomon said. “This course will allow program staff to assess host country strategies and engage their officials more effectively than they did before.”
Faculty also benefit from the course, said Professor Roy Kelly, program director.
“The program provides a valuable opportunity for us to learn more about the specific challenges USAID faces in its country operations,” he said.
The program was developed under the USAID-funded Leadership in Public Financial Management project, which is designed to support rapid and sustainable economic growth and enable USAID to better address economic governance issues.
DCID has offered the program for three years and trained approximately 60 USAID officials and 10 government officials from various countries.
June 25, 2013 - Alum builds partnerships to advance health care in Philippines
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/06/27 08:06:39
Having spent six years in public office, 2005 Master of International Development Policy alumnus Steve Solon understands that you can’t go it alone when it comes to international development.
In May, Solon was elected governor of the Philippines’ southern province of Sarangani after running unopposed. In his previous role as vice governor, he was responsible for building relationships between the government, private businesses and nonprofits to find long-term solutions to issues such as medical access and the preservation of natural resources.
“With a limited budget, the local government is able to better leverage its funds by partnering with private organizations,” Solon said. “We believe that increasing the private sector and staying away from activities more efficiently done by the private sector will lead to a more productive Sarangani.”
Recently, Solon has worked with NGOs to provide basic services in rural areas, such as treatment for hernias, tuberculosis medication, and even vaccinations for farm animals.
“We had surgeons come in to help with a variety of outpatient services,” Solon said. “In four days we served close to 3,000 people.”
However, he said, the solution was not sustainable. When the volunteers were gone, so was access to critical treatment. With funding from the provincial government, Solon is working to build relationships with private partners for a flagship program by the province’s Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao to upgrade two district hospitals in rural areas and build a new hospital in Alabel, Sarangani’s capital city.
The district hospitals would be outfitted to provide basic medical care, while the hospital in the capital would provide more advanced services such as dialysis.
“Among the leading causes of why people remain in or fall back into poverty is falling ill or the inability to access quality medical care,” Solon said. “By bringing quality hospital services closer to the people, it will make it easier for the local government to accomplish its task of improving the health seeking behavior of communities.”
Government officials and citizens are not the only ones who benefit, Solon said. These partnerships provide advantages for private businesses as well.
“Many large corporations have social responsibility departments who are always on the lookout for government partners that can help them,” Solon said. “The local government has the ability to provide security and familiarity with the community, which results in better service delivery.”
While working on these and other initiatives to improve the quality of life in Sarangani, Solon regularly draws on the training he received at the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) and the Sanford School of Public Policy.
“The policy analysis and development courses I took at Duke are going to help me improve the way research is done in our planning department,” he said. “The most important thing, in my opinion, is to base all of our initiatives on evidence-based research.”
As he moves into his new role as governor in July of this year, Solon said he is committed to working with outside partners, including DCID, to help identify opportunities for improvement and provide better services for the province's approximately 500,000 residents.
“The public-private partnership is alive and well in Sarangani,” Solon said. “I believe this is the way forward.”
June 18, 2013 - Master's Fellow receives Boren Award
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/06/20 07:33:54
Nicholas Enz, a Fellow in the Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program, is the first student in the Sanford School of Public Policy to be awarded the Boren Fellowship for language and area studies abroad. As a result of the award, Enz will spend the 2013-14 academic year in Turkey studying the language and conducting research on social safety net programs with a special focus on Kurdish populations.
The Boren Awards provide U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to U.S. national security. Since the program was created in 1994, over 5,000 students have received awards.
The program received a historically high number of applications this year. Out of 526 graduate applicants, Enz was one of only 110 to receive the award.
“It really was a dream come true,” Enz said. “I felt incredibly fortunate and excited for the opportunity to integrate my Turkish language and area studies interest with my degree in International Development Policy.”
Enz’s research will build on work that he completed during the MIDP program on a conditional cash transfer program in Turkey. These types of programs aim to reduce poverty by making aid conditional upon the recipients’ actions.
During the MIDP program, Enz was also able to pursue courses in economics, statistics and Turkish, which helped prepare him to apply for the Boren Fellowship.
