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CBS News-May 2009

From the Dean | College news | Research | People | Events | FYI

From the dean

An end and a beginning

The CBS year-end picnic is over. Finals and commencement have come and gone. The class of 2009 has officially embarked on the next phase of life – some as graduate students, some as professionals, all as alumni of the College of Biological Sciences.

Among this year’s graduates we count a Fulbright Scholar, 20 nominees to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and many, many whose academic and personal achievements warrant praise and recognition.

Our faculty deserve accolades as well. This year, Regents’ Professor David Tilman received the highly prestigious International Prize for Biology for a lifetime of remarkable scientific discovery. Don Alstad won the Morse Alumni Award and Jane Phillips received University-wide recognition for her work advising the Biology Without Borders student group. These achievements reflect a broader commitment, evident in classrooms and labs across the college, to preparing students to become first-rate scientists.

What’s amazing is that such excellent education remains possible in spite of a troubled economy and shrinking budgets across the University. But CBS faculty and staff have responded to adversity with the same commitment and passion that has made this college great.

Case in point: So far, CBS faculty have submitted nearly two dozen proposals totaling around $10 million that tap into federal stimulus funding. Whether or not the proposals are funded remains to be seen, but the initiative behind these efforts deserves attention.

The end of the academic year is also a beginning for newly minted CBS alumni and for the college itself. It’s a chance to look ahead to new opportunities even as we continue to adjust to a rapidly shifting landscape.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

BioTechnology Institute director Davis dies

H. Ted Davis, a University of Minnesota Regents professor of chemical engineering and materials science and former dean of the University’s Institute of Technology, died suddenly on May 17. He was 71. For more than 45 years Davis served the University of Minnesota and its students in various roles, most recently as director of the BioTechnology Institute.

In 1980, Davis became head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and helped to build the University’s chemical engineering program into one of the nation’s best. In the process, he inspired and empowered a generation of young engineers. In 1995, he was named dean of the Institute of Technology. Davis worked tirelessly to secure the necessary resources to support a top-notch research and learning experience for students.

In 2008, Davis became the director of the University’s BioTechnology Institute. In this role he helped to raise the profile of the University’s research in biofuels and renewable energy, especially in the area of biocatalysis.

Norwegian Fulbright students coming to the U

Twelve Fulbright students from Norway will arrive at the University of Minnesota later this month for the Summer Institute for Norwegian Students in the Sciences—the only program of its kind. The students will focus on the Arctic, climate change and environmental sustainability. The program is a collaboration among several units, including the College of Biological Sciences, and will include a retreat with Will Steger along with University of Minnesota-sponsored field experiences at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, Soudan Mine, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Large Lakes Observatory.

Gates Foundation grant goes to Reuben Harris

Associate Professor Reuben Harris (BMBB) received a $100K Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in support of his proposed global health research project: “Mortalizing HIV—A Novel Method to Help Eradicate AIDS.”? Grand Challenges Explorations is an initiative to help scientists around the world explore new approaches to improving public health in developing countries. The highly competitive initiative received more than 3,000 proposals in the first round. Grants were provided to scientists in 17 countries on six continents.

CBS Fulbright Scholar plans to conduct diabetes research

Recent College of Biological Sciences graduate Anh Tran received a 2009 Fulbright award to study in the United Kingdom at the University of Newcastle on Tyne. She plans to conduct research on diabetes in immigrant populations. Tran was also one of 20 undergraduates from around the country chosen for the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team for her work with Biology Without Borders, a student group she co-founded. Biology Without Borders provides students with healthcare volunteer opportunities abroad. Watch a video of Anh talking about her path to diabetes research and her plans for Biology Without Borders.

Spring BIO online now

How does the College of Biological Sciences support research across the U? Find out in the feature story of the latest BIO. Read about students conducting biology research abroad, Center for Genome Engineering Director Dan Voytas’ cutting-edge technique for targeted genome modification and Institute on the Environment Director Jon Foley’s take on solving global-scale environmental problems. Plus, find a roundup of recent college and research news.

CBS social media made easy

Did you know the College of Biological Sciences is now on Twitter? Or that you can check out photos of CBS events on the college’s new Flickr page? Find all of the social media resources relating to CBS—from Facebook to YouTube to LinkedIn—in one place at the “get social, stay connected” page on the college’s website.

Research

New technique allows precision gene modification

[Nature | 4.29.09]

Danel Voytas

Professor Daniel Voytas (GCD), director of the U’s Center for Genome Engineering, is the lead author of a study that describes a highly targeted technique for modifying plant genes. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Massachusetts General Hospital have used the new genome engineering tool to make a model crop plant herbicide-resistant without significant changes to its DNA. The new approach has the potential to help scientists modify plants to produce food, fuel and fiber sustainably while minimizing concerns about genetically modified organisms. Video | Audio

Study measures influence of high school teachers on evolution views

[BioScience | 5.09]

Professors Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore (Biology Program) co-authored a study, which found that college students’ views about evolution and creationism are often shaped by what they learned in their high school biology classes. Moore and Cotner surveyed 1,000 students taking introductory biology classes at the University of Minnesota to learn how biology majors view evolution compared to non-majors. Results showed that the two groups’ views were similar and revealed that high school biology teachers influence whether majors and non-majors college students accept evolution or question it based on creationism.

