Molecular motor mystery solved: Novel protein rounds out plant cells’ machinery

A research team led by Prof. Weihong Qiu and collaborators from University of California, Davis has discovered a novel motor protein that significantly expands current understanding of the evolution and design principle of motor proteins.

White arrowheads indicate the microtubule plus end, and red and yellow arrowheads indicate the leading ends of two different actin filaments.

The findings of the research team, led by of the OSU College of Science and Bo Liu ­of UC Davis, were published today in Nature Communications.

Read the full OSU announcement at:


The work of OSU physics graduate student Lee Aspitarte was featured as a Scientific Highlight on the American Institute of Physics website. Lee’s recent experiments in Ethan Minot’s lab provide new insights about nanoscale pn-junctions. Nanoscale pn-junctions are a promising technology for maximizing the efficiency of light-to-electricity conversion.

Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium Astronomer- in-Residence and Oregon State University Physics and Honors College Instructor Randy Milstein  has had a busy month speaking about the 2017 Great American Eclipse. The links below highlight some of his presentations and interviews.

Follow this link to his interview with Al Jazeera English (The first independent news channel in the Arab world dedicated to providing comprehensive news and live debate).

He spoke with the OSU Alumni Association in Beaverton, Oregon on August 8.
A link to his presentation is here.

On August 14, he was interviewed by OSU’s KBVR radio station.
You can listen to the interview here.

He was interviewed for the CBS This Morning story,  “Man Bikes Across the US to Educate America About the Solar Eclipse,” that aired on August 19. He isn’t the man on the bike. There wasn’t enough time with all of his other outreach events!
The feature is available here.
His portion of the story is at minute 3:16-3:34.

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Story by Monica Bennett

Physics was one of nearly a dozen departments and groups that came together to create the attention-grabbing, educational smorgasbord of OSU Discovery Days.

The event is coordinated by Prof. Margaret Haak of the Department of Chemistry, who took over in 2003 and expanded the program from its predecessor, “Museum Days”. Prof. Haak estimates that about 1,800 children flooded into LaSells over the course of two days, enjoying science demonstrations and trivia games from science departments and other groups, including the sorority Sigma Delta Omega, the Physics 111 course, and local business Brad’s World Reptiles.

The Department of Physics claimed the majority of one of the rooms in the LaSells center, mostly for the sake of the rotating chair that sat in the center of the room. Here students lined up to take a spin, using hand weights to test how concentrating their center of mass increased their speed of rotation, while extending their hands slowed it.

Having discovered some principles of angular momentum, the dizzy students then staggered over to the tables, which contained more physics demonstrations. The demos, all hands-on to some extent, included ping-pong balls supported by a hair dryer, as well as a large tank of water in which students tested their predictions on the relative buoyancy of regular vs. diet soda and cucumbers vs. grapes. A particular favorite was the table of vacuum experiments, featuring not only a chamber that demonstrated the effect of vacuum on balloons and bubble wrap, but also a steel ball that students tried to pull open, discovering the pressure difference when the air inside was evacuated by the vacuum pump.

Physics demos were on display from other groups as well—a contingent from Physics 111 (taught by Prof. Emily van Zee) showed off their skills as future teachers with an array of optics demonstrations, showing students how refraction changes the apparent location of an object submerged in water and how reflectivity varies in different materials. Elsewhere, students watched a Geiger counter detecting uranium in old Fiestaware and observed changes in surface tension with soap and water, being introduced to a variety of physics concepts in addition to the department’s own offerings.

Prof. Haak’s hope for Discovery Days is for students to feel involved, seeing that “science is something you do, not just something you read about.” She believes that major outreach events are valuable to the volunteers as well as the visitors, stressing the importance of communicating science well and encouraging hands-on exploration. With these guiding values and contributions from the fields of physics, biochemistry, botany, herpetology, and more, the spring 2017 Discovery Days were a delight for students and scientists alike.

A big thank you to the physics students who volunteered their time: Ikaika McKeague-McFadden, Willis Rogers, Kelby Petersonm, Zach Colbert, Abe Teklu, Isaac Hodges, Tymothy Mangan, Ian Goode, Ryan Bailey Crandell, Katy Chase, James Haggerty, Carly Fengel, David Rivella, and Nikita Rozanov.

A paper just published in Nature Communications by the Single-Molecule Biophysics Laboratory of Assistant Professor Weihong Qiu reports an unexpected mechanical property of a “motor” protein that offers new insights into how motor proteins help build and maintain the mitotic spindle, the American football-shaped macromolecular structures that animal and fungi cells depend on to ensure accurate chromosome segregation during cell division. Located inside cells, motor proteins are tiny molecular machines that convert chemical energy into mechanical work. They interact with train-track-like structures called microtubules to transport cargos or exert forces.

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The motor protein KlpA moves in one direction on a single microtubule track and switches to the opposite direction between a pair of microtubules. Illustration credit: Kuo-Fu Tseng, Oregon State University.
[click on image to see the motion] The motor protein KlpA moves in one direction on a single microtubule track and switches to the opposite direction between a pair of microtubules. Illustration credit: Kuo-Fu Tseng, Oregon State University.
In this study, Qiu and colleagues focused on a particular motor protein called KlpA, and used a high-sensitivity microscopy method to directly visualize the motion of individual KlpA molecules on microtubules. The Qiu team shows that, while all other KlpA-like motor proteins are believed to move in only one direction on the microtubule track, KlpA has a “reverse” gear that allows it to go in different directions. This enables KlpA to behave differently in when it is operating at different locations within the mitotic spindle. This research may open the door to understand the similar KlpA-like motor proteins in mammals that are implicated in cancer cell proliferation. Understanding the design principle underlying the bidirectional motion of KlpA may also guide the engineering of motor protein-based molecular devices for targeting drug delivery in a controllable manner.

Oksana Ostraverkhova has won the Milton Harris Award in Basic Research!!!

She was honored (and surprised!) at a ceremony on October 17 at the Horizon Room.

In her ten years at OSU, Oksana has built a successful program demonstrating creative and productive basic research in the study of photophysics in organic semiconductors.  She has  also collaborated with Prof. Sujaya Rao (entomology) to study bee color vision. This interdisciplinary collaboration has led to while new insights in the basic science field of bee color vision.

Oksana also won the Harris Graduate Teaching award this year and has supervised dozens of undergraduates and graduate students in her lab.

About the award:

This award was endowed by G. Milton Harris, a Portland native who received his bachelor’s degree in 1926 from OSU and his PhD from Yale. He was a pioneer in polymer, fiber and textile science and was founder and for many years president of Harris Research laboratories which later became part of Gillette. His distinguished career in chemistry included service with the National Bureau of Standards and five years as the chair of the American Chemical Society.

The purpose of the Harris award is to recognize exceptional achievement in basic research by honoring an outstanding faculty member in the College of Science. Special consideration is given to recent research that was carried out at OSU and that will have a significant impact on its field. The recipient of the Harris award not only receives a monetary award, but also is given the opportunity to present a public lecture that highlights his or her research.