“I appreciated the open-ended nature of the MIDP program and the exposure to a wide variety of subjects and analysis methods,” he said. “The program gave me access to valuable tools for policy analysis and problem solving.”
Enz said he also received advice and assistance with his Boren application from his MIDP professors, especially Rosemary Fernholz and Catherine Elkins.
Prior to joining the MIDP program, Enz spent four years in Azerbaijan – the first two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and the second two years working with Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a media watchdog organization, and Save the Children.
During this time, he wrote reports and grant proposals to raise awareness of and help provide aid for imprisoned journalists. He also worked to help children in orphanages take an active role in their communities and make a successful transition to adulthood.
“We gave them a forum to discuss issues in their communities and raise those issues with the government,” Enz said.
In addition to the Boren, Enz is a recipient of the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship, which provides returned Peace Corps volunteers with financial assistance for graduate study. He also was awarded the FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) Fellowship by Duke University.
In exchange for funding, Boren Award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year. Enz plans to work for either the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development when he returns to the U.S. in May 2014. Having completed an internship with the State Department in Kazakhstan during the MIDP program, Enz hopes to conduct research that will help shape policy regarding Central Asia, the Caucasus region and Turkey.
“A lot of what we did was similar to what journalists do – reporting on issues important to the U.S. government,” Enz said. “It was a very fast-paced environment, but I enjoyed it.”
June 14, 2013 - DCID offers custom program for Indian Revenue Service
Duke Center for International Development, 2013/06/14 09:12:34
Thirty-eight officers from the Indian Revenue Service recently completed a two-week training program on tax policy and administration at the Duke Center for International Development (DCID).
“The course is extremely informative and interesting,” said Sanjeet Singh, who participated in the program. “It provides not only important skills, but also a variety of new perspectives.”
The program begins with three weeks of advance training at the Management and Development Institute in Gurgaon, India, which is taught by their faculty. The rest of the course is taught by Duke faculty in conjunction with experts from the Internal Revenue Service, the North Carolina Department of Revenue and the World Bank. The course concludes with a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit with officials from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Internal Revenue Service.
DCID faculty has trained over 160 Indian Revenue Service officers in its custom programs and expects to train a total of more than 400 over the next three years.
June 13, 2013 - PARM graduates 26 from across the globe
Duke Center for International Development, 2013/06/13 14:17:05
The Project Appraisal and Risk Management (PARM) program graduated 26 students at a ceremony at the University Club on Friday, June 7. The two-week program drew participants from across the globe, including students from Haiti, Liberia, India and Japan.
PARM focuses on investment appraisal and management for professionals working in public and private-sector organizations. The curriculum explores modern and widely used techniques of finance, applied economics and risk management.
“Many times governments and the private sector end up implementing development projects without doing the necessary evaluations in advance,” said Niaz Shinwari, a 2013 PARM graduate who served in the Fiscal Policy and Economic Affairs Department in Afghanistan. “PARM is particularly important because it teaches you the skills of evaluation to determine whether projects are financially viable.”
PARM is one of four summer executive education programs offered by the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) to meet the diverse needs of policy makers, researchers and other professionals. Since 2002, when DCID began hosting these programs, over 928 alumni representing 100 countries have participated and are implementing their new skills around the world.
Holiday Food Drive! December 9 through 16
Biology, 2013/12/06 09:44:38
Biology's traditional holiday food drive begins on Monday the 9th and continues through the Holiday Social on Dec. 16th. Please contribute non-perishable food for those in need. You will find collection bins in the BioSci mailroom and the French atrium (no glass containers, please). On the 17th the food will be delivered to Urban Ministries and the Durham Tech food pantry.
Volkan Lab Breaks into Print!
