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CBS News - December 2007

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FROM THE DEAN

Fast forward

This fall marked several firsts for the College of Biological Sciences. We launched a new introductory biology course sequence designed specifically for biology majors. Our incoming freshman class was the most qualified in the college’s history. We introduced an event for seniors to help them navigate graduation and commencement, and prepare them for what’s ahead.

Last year, we received 3,800 applications—a record number. The freshman class that resulted has incredible credentials. On average, they ranked in the 94th percentile of their high school classes and scored 28.6 on the ACT. They chose CBS based on the college’s reputation as a high-caliber learning community within a large research university. It’s a great place to be and it shows.

Nature of Life, our freshman orientation program at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, and Foundations of Biology, the new intro biology courses for majors, are two of the reasons that CBS has become a magnet for such exceptional students. These special programs share in common a strong focus on community and represent the combined effort of many in the college. Last spring, our first Nature of Life class graduated and we saw what can result from that focus on community. In 2007, the college’s graduation rate increased from 48 percent to 61 percent surpassing the University-wide goal of 60 percent. That 13 percent increase can be attributed, at least in part, to the sense of connection to the college and to their peers that students take away from their Nature of Life experience. The Foundations of Biology sequence will further reinforce the intellectual and social cohesion among our undergraduates.

These firsts have one thing in common—they would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of the college’s faculty and staff. Nearly 70 of you were involved in meetings and discussions that ultimately led to Foundations of Biology. Likewise, the Nature of Life experience depends on the knowledge, creativity and passion of many individuals working together. And, really, these are just two examples of what staff and faculty do every day to make this place great for students.

At the recent All-College Meeting, one of the topics discussed was how faculty and staff can help build community. Each of the milestones I describe above started with such a conversation. How can we make the freshman experience better? How can we attract top students? How can we smooth the way for graduating seniors and create a sense of community at the end of their CBS experience? With that in mind, I welcome your ideas and suggestions for ways to continue to cultivate community.

The spirit of community and giving that defines the holiday season is something I see year-round in the good work and personal commitment of the staff and faculty of this college. Together, we will keep moving the college forward. Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

NEWS

Standing room only at E3 2007

Close to 450 people attended last month’s E3 2007 conference, an annual event organized by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), part of the new Institute on the Environment.

The sold-out event included keynote presentations by Pew Center on Global Climate Change President Eileen Claussen, Xcel Energy CEO Richard Kelly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and POET Research Vice President Mark Stowers. Participants attended breakout sessions on a wide range of topics—from the future of biofuels to public policy—featuring panelists from industry, the nonprofit sector and academia.

“Throughout the day, I heard comments from attendees about how diverse the speakers and breakout sessions were, and how there’s nothing quite like this conference in the Midwest,” says Todd Reubold, director of communications and public affairs for the Institute on the Environment and IREE. “We’re confident that we met our goal of promoting collaboration between the different energy sectors, with the University of Minnesota leading the way.”

New event spotlights CBS seniors

Nearly a hundred graduating seniors attended a new event late last month designed to help ease the transition from undergraduate to alum. Dubbed “Ready? Get Set. Go!,” the event brought together representatives from Student Services, the Office of Financial Aid, the Health Careers Center, the Center for Careers in Science and Engineering and the Biological Sciences Alumni Association. Participants had the opportunity to have their resumes and APAS reports reviewed, ask questions about graduation and commencement, and meet one-on-one about student loan repayment.

Assistant Dean Jean Underwood, noting the students crowded around information tables asking questions, said: “I’m excited that there’s so much interaction … that they’re getting the information they need.”

CBS agrees to help develop undergrad program at UMR

Faculty and staff from the College of Biological Sciences will assist in the development of the first undergraduate program in the health sciences at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. Robin Wright (associate dean), Nikki Letawsky Shultz (Student Services) and Stuart Goldstein (GCD) are among CBS faculty and staff who will help develop plans for curriculum review, student admissions and services, and hiring. Claudia Neuhauser (EEB) will lead the design for the new B.S. in Health Sciences, which will involve innovative learning strategies and curricula.

