Optical trap provides new insights into motor molecules

When it comes to nanotechnology, many researchers turn to nature for inspiration. Of particular interest to nanoengineers is the naturally occurring protein kinesin – one of several ”motor molecules” that facilitate movement in living cells. A mere ten-millionth of an inch long, kinesin is the workhorse of the cell, hauling chromosomes, neurotransmitters and other vital cargo along tiny tracks called ”microtubules.” While one end of a kinesin molecule holds onto its cargo, the other end uses a strange two-headed structure to grab the microtubule and pull the cargo forward.

Training helps dyslexic brains behave 'normally'

For the first time, researchers have shown that the brains of dyslexic children can be rewired — after undergoing intensive remediation training — to function more like those found in normal readers. The training program, which is designed to help dyslexics understand rapidly changing sounds that are the building blocks of language, helped the participants become better readers after just eight weeks.

Research shows TV carries messages that influence infants’ behavior

What do infants learn as they watch people talk or act in a certain manner? If a television is on in a room, how much do infants pay attention to it? These are questions Donna Mumme, assistant professor of psychology at Tufts University, answers in her study, “The Infant as Onlooker: Learning from Emotional Reactions Observed in a Television Scenario.” Co-authored by Anne Fernald of Stanford University, the article is published in the January/February issue of Child Development, the publication of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Depression and chronic pain linked in Stanford study

A persistent, long-lasting headache or an endlessly painful back may indicate something more serious than a bad week at the office. A new study finds that people who have major depression are more than twice as likely to have chronic pain when compared to people who have no symptoms of depression. This study could change how depression is diagnosed and treated, say Stanford School of Medicine researchers.

Blood flow in eyes unaffected by Viagra

When Viagra was introduced in 1999, the drug’s manufacturer warned of a number of visual side effects, including possible nerve damage to the eyes. But a California study rules out some of these risks — even when the drug is taken in high doses. According to Dr. Tim McCulley, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of California at Irvine, blood flow in the eye does not seem to be reduced by even high doses of the popular erectile dysfunction drug. Since Viagra lowers blood pressure overall, there was persistent suspicion that the drug might cause decreased optical blood flow, which can cause nerve damage.

Animals, plants already feeling effects of global warming

Global warming is having a significant impact on hundreds of plant and animal species around the world — although the most dramatic effects may not be felt for decades, according to a new study in the journal Nature. “Birds are laying eggs earlier than usual, plants are flowering earlier and mammals are breaking hibernation sooner,” said Terry L. Root, a senior fellow with Stanford’s Institute for International Studies (IIS) and lead author of the Jan. 2 Nature study. “Clearly, if such ecological changes are now being detected when the globe has warmed by an estimated average of only 1 degree F (0.6 C) over the past 100 years, then many more far-reaching effects on species and ecosystems will probably occur by 2100, when temperatures could increase as much as 11 F (6 C),” Root concluded.

People from distant lands have strikingly similar genetic traits

Scientists have long recognized that, despite physical differences, all human populations are genetically similar to one another. But a new study in the journal Science concludes that populations from different parts of the world share even more genetic similarities than had previously been assumed. At the same time, researchers found that tiny differences in DNA can provide enough information to identify the geographic ancestry of individual men and women.

Climate surprise: High CO2 levels can retard plant growth

The prevailing view among scientists is that global climate change may prove beneficial to many farmers and foresters — at least in the short term. The logic is straightforward: Plants need atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce food, and by emitting more CO2 into the air, our cars and factories create new sources of plant nutrition that will cause some crops and trees to grow bigger and faster. But an unprecedented three-year experiment conducted at Stanford University is raising questions about that long-held assumption. Writing in the journal Science, researchers concluded that elevated atmospheric CO2 actually reduces plant growth when combined with other likely consequences of climate change — namely, higher temperatures, increased precipitation or increased nitrogen deposits in the soil.

Thar she blows?

Mauna Loa,? Hawaii’s biggest and potentially most destructive volcano,? is showing signs of life again nearly two decades after its last eruption. Recent geophysical data collected on the surface of the 13,500-foot volcano revealed that Mauna Loa’s summit caldera has begun to swell and stretch at a rate of 2 to 2.5 inches a year, according to scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Stanford University. Surface inflation can be a precursor of a volcanic eruption, the scientists warn.

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