Biology, 2013/12/05 16:26:38
The Dec. 18 issue of Current Biology will publish first-author Tristan Li's paper, "Combinatorial rules of precursor specification underlying olfactory neuron diversity." The paper was rated highly enough to merit a review artifcle in the same issue. Congratulations to Tristan, Pelin and all the hard workers in the Volkan Lab! [more]
Shaw's Peatmoss Sequencing Project Approved
Biology, 2013/12/05 16:16:39
The Joint Genome Institute has approved a proposal by Jon Shaw and co-PI David Weston (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) to sequence the genome of a species of Sphagnum (peatmoss). JGI chose Sphagnum to be the first plant genome sequenced because of its importance to the global carbon cycle and climate change. Scientists believe peatmosses contain almost 30% of the terrestrial carbon pool because of the thick deposits of peat they form in northern wetlands. [more]
In Plain English VIIa: Zhen-Ming Pei
Biology, 2013/11/20 16:51:19
Zhen-Ming Pei wants to understand how plants sense basic aspects of their environment: salt, temperature and most of all, water. They do this with ion channels, specialized parts of cell membranes that open and close in response to environmental signals. If water is present the corresponding channel stays closed. When the plant lacks water, the channel opens and allows calcium to enter the cell. There the calcium atoms bind to an array of different proteins, triggering processes which allow plants to save water.
Identifying the genes responsible requires years of painstaking labor, generating plants with random mutations and sorting through them to find the ones that don't have the calcium cascade. That means that the ion channel is not working and its controlling gene has mutated. Zhen-Ming’s lab can propagate these plants for further study.
Obviously drought- and salt-resistant crops would have great importance for agriculture. But Zhen-Ming really wants to work on a big question: sensing processes. The rest of the time he is happy tinkering with his car.[more]
In Plain English VIIb: Chantal Reid
Biology, 2013/11/20 16:40:16
Chantal Reid is excited about teaching “How Plants Feed and Fuel the World.” She and Jim Siedow have taught it before, but this time is different: they've “flipped” the classroom and instituted “team-based learning.” “You can see the students learning, it’s really exciting,” she says. “I don’t ever want to teach another way.”
Flipping? Teams? Huh?
In a flipped class, there is no formal lecture; the students prepare by studying the assigned material beforehand. Class begins with a test taken individually and then in teams. The students discuss the material and debate the correct answers; the faculty are careful to make the teams roughly equal in ability so that those with more background can help the others. Meanwhile the professors hover, ready to guide the discussion if it starts going down the wrong path. If lots of students have the same misunderstanding, the faculty can halt the discussion and give a mini-lecture on that subject. The teams also do projects together, such as analyzing data taken from a published paper without knowing the author's conclusions. The students end up teaching themselves, which is pretty sweet for the faculty!
Actually, preparing short videos, study guides and tests takes a lot of time. If she had any spare time, Chantal would use her creativity to sew all her own clothes.
Manuel Leal Featured in New York Times
Biology, 2013/11/19 16:33:33
The New York Times of Nov. 18, 2013 published an article featuring among others the work of Manuel Leal on reptilian intelligence, including video of a very dashing green anole solving the problem of uncorking a tube to get his dinner. The research shows that reptiles can exhibit behavioral flexibility and learning, including learning from the example of others or social learning. Congratulations, Manuel, for this well-deserved recognition! [more]
Online Course Garners Worldwide Attention
Biology, 2013/11/15 16:40:43
Mohamed Noor's Coursera class on Genetics and Evolution drew some 30,000 students--and a little over 2000 even finished all the assignments! Students formed discussion groups in Portuguese, Russian, Norwegian, Greek and gave Noor loads of helpful feedback. Australian Russell Myers developed an iPhone app gor generating test questions that Noor will continue to use in his Duke classes. Read all about it at Duke Today. [more]
Grad students win Science Outreach funding
Biology, 2013/11/13 11:06:14
Jenn Coughlan, Katie Thomas and Maggie Warner have received two Science Student Education Outreach grants to fund activities at Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham. The grants will support work with the 6th and 8th grades, presenting "Vision Field Day" and "Food fight: plant defense compounds" as part of a continuing partnership with the school, which serves an at-risk population. The lessons developed will be available to other graduate students doing outreach work. Three cheers for Jenn, Kate and Maggie!
Vilgalys and Bonito Score!