Former Institute of Technology dean H. Ted Davis to head BTI

University of Minnesota Regents Professor H. Ted Davis has been named director of the BioTechnology Institute (BTI)—a joint effort of the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences and the Institute of Technology. Davis will begin his duties as director of the BioTechnology Institute effective January 7, 2008.

“With research in biofuels and renewable energy moving to the international forefront, the work done at BTI, especially in the area of biocatalysis, is more critical than ever,” says Dean Elde. “Ted Davis brings the leadership and expertise needed to create momentum behind the University’s initiatives in these areas of research.”

Davis has been a faculty member in the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science since 1963 where he served as department head for 15 years. In 1995, he was named dean of the Institute of Technology, the college of engineering, physical sciences and mathematics, and served nine years as dean before leaving the post in 2004 to return to the faculty. In his new role as director of the BTI, Davis will lead efforts to boost interdisciplinary research for new and innovative sources of renewable energy.

“When I served as dean, one of my priorities was to work with people from across the University in promoting high-quality interdisciplinary research through the BioTechnology Institute,” Davis said. “Today the BTI is composed of an outstanding team of research professors who I believe will be able to leverage the resources of the University President’s Initiative on Biocatalysis to assert Minnesota as a leader in this important area of biochemical technology.”

RESEARCH

The cover of the Dec. 1 issue of Genes & Development features a study authored by Gábor Juhász and Thomas Neufeld (GCD), along with researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. The paper, titled “Atg7-dependent autophagy promotes neuronal health, stress tolerance, and longevity but is dispensable for metamorphosis in Drosophila,” describes mutations that disrupt autophagy, a process of cytoplasmic self-digestion. Previously thought to be required for insect metamorphosis, the study shows that autophagy isn’t essential and that autophagy-defective mutants are able to develop normally to adulthood. However, the adult mutant flies suffer from neuronal degeneration, a clue that autophagy provides a critical protective mechanism in these cells. The findings suggest that autophagy may play a similar role in human cells and that clinical manipulation of the process could represent a potential therapy for neurodegenerative diseases.

Michael O’Connor (GCD) co-authored a study published in the Dec. 4 edition of Developmental Cell titled “Prothoracicotropic hormone regulates developmental timing and body size in Drosophila.”

A study co-authored by Jennifer Powers (EEB), published in the Dec. 12 edition of PLoS ONE, shows that more plant litter resulting from higher CO2 could boost the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. As CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, increases in plant productivity—and litterfall—are likely. The study considers the impact of an increase in organic matter on the ground on processes belowground. Results suggest that the balance of carbon stored in the soils (thought to be a long-term sink for carbon) can be changed with the addition of fresh leaf litter. The capacity of soils to store carbon might then diminish if global environmental changes such as CO2 increases and nitrogen deposition boost plant productivity.

PEOPLE

Friederic Srienc (BTI) received a $50,000 innovation grant from the Office of the Vice President to develop a cell tracking cytometer. He was also awarded a $260,000 grant from Mascoma Corp. to develop yeast strains.

Melissa Palmer joined the Biology Program as a teaching assistant professor in August.

CBS undergraduate Andres Morantes (EEB) was accepted into the Golden Key International Honour Society, an academic honor society that recognizes and encourages scholastic achievement and excellence among college and university students from all academic disciplines.

The International Myeloma Foundation and the local chapter of the Myeloma Patient Support Group recently hosted a fundraiser in support of “Bank on a Cure,” a project headed up by the lab of Brian Van Ness (GCD). The event, held in late November at Elko Speedway, drew around 900 people and raised close to $400,000. Says Van Ness: “It was a great way to connect with the patients whose battle with cancer we are trying to cure!”

EVENTS

Winter Warm Up

WHEN: Fridays through December 21 | 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
WHERE: CBS Dean’s Office | 123 Snyder Hall

Come in out of the cold! CBS faculty and staff are invited to stop by the CBS dean’s office for cookies and cider Fridays through December 21.

Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology Research Symposium

WHEN: January 18
WHERE: University of Minnesota, Rochester

Scientists and administrators from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, the University of Minnesota Rochester, the Hormel Institute, the Mayo Clinic and IBM will explore ways to further collaborations in data mining methods for clinical and laboratory data and computational methods for rational drug design. Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology (BICB)