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CBS News - December 2008

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

From the dean

I don’t have to tell you that CBS is facing challenging financial times. Added to national economic woes, the state is bracing for a projected $5.3 billion revenue shortfall for 2010–11 while grappling with the current deficit of $426 million. Governor Tim Pawlenty has clearly stated his opposition to increasing taxes, which means that public institutions, including the University of Minnesota, will likely face cutbacks in the coming year.

But an economic slowdown doesn’t mean a slowdown in strategic or creative thinking. In fact, challenging times like these call for revving up creative strategies for doing more with less. As President Bruininks said in his December 4 letter to faculty and staff, the University will likely contribute to resolving the state’s financial problems and restoring a vibrant economy. He also points out that the University has actually emerged from previous lean times as a much stronger institution.

The College of Biological Sciences has made huge gains in the recent past. The 1998 U-wide biosciences reorganization strengthened our research and education efforts by creating joint departments (BMBB, GCD and PBIO) with the Medical School and CFANS. The BioTechnology Institute was created as a joint venture with the Institute of Technology. With state funding and private funding, we added 41 talented new faculty and two new buildings. CBS faculty now publish more articles in top journals such as Science and Nature than faculty in any other college. And our students just keep getting better and better.

So while it’s true we have challenges ahead, it’s also true we’ve never had more intellectual and creative resources to address them. I believe that by tapping these resources we will meet the challenges of the coming year.

Thank you for everything you do for CBS. And happy holidays to you and yours.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

Tilman awarded top biology prize

Regents Professor David Tilman (EEB) received the 2008 International Prize for Biology at a ceremony in Tokyo on December 8. Emperor Akihito of Japan presented Tilman with a medal and a cash prize at the event. The award, which is one of the most prestigious honors a scientist can receive, is given to one individual in a different field of biology each year. The last time it was given for ecology was in 1993 to renowned Harvard evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson.

Tilman was selected based on his seminal findings, published in Science and Nature during the 1990s, which prove that biodiversity makes ecosystems more productive and resistant to drought, disease and pests. More recently, Tilman has applied his discoveries to renewable energy, showing that biofuel created from diverse prairie grasses is more efficient and better for the environment than fuel made from food crops such as corn and soybeans. All of Tilman’s research was carried out at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve where he is director.

“This is one of the most prestigious scientific prizes in the world,” says CBS Dean Bob Elde. “And no one deserves it more that Dave Tilman. His stature as a scientist honors the university, the college, his colleagues and our students. We are very fortunate that he has chosen Cedar Creek as his laboratory.”

BTI’s Sadowsky named AAAS fellow

Michael Sadowsky (BTI) was recently named a 2009 fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS chose Sadowsky for the honor based on his contributions to the field of environmental microbiology noting his work in molecular plant-microbe interactions, biodegradation of chlorinated herbicides and determining sources of fecal bacteria.

CBS alum recognized by Discover magazine

CBS alumnus Bill Hilton Jr. (M.S. EEB ‘82) was named one of the “50 Best Brains in Science” in the December issue of Discover magazine. While a graduate student at CBS, Hilton studied the behavioral ecology of blue jays. He spent his first summer taking field biology courses at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories followed by four years studying at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. The late Bud Tordoff, who was a CBS professor and director of the Bell Museum of Natural History, was his graduate advisor.

Discover cites Hilton’s 26-year record of banding more than 52,000 wild birds at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, a non-profit education, research and conservation organization he established in 1982 on family property in York, S.C. Hilton is an internationally recognized authority on hummingbirds and founder of “Operation Ruby Throat: The Hummingbird Project.”

Nominate an outstanding teaching assistant

All teaching assistants associated with undergraduate and graduate CBS courses who have demonstrated excellence in teaching or other instructional activities are eligible for the annual CBS Outstanding Performance Award. Students taking a CBS course, or graduate students, faculty and staff associated with a course can nominate TAs for the award. The deadline for nominations of TAs who taught CBS courses spring through fall 2008 is January 30. Please submit nominations to TA Award Committee coordinator Bruce Fall (bafall@umn.edu or 3-104 MCB).