Biology, 2013/11/13 11:00:52
The Joint Genome Institute has accepted a proposal from Rytas Vilgalys and Greg Bonito to study "Comparative genomics of early diverging terrestrial fungi and their bacterial endosymbionts." The study will obtain genome sequences from 25 early-diverging plant-associated fungi and their endosymbiotic bacterial partners.
In Plain English VIa: John Willis
Biology, 2013/11/05 10:56:44
John Willis loves figuring things out--specifically, how the wildflower Mimulus adapts to different environments. Colonies adapt to different elevations, or degrees of drought, or soil types. Some have even evolved to live on highly contaminated soil near a copper mine. Which of their genes change, and do they change in many little ways or one big way? Why do some separated groups lose the ability to reproduce with their neighbors? Are the genes that help them adapt the same ones that prevent living hybrid offspring?
The Willis group tests this with "tricky crosses" between different varieties. If the copper mine variety mates with nearby types, the offspring all die. But when one parent is crossed to a third and their viable offspring to the other parent, it produces some living offspring and some that die. By analyzing which parts of the parents' chromosomes each type inherited, the lab can zero in on the killer gene. Scientists assumed that the copper-tolerant gene was the killer, but Willis recently showed that a near neighbor, which "hitchhiked" with copper tolerance into the population, was guilty.
The lab also uses tricky crosses to study a genetic arms race fought inside the seed, between the parents. But that’s a different story. [more]
In Plain English VIb: Alec Motten
Biology, 2013/11/05 10:26:22
Alec Motten is excited about bioluminescence—live creatures that glow in the dark. The lab for Organismal Diversity gives him an excuse to gather together as many of them as possible: fireflies, sea pansies, fungi, parchment tube worms, bacteria, single-cell plankton, comb jellyfish, an embarras de richesse. There are representatives of every kingdom except plants. He also throws in some merely fluorescent things which require UV light to glow, like chlorophyll.
Mysteries abound when it comes to why these creatures glow, as the mechanisms all evolved separately. Firefly adults flash to attract mates (and some females to lure males of other species to become dinner), but then why does the larva glow? Do the marine bacteria light up like a neon Diner sign, hoping the customers will carry them to new territories? The worms bury themselves in the muddy tidal bottom; since they can’t run, perhaps they hope to frighten predators by suddenly lighting up when disturbed. And the fungi? They’re just weird.
Time cannot stale nor custom wither Nature’s infinite variety. And Alec can’t get enough of it.
In Plain English V.a: Vikas Bhandawat
Biology, 2013/10/21 16:59:35
Vikas Bhandawat chose to study the sense of smell in fruit flies because it is so much simpler than sight. Less than 10,000 neurons! But how to control the odors and map the fly's reaction? His group has devised an apparatus that traps the fly between 2 glass plates and confines the odor to one area. Vikas can then track the fly's reaction, not just whether it is attracted or repelled, but how fast it moves, how often it pauses, and its trail over the plate. Looking at Vikas' results for 2 different flies, it was striking that there was a basic pattern for each fly that remained consistent whether the fly was sensing an odor or not. One stopped frequently and ventured straight out and back, while the other stayed in motion but varied its speed, and took wide excursions to the plate's rim. Good Lord, can fruit flies actually be individuals? Yes, says Vikas; we think that we are very complex, but fruit flies are really amazing. "I wouldn't mind to be a fly. But the real question is, how much are we humans like the fly?" Vikas now works the problem from the other end with his current favorite activity: watching his 14-month-old daughter grow up. [more]
In Plain English V.b: Sam Johnson
Biology, 2013/10/21 16:58:02
The great scientist Sir Isaac Newton formulated his theory of light at Cambridge University, enabling great improvements to lenses of microscopes and telescopes. It seems only fitting that Sam Johnson, who attended Cambridge simply because Newton did, should now manage Duke’s Light Microscopy Facility, making 20+ high-tech microscopes available to researchers across the university. The scopes take pictures of sea scallop eyes, human cardiac tissue, nanoprobe chips, proteins moving inside living cells, lipid layers, and everything in between, usually treated so that the interesting bit is fluorescent. The LMCF’s image analysis workstations are regularly beefed up with more computing power, the better to assemble 3-D images or stitch together a quilt of images covering a large sample. One of the latest innovations is a technique that renders objects almost transparent, so the researcher can see 8 millimeters deep into the sample. Sam also offers courses ranging from broad overviews to in-depth study over a semester. Get your head inside some cool pictures at http://microscopy.duke.edu/ ! [more]
Philip Benfey Featured in Current Biology!