Low-ranking male chimps use alternative mating strategies

[Animal Behaviour | 4.09]

Emily Wroblewski (EEB), a graduate student in the lab of Professor Anne Pusey (EEB), co-authored a study of reproductive success in the male chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The study showed that lower-ranking fathers achieved success by siring offspring with less-preferred females and by utilizing alternative mating strategies more often than their higher-ranking counterparts. While male competitive ability does translate into reproductive success in chimpanzees, differences in mate choice and mating strategy enable low-ranking males, with less ability to directly compete with higher-ranking males for access to females, opportunities to sire offspring more often than would be predicted.

Specific receptors found to guide phases of segmentation

[Development | 4.29.09]

Assistant Professor Laura Gammill (GCD) co-authored a study, which found that specific receptors guide distinct phases of sensory and motor neuronal segmentation. The researchers found that the segmented trunk peripheral nervous system is generated by ventrally migrating neural crest cells that exclusively invade the anterior sclerotome and differentiate into metameric dorsal root and sympathetic ganglia. They previously showed that neuropilin2 (Nrp2)/Semaphorin3F (Sema3F) signaling is required for segmental neural crest migration, but not for metameric dorsal root gangliogenesis. The study shows that Nrp2 and Nrp1 work together to produce segmentation of sensory and motor nerves, and that dorsal peripheral nervous system metamerism is generated in a stepwise, Nrp-dependent process.

People

Etty DeVeaux (EEB/PBIO) is the new administrative director for both the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and the Department of Plant Biology. DeVeaux fills the roles of Anne Caton (PBIO) and Kathy Pollock (EEB), both of whom retired at the end of April. Caton had been with the University for 40 years and with Plant Biology since 1987. Pollock had been with the University since 1986, and with Ecology, Evolution and Behavior since 2001. Before joining CBS, DeVeaux served as administrative services director for University Services and, before that, as assistant to the dean of the Graduate School.

Professor Frank Barnwell (EEB) is retiring from the College of Biological Sciences at the end of May after nearly 40 years at the University. Barnwell received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and taught for three years at the University of Chicago before joining the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1970. His studies of marine organisms have taken him to research stations around the world. An award-winning teacher, Barnwell provided leadership for CBS as head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior for eight years and as director of the Honors Program for more than 20 years.

Bernard Phinney, a U of M alumni and former plant biology faculty member, died of heart failure April 22. Phinney earned a B.A. in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1946 at the University of Minnesota. He went on to make major scientific contributions relating to the function and metabolism of gibberellins. Donations can be made to the Bernard and Jean Phinney Graduate Fellowship, University of Minnesota Foundation, Minneapolis, MN 55455.

Professor Michael Sadowsky (BTI) received a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences for his work with graduate students.

Alexandra Ellingson (GCD) and Eric Park (Biology) received Student Leader of the Semester awards from the Biology Colloquium Program. The award is given each term to a student who has shown excellent leadership skills.

Juli Pelletier (Dean’s Office) was one of 35 University employees to receive a Working Smarter Award from the Office of Continuous Improvement. Her idea: Have all University mass mailings sent electronically instead of via campus mail.

Xin Li, a student at the Breck School working in Associate Professor Sue Gibson’s (PBIO) lab, won one of three top awards at the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering and Environment) Project Olympiad in Houston, TX.

Events

2009 Conference on Genome Engineering

Attend sessions on targeted mutagenesis, insertional mutagenesis using transposons, and gene therapy. A half-day workshop on zinc finger protein engineering will be held June 27. Keith Joung and Morgan Maeder from Harvard Medical School will explain the nuances of their protocol for making zinc finger nucleases using the OPEN platform.

DETAILS: Depot Renaissance Hotel | Minneapolis | June 25–27

Itasca Centennial Celebration

Alumni, friends, faculty and staff are invited to celebrate Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories’ past and look to its future during an activity-filled weekend celebration. Faculty will lead classes on Itasca history, nature photography and environmental research during this weekend-long celebration.

DETAILS: Itasca Biological Station and Labs | September 25–27 | $55

FYI

Do you know an outstanding teaching assistant?

Nominate a teaching assistant for the CBS Outstanding Performance Award. All teaching assistants in CBS courses (undergraduate and graduate) are eligible for the annual award. CBS students, graduate students, faculty and staff can nominate an outstanding teaching assistant. Submit nominations to Bruce Fall (bafall@umn.edu / 3-104 MCB).

New on CBS’ Flickr page

  • Tropical reef ecology in Roatán
  • CBS year-end picnic
  • Sean Carroll at the Bell Museum
  • 2009 commencement reception

From the Dean | College news | Research | People | Events | FYI