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A group of University of Oklahoma researchers studying the environmental fate of petroleum spills have in the process isolated a community of microorganisms capable of converting hydrocarbons into natural gas.

The researchers found that the process known as anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism can be used to stimulate methane gas production from older, more mature oil reservoirs like those in Oklahoma. The work has now led to the recognition that similar microorganisms may also be involved in problems ranging from the deterioration of fuels to the corrosion of pipelines.

As Dr. Ronaldo Luna, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, watches a machine shake silt from the Mississippi River until it liquefies, he says, "This is what would happen during a major earthquake along the Mississippi River."

Researchers don’t fully understand the liquefaction process for silts (though they have a better understanding of how it works with sands) but Luna is confident, based on his tests, that a 6.5 magnitude earthquake or bigger would cause solid surfaces along the banks of the Mississippi River to turn, momentarily, into liquid.

Many of us remember that first day of kindergarten or a trip we took as a toddler but new research shows that the human brain, while able to accurately recall trivial details from the past, can also be remarkably fragile and even inventive.

In fact, people can easily create false memories of their past and a new study shows that such memories can have long-term effects on our behavior.

According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately 20 million children below the age of five in the United States, the age range of greatest susceptibility to the harmful affects of lead poisoning. Gabriel M. Filippelli, Ph.D., professor of earth sciences and department chair at Indiana University, says that about 2 percent of these children (approximately 400,000) have lead poisoning, many in epidemic proportions.

Writing in the August issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry, Filippelli conducted a literature review of studies of urban soils as a persistent source of lead poisoning and also investigated the lead burden in the soils from a number of cities, including Indianapolis. His findings reveal that older cities like Indianapolis have a very high lead burden resulting in a lead poisoning epidemic among their youngest citizens.

Filippelli suggests two possible remedies, one of which he believes to be feasible from both the practical and monetary perspectives and doable almost immediately.

With oil prices skyrocketing, the search is on for efficient and sustainable biofuels. Research published this month in Agronomy Journal examines one biofuel crop idea, the corn stover made up of the leaves and stalks of corn plants that are left in the field after harvesting the edible corn grain. Corn stover could supply as much as 25% of the biofuel crop needed by 2030, according to some estimates.

Scientists with the USDA-ARS Agroecosystem Unit located at the University of Nebraska examined the long-term sustainability of using corn stover as a biofuel crop. They note when corn stover is not harvested as a biofuel crop, it can be left on the fields to restore vital nutrients to the soil. Full-scale harvesting of corn stover may deplete the soil.

Scientists and consumers have known for years that grapefruit juice can increase the absorption of certain drugs — with the potential for turning normal doses into toxic overdoses. Now, the researcher who first identified this interaction is reporting new evidence that grapefruit and other common fruit juices, including orange and apple, can do the opposite effect by substantially decreasing the absorption of other drugs, potentially wiping out their beneficial effects.

The study provides a new reason to avoid drinking grapefruit juice and these other juices when taking certain drugs, including some that are prescribed for fighting life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, cancer, organ-transplant rejection, and infection, the researcher says. These findings — representing the first controlled human studies of this type of drug-lowering interaction — were described today at the 236th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.