Biology, 2013/10/08 10:23:02
The October 7 issue of Current Biology features an interview with Philip Benfey, describing his unconventional path to the research lab and the study of root development. Most interesting! [more]
In Plain English, IV.a: Fred Nijhout
Biology, 2013/10/07 15:26:59
Animals come in all sizes, but how does one know when it’s grown to the right size? That’s been puzzling Fred Nijhout for a long time, but he thinks he has part of the answer—at least for tobacco hornworms. It’s all about oxygen deprivation. Instead of lungs, insects have branching tubes which carry air from holes in their bodies all the way down to the cellular level. The tubes’ lining is the same stuff as the exoskeleton, folded into cylinders and diving inside the animal. And like the exoskeleton, it does not grow. As the caterpillar gets bigger, it reaches a point when the tubes can’t supply enough oxygen: time to molt, big fella. The old exoskeleton cracks and falls off, taking the tubes’ lining with it and making way for a new, slightly larger system. By controlling the amount of oxygen available to the hornworms, Fred was able to control their size. But how does the no-longer-hungry caterpillar know that it’s time not just to molt but to metamorphose? Its juvenile hormones switch off. Fred originally planned to explain this in his Ph.D. thesis but it’s still a great mystery. “Hope springs eternal,” he says. [more]
In Plain English, IV.b: Nina Tang Sherwood
Biology, 2013/10/07 15:25:10
Fruit flies live long enough to have degenerative diseases? Yes, and Nina Sherwood studies one that impairs the ability to walk. A defective gene affects how the cells of the nervous system talk to muscle cells: the neurons, or transmitter cells, don’t form their synapses correctly and signals don’t go through. But that’s not the whole story. It now appears that the glial cells, once thought to be merely connective tissue, over-react to the malformed synapse and do more damage trying to repair it. Under the microscope Nina can see that glia in the mutant flies are much more active, reaching out appendages towards the neurons. The good news is that if the glia are halted, the disease is much less devastating. As there is a corresponding disease in humans, this is a gratifying discovery indeed. But what draws Nina into the lab every day, day after day, is the “aesthetics of biology;” she studies biology because it is so beautiful, on every level. [more]
In Plain English, III.b: Terry Corliss
Biology, 2013/09/23 13:30:24
Terry Corliss started collecting insects at age 5 and progressed to fish, reptiles and eventually microbes. Now she leads a hard-working team in the teaching labs, seen only when they venture above ground to remove boxes (sometimes disconcertingly marked “Live Animals”) from the mailroom. The Lab Prep Team supports 6 courses and about 1400 students each academic year. Every semester the labs have to roll out like clockwork, and the Prep Team had better have the materials ready when the students show up. It’s a perfect job for a microbiologist who has no favorites among all the organisms she deals with.
Does anything ever go wrong? Terry is cagey, but she does allow that occasionally Things Get Loose. The slugs were easily tracked by their slime, but the tarantula cruising down the hallway was more worrisome.
We are happy to report that heightened security is now in effect, including some carnivorous plants in the fruit fly lab. Of course Terry gives the biggest props to the humans on her team: Ewa, Patricia, Mark, Kathleen, Susan and Dianne! Go, Team!
In Plain English, III.a: Meng Chen
Biology, 2013/09/23 13:25:48
Meng Chen got his job by accident; that is, he accidentally discovered a mutant while he was a post-doc, and now his lab is defining a new area in the study of light signal transduction. The pre-Socratic philosophers first observed how plants turn and grow towards light; now we know that light is the master switch that turns on or off a full third of the plant genome. Proteins sense the color, intensity, direction and duration of light and send signals down the pathway. Eventually the signals turn on genes causing the plant to respond by changing its shape, flowering, and so on. Scientists thought they had mapped the entire pathway but Meng's blind mutant lacks an essential component, still unknown.