Research

Critical protein structure captured in 3-D

[Structure | 12.12.08]

Anja Bielinsky (BMBB) was part of a collaborative effort, along with researchers at Vanderbilt University, to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the structure of the Mcm10 protein, which is integral to the molecular machinery used for cell reproduction. Bielinsky’s lab handled the functional validation of the structural data. “We introduced mutations at sites at which the structure would predict impediment in DNA binding and tested these predictions in a biological assay,” she says. Bielinsky’s group had previously shown that inhibition of Mcm10 drives proliferating cells into apoptosis, a finding that suggests the protein might make a good drug target in cancer cells. “I think the most important implication,” says Bielinsky, “is that we could now ‘design’ small molecule inhibitors and test whether they are effective at inhibiting proliferation.”

Packer discovers strategy for sleeping sickness vaccine

[PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases | 12.9.08]

A study authored by Distinguished McKnight University Professor Craig Packer (EEB) suggests a new strategy for vaccinating humans and animals against sleeping sickness (trypanosomiaisis). Trypanosomiasis is a major health threat in Africa. Development of a vaccine has long been hampered by the extraordinarily diverse surface proteins of the T. brucei parasite, which causes the illness. Packer and colleagues found that lions might gain cross-immunity to T. brucei from repeated exposure to the more genetically diverse T. congolense through frequent consumption of infected prey animals.

Trendwatch

Rethinking scholarship in the digital age

UCLA information studies professor Christine Borgman contends that the tenure system should be revamped to reward faculty who participate in collaborative digital projects. Borgman argues in favor of a new “scholarly information infrastructure” that encourages collaborative, interdisciplinary research.

Graduate schools look to partner with universities abroad

American graduate schools are expanding their offerings with joint and dual-degree programs in partnership with universities abroad. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, 38 percent of graduate schools already have such a degree or certificate program in place and another 31 percent plan to launch one in the near future.

People

Carolyn Silflow (PBIO) talks about how her research on the Chalmydomonas organism could shed light on ways to harness hydrogen from green algae for “IREE Innovators,” a video featuring five U of M faculty talking about IREE-funded renewable energy research.

BioTechnology Institute Director and Regents Professor Ted Davis was inducted into the Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame on October 30. The hall of fame honors individuals who have made lasting contributions to the state through achievements in science and technology.

Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) and Michael Sadowsky (BTI) were awarded a one-year $133,680 grant from Syngenta Crop Protection for their study: “Optimizing the biodegradation of s-triazine compounds: Enzyme for water treatment.”

John Ward (PBIO) was selected as a Faculty of 1000 Biology member in the category of plant biochemistry and physiology. Faculty of 1000 Biology is an online research service run by scientists for scientists. “Faculty members” rate and review the most interesting papers published in their specific field. The site provides a “rapidly updated consensus map of the important papers and trends across biology.”

The Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior held its Second Annual Thanksgiving Turkey Coloring Contest for graduate students in November. This year’s winners were: Annika Moe, 1st place (prize: frozen turkey breast and apple pie); Emily Peters, 2nd place (prize: fresh cranberries and stuffing); and Maria Gei, 3rd place (prize: green beans and buns).

Events

Bollum Symposium: Biochemistry of Biofuels

The Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics has announced the lineup for this year’s Bollum Symposium. Speakers will include Jay Keasling (University of California, Berkeley), CEO of DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute; Tim Donohue (University of Wisconsin, Madison), head of DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Center; James Liao (University of California, Los Angeles), developer of the GEVO biofuel technology platform; and Steve Ragsdale (University of Michigan Medical School).

DETAILS: Coffman Union | May 6 | 1–5 p.m.

FYI

Itasca auction items needed!

In conjunction with the Itasca Centennial Celebration in September 2009, CBS will be hosting an online auction next fall to support renovations at Itasca. If you have items worth $100 or more that you would be willing to donate such as fine dining restaurant gift certificates, theater tickets, weekend cabin getaways and airline tickets, please let us know by February 12.

Get the Itasca centennial calendar at half price!

Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories turns 100 in 2009. Help support a legacy of ecological research and education by purchasing a centennial calendar. Each month features an image of Itasca’s unique flora and fauna, from orchids to water lilies to woodcocks. Available at U bookstores and online. Now only $5.