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CBS News - February 2008

From the Dean | News | Research | Trendwatch | People | Events | FYI

FROM THE DEAN

Saying goodbye to CUFS, hello to EFS

As you probably know, CBS is preparing for the University’s new Enterprise Financial System (EFS), which becomes effective July 1. The new system will replace the outdated CUFS system, bringing us in line with current practices, streamlining reporting and analysis, and eliminating redundancy and the “shadow systems” that have emerged to work around the cumbersome CUFS model.

Next month, new administrative clusters in Minneapolis and St. Paul will begin combining accounting and several HR functions. (The Minneapolis cluster will also combine some grants management functions.) You may be wondering how EFS will affect your day-to-day work or change the dynamics within your department or unit. If you handle financial transactions, you should know your training requirements. If you don’t, your go-to person for financial and HR functions may change. We know that faculty who purchase lab equipment and other supplies are concerned about their training requirements. We are working with University administration to address this issue and to ensure that the transition goes smoothly for all CBS faculty and staff.  More details will be provided as the transition unfolds.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the EFS design team: Lori Bubolz, Anne Caton, Terri Ritz, Jeff Thomas and Elizabeth Wroblewski. This dedicated group of staff from across the college has played a vital role in collaborating with department administrators to redefine roles as needed. They have spent considerable time working through the details. Thanks to their hard work, the college will make the move to realigned financial roles starting March 31, keeping us on track to switch over to the new system in July as planned.

A significant change such as this inevitably brings about some anxiety and uncertainty. We’re committed to keeping you informed of the latest developments. Contact Jeff Thomas (j-thom1@umn.edu) or Elizabeth Wroblewski (wrobl003@umn.edu) in the Dean’s Office if you have questions. They will be visiting faculty at department meetings in the coming weeks. Finally, check CBS News each month for EFS updates and feel free to contact your department administrator, Jeff or Elizabeth.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

NEWS

Plant Biology program among top 10 in 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked the College of Biological Sciences’ Plant Biological Sciences graduate program sixth nationally based on scholarly productivity. Similar programs at UC Berkeley, Cornell, Washington University, Georgia, and Penn State ranked ahead of the U of M program. The “Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index” rates programs according to the productivity of the graduate faculty in publications, grants and awards.

CBS T-shirts available now

New CBS T-shirts—“Naturally Selected” in light green and “We know what you’re made of” in marine blue—are available now at a cost of $10 each. Proceeds support the CBS Student Board’s efforts to revamp the BioCommons, a gathering place for students and faculty in the Molecular and Cell Biology building.

Interested? Contact Tarrek Hegab, CBS Student Board president, (hegab002@umn.edu) to find out when and where T-shirts will be on sale. A limited number are available during office hours in the CBS Dean’s office at 123 Snyder Hall on the St. Paul campus. Cash or checks accepted. Quantities are limited and they’re going fast!

RESEARCH

Converting ecosystems for energy crops increases global warming

Clearing native ecosystems to plant biofuels crops creates a carbon debt that will increase global warming and take hundreds of years to pay off, according a University of Minnesota study. The study, conducted by Joe Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky and Peter Hawthorne, was published online February 7 in Science Express.

Biofuels that don’t rely on converting native habitat do not add to global warming, the researchers said. These include agricultural and forest waste as well as native grasses and woody biomass grown on marginal lands unsuitable for crop production. “Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt” was reported by the New York Times, Scientific American, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, ABC News, NBC News and many other media outlets. The work was supported by the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment and the National Science Foundation.

Low-level nitrogen pollution is slowly killing plant species

The number of plant species worldwide may be dwindling from the effects of chronic low levels of nitrogen on terrestrial ecosystems, according to a study by Christopher Clark, former EEB graduate student, and David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology, which was published in the Feb. 7 issue of Nature.

Research was carried out at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. “Even at low levels, comparable to nitrogen deposition over many industrialized nations, we lost about one plant species in six at our test site [17 percent over 23 years],” Clark said. But Clarke and Tilman also discovered some good news—that the loss of species can be reversed. Thirteen years after addition of nitrogen was stopped, species numbers had recovered.

Researchers take step forward in battle against AIDS

Hiroshi Matsuo, and Reuben Harris, assistant professors in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, have determined the structure of APOBEC3G—a protein that inhibits the AIDS virus, HIV. This discovery is the first to shed light on the atomic structure of the protein. It will help researchers manipulate APOBEC3G to make it effective in combating HIV. The research was released online Feb. 20 on the Nature website and will be featured in an upcoming print edition of Nature.

Molecular key to nitrogen fixation discovered

Kate VandenBosch (PBIO) and colleagues have discovered that polysaccharides on the surface of helpful bacteria serve as a molecular pass code that allows the bacteria to infect the roots of legumes, a relationship that benefits both partners. (The roots sustain the bacteria and in exchange, the bacteria provide nitrogen, a nutrient essential for growth.)

Recent research suggests that molecules on the surface of bacteria alert plants to whether bacteria are friendly or pathogenic. The researchers examined plant gene expression as a measure of the plants’ response to the symbiotic bacteria. They found that if the bacteria lacked a surface polysaccharide called succinoglycan, the plant responded by turning on defense genes. This showed that plants sense the presence of succinoglycan, which serves as a pass code to allow these beneficial bacteria to infect the plant. The research was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science during the week of January 7–11.

TRENDWATCH

New tools boost online scientific collaboration

Narrowly focused online collaboration tools are creating new and unparalleled opportunities for scientific collaboration, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Examples of this trend include the Clinical Decisions interactive feature at the New England Journal of Medicine, which allows physicians to vote on treatment options, the website SciVee, which allows scientists to link videos to research papers appearing in open-access biomedical journals, and GenePattern, an application designed to make computational work repeatable by other scientists by storing both data and analytical routines.

Biology journal publishes study embracing creationism

Molecular biology journal Proteomics has reviewed and accepted a manuscript titled “Mitochondria, the Missing Link Between Body and Soul: Proteomic Prospective Evidence.” The paper, by two scientists at Inje University, in South Korea, contains several sections with language supporting the idea of creationism, including a line referencing the makeup of mitochondria as containing a “single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator.”

The article was published online in January and is due to appear in print in the coming weeks though the journal’s editor says the paper may be retracted. The paper has prompted heated debate about the peer-review process at the journal.

PEOPLE

Martin Tsui, a water resources graduate student, who is advised by Jacques Finlay (EEB), received a grant from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry to study mercury methylation in streams and rivers of forested watersheds.

EVENTS

2008 Undergraduate Symposium

Come support the efforts of CBS undergraduates as they present their research at this year’s Undergraduate Symposium.

DETAILS: Coffman Memorial Union | April 18, 2008 | noon to 5 p.m.

FYI

Volunteer opportunity

Do you need to demonstrate the broader impact of your work? Interested in instilling scientific inquiry in next generation’s scientists? Work with Teaching SMART!, a volunteer program on campus aimed at teaching science and research to elementary students around the metro area. Contact t-smart@umn.edu for more information.