But that accident that started it all--how did that happen? Meng admits that he is a very messy person. His postdoctoral colleagues actually took a photo of his supremely messy bench, framed it and added their good wishes for his future at Duke. Perhaps being messy leads to more accident-al discoveries, in which case we should all emulate Meng.[more]
In Plain English, II.b.: Michael Barnes
Biology, 2013/09/09 11:31:46
Down behind the French building, far from the mailroom and offices, the labs on upper floors and the subterranean teaching space, there is a great kingdom: the kingdom of plants. That is, the greenhouses. This is Michael Barnes’ realm, where he and his horticulturists tend thousands of plants. In some rooms the same plant marches row upon row, grown for research into natural genetic variation or how plants resist disease. But the Live Plant Collections hold 1,000 different species from all over the world, showing the kingdom’s wondrous variety. One of Michael’s most important tasks is protecting the plants from pests. “I spend a lot of time spraying pesticides, and I hate it.” So to stay out of the protective “space suit,” Michael is using organic pest control: bacteria, fungi and insects that eliminate the pests that ride into his kingdom on people’s Duke blue shirts or hatching out of dirty pots. He just released some tiny wasps that feed on thrips, sucking out their precious bodily fluids. Other beneficials actually function like the alien in “Alien,” laying their eggs in pests’ larvae. The young eat the larvae from the inside out. Brrrr! There are still situations that demand pesticides, as when introducing a beneficial fungus would contaminate the genetic material being studied. But Michael is making a dent. In his free time Michael goes white-water kayaking, most recently in the New River Gorge. “I was genuinely scared for my life, but it was exhilarating.” Don’t put any dents in yourself, Michael! To arrange a tour, visit the Live Plant Collections website. [more]
In Plain English, Part the Second: Katia Koelle
Biology, 2013/09/09 11:31:25
Like many people today, Katia Koelle is fascinated by ancestry. But she's not tracing her family tree; instead, she uses genealogies of viruses like flu and sophisticated mathematics to model how these diseases transmit themselves and spread during an outbreak. “It just floors me how math can reveal fundamental patterns in biology,” she says. By analyzing viruses’ genetic heritage she can track how they have evolved, how different strains are related, and how their population has risen and fallen over time. Then she can begin to untangle how the virus's environment has pushed it to evolve, and in turn how this influences the amount of disease is around us. Katia also hopes to evolve her 18-month-old daughter's thinking about appropriate sports for women. She's taking her to the roller derby. [more]
In Plain English, Pt. 2
Biology, 2013/09/09 11:32:05
Eric Spana just finished running “Nerd Camp”—that is, pSearch, a pre-orientation program introducing freshmen to research. All day for 2 weeks upperclassmen immerse the students in isolating, cloning and sequencing DNA, under Eric’s benevolent guidance. These freshmen have been selected because they want a more meaningful exposure to science; Eric remembers one student whose high school biology labs were all done online. In pSearch they have fun and form lasting friendships, and members of the first pSearch class (2009) are now enrolled in medical school, M.D.-Ph.D. programs, and veterinary school. Now Eric is getting ready for another kind of “Nerd Camp”—the DragonCon convention in Atlanta, which he will attend disguised as Bruce Banner. Just don’t make him angry. [more]
In Plain English
Biology, 2013/09/09 11:32:18
“It’s a good time to be a mycologist,” says Rytas Vilgalys. Rytas began by learning the edible and inedible mushrooms at his Muka’s (grandmother’s) side. He’s never stopped, first studying the DNA of fungi to discover how species evolved and their relationships and differences. Current genomic techniques analyze the entire genetic makeup of species and particularly how different genes coordinate with one another. “It’s a quantum leap,” Rytas says, allowing his lab to study communities of different fungi living in the soil of pine and cottonwood forests: how they live, eat, reproduce, communicate, cooperate and compete with each other and even with plants. Every aspect of the natural history of fungi is open to scrutiny in the Vilgalys Lab, where it’s all fungi all the time. [more]
July 18, 2013 - New book explores link between economic development, violence in Asia
Duke Center for International Development, for fellows, 2013/07/22 10:48:32
Dr. Natalia Mirovitskaya, senior research scholar and lecturing fellow at the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), and Dr. William Ascher, founder of DCID and professor of government and economics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., have released the second in their series of books exploring the connection between economic development and conflict.
Development Strategies, Identities, and Conflict in Asia provides an overview of the evolution of development doctrines, patterns of socio-economic development and levels of violence in all Asian subregions. Through a set of carefully selected case studies, the book explores the often surprising impacts of development initiatives on inter-group conflict from West Asia to Southeast Asia.
These studies demonstrate the “need to get past the conventional wisdom about economic development and violence,” Mirovitskaya said.
“For instance, the most explosive current conflicts in East and South Asia do not reflect the resentment against governments for neglecting the least developed areas, but rather the clashes that emerge from efforts to develop those areas,” she said. “Also, although it is plausible that poverty would engender resentment and increase struggles for wealth, in some of the poorest Asian countries violence has been more likely in wealthier, more economically advanced areas.”
The new book is part of a major multi-country research project on Economic Development Strategies to Avert Collective Violence, launched by Ascher and Mirovitskaya in 2009. The research is designed to help policymakers, development professionals and activists design conflict-sensitive strategies for development and avoid creating or magnifying fault lines between groups.
“Clearly, governments must be concerned about large gaps between the wealthy and the poor, about restricted social mobility, and about circumstances of economic desperation,” Mirovitskaya said. “Yet development strategies and economic hardship attributed to government policy may also contribute to animosity toward other ethnic, religious or linguistic groups.”
The book follows Economic Development Strategies and the Evolution of Violence in Latin America, released last year, which explores the links between economic policies and the nature and dynamics of intergroup violence in Latin America. Based on the patterns of 10 countries, the first volume traced the transformation from ideological conflict to the explosion of social violence, urban crime and confrontations over natural resources and drugs across the region from Mexico to Argentina.
Although there are some similarities between Asia and Latin America, Mirovitskaya said, “the liberalization reforms that brought acute disruption all over Latin America have generally been enacted with far less turmoil in Asia. Much of Asia’s general success in economic growth and eventually in societal stability is owed to the elimination of inefficient state interventions combined with carefully designed compensation for reform losers.”
The third book in the series, The Economic Roots of Conflict and Cooperation in Africa, is due out this fall. These books are part of the Palgrave Macmillan series entitled “Politics, Economics, and Inclusive Development," which is available online.
July 17, 2013 - New program introduced for Indian Civil Accounts officers
Duke Center for International Development, 2013/07/17 09:57:55
The Duke Center for International Development (DCID) introduced a new customized program for Indian Civil Accounts Service officers on Monday, July 15. Twenty senior-level officials are participating in the two-week program, which focuses on budgeting and public financial management.
Jawahar Thakur, Controller General of Accounts at the organization, expressed interest in providing a training program for civil accounts officers last year. He worked with Dr. G.P. Shukla, professor of public policy, and Tej Prakash, senior fellow and former economist with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to put the program in place earlier this year. Shukla and Prakash also have experience working for the Indian government.
“[Thakur] wanted the officers to get exposure to international practices in public financial management, especially in accounting, budgeting and public debt management,” said Ravtosh Bal, Associate in Research at DCID. “The course is designed to provide an overview of the current best practices in specialized functions of their organization.”
While at Duke University, the officers will receive training from DCID faculty, as well as World Bank and IMF officials. They will also travel to Washington, D.C., to visit these organizations and learn more about their operations.
The Indian Civil Accounts Service, made up of about 200 officials, is responsible for establishing and maintaining the country’s management accounting system, monitoring government receipts and disbursements, and ensuring a sound and effective internal audit system. It also prepares the annual Appropriation and Finance accounts for the country’s Parliament.