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CBS News - February 2010

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Ask the Dean

College news

CBS advisory council delivers recommendations

The Dean’s Council on Priorities concluded its work late last month and delivered its recommendations at the All-College Dialogues held on both campuses last week. The council formed three working groups tasked with evaluating the scope and priorities of the college’s mission, generating ways to boost tuition income, and considering approaches to increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Recommendations included:

  • Amending the CBS mission to include use-inspired basic research.
  • Establishing guidelines to set priorities for future faculty searches.
  • Evaluating the relationship of the Biology Program with departments and majors along with the prerequisites for each major.
  • Reconstituting CBS majors to best train undergrads for the “new biology.”
  • Offering new courses to attract students registered outside the college and offering courses from the CBS curriculum to non-traditional students.
  • Adding required CBS courses that bridge the gap between biology and related disciplines such as chemistry, physics and math.
  • Expanding the Plan B master’s degree to a program of full-time study.
  • Encouraging communication among faculty in different departments.
  • Periodically identifying emerging disciplines and prioritizing them for investment.
  • Reviewing interdisciplinary centers and institutes every five years to determine if continued collegiate investment is justified.
  • Developing a policy regarding non-tenure-track teaching faculty and investigating ways to improve the allocation of faculty teaching effort in response to the rapidly changing instructional needs of our students.
  • Making the case to the University that the current budget model hinders, rather than facilitates, collegiate efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The working groups will likely meet again to explore specific recommendations in greater depth after the external review of the college’s undergraduate program is finished and the University has a more complete picture of the budget.

Itasca capital request takes a step forward

Minnesota’s senate and house bonding proposals include the $3.7 million requested for Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories in the University’s 2010 capital request. This is a huge first step toward securing the funds needed to restore Itasca and keep the field station a vital hub for biology education and research. Next, a conference committee will meet to reconcile the house and senate bonding bill proposals, then send the bill to Governor Pawlenty.

If funded, the field station will move forward on phase one of an $8 million construction plan that includes a new campus center and other much-needed renovations. Private donors have already committed $1.3 million to the effort.

Check out the U’s capital request update for details about how each part of the request has fared so far in the legislature. Stay in the loop about fast-moving developments and opportunities to support Itasca and the University during this critical phase of the legislative process:

  • Join the U Legislative Network
  • Join the Itasca fan page on Facebook
  • Visit the Itasca legislative website

Research

Muller-Landau explains why plant seeds come in different sizes

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 2.15.10]

Helene Muller-Landau (EEB adjunct professor) has developed a new theory explaining why some plant species produce a small number of large seeds while others produce a large number of small seeds.

Using mathematical modeling, Muller-Landau demonstrated that plants subjected to stressful conditions—such as drought or shade—produce large seeds (e.g. coconuts), which have a better chance of surviving. In contrast, plants that grow in favorable conditions—areas with adequate water and light—have evolved to produce large numbers of small seeds (e.g. fig species) because most of those will take root and grow.

“The standard explanation has been that big seeds beat out small seeds under all conditions, but that’s not necessarily true,” Muller-Landau says. “Big seeds have the advantage in stressful conditions and small seeds have the advantage when sun and water are abundant. It’s a trade-off between tolerance and fecundity.”

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)

Biology + math = breakthrough discoveries

[Developmental Cell | 2.15.10]

Mike O’Connor (GCD) and Hans Othmer (Mathematics) have a paper out describing how computational biology is helping to address the age-old question of how a single cell develops into a mature organism. Developmental biologists have known for some time that concentration of chemical signals called morphogens within developing tissue orchestrates the specification of different types of cells. However, they were unable to determine how gradients of morphogens form and signal using biological tools alone. The new procedure combines biological data such as gene expression patterns, mutational information and tissue geometry with quantitative mathematical modeling enabling the researchers to describe, for the first time, the dynamics of gradient formation in four dimensions (space and time) in a developing fruit fly embryo.

“This type of marriage between quantitative modeling and biological experimental data will provide numerous opportunities to explore many characteristics of normal and abnormal tissue growth and patterning in other organisms, including humans,” O’Connor says.

Planting trees, restoring prairies has little effect on C02 levels

[Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment | 2.10]

Planting new forests and restoring prairies will have little effect on offsetting carbon dioxide emissions because there isn’t enough idle land available for significant carbon sequestration, according to a new study by University of Minnesota researchers. Cinzia Fissore, a research associate in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate, led the study with contributions from Javier Espeleta, a former U of M research associate; Ed Nater (Soil, Water and Climate); Sarah Hobbie (EEB) and Peter Reich (Forest Resources). The team estimated how much carbon different plant types and management practices can remove from the atmosphere and store in biomass and soil after conversion from cropland. Planting forests and prairies would provide the most carbon storage, but not enough to significantly reduce CO2 levels.

Institute on the Environment launches resident fellows competition

The Institute on the Environment is recruiting a new cohort of resident fellows from across the University. Resident fellows will be selected to pursue interdisciplinary research, create new models of teaching and training, and build new networks and collaborations. Approximately 10 fellows will be appointed for a period of three years, and will receive $50,000. Application deadline: March 5.

People

Kate VandenBosch, head of the Department of Plant Biology, was elected chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee, which represents faculty and serves as the consulting body to the president of the University Senate.

Sue Wick and Emily Hoover (Biology Program) were awarded a continuation grant for their Investigative Plant Biology for Elementary Teachers program. The funds will be used to set up learning communities of past participants. Gillian Roehrig (CEHD) and Jane Phillips (Biology Program) will serve as co-leaders of the program, which is funded by the Improving Teacher Quality grants from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Craig Bantz, assistant director of information technology for the college, talks about Rick Steves envy, his academic pursuits and more for the latest edition of CBS People.

Cassandra Sigurdson received Student Leader of the Semester Award for the fall semester from the Biology Colloquium Program.

Events

Unquenchable: America’s water crisis and what to do about it

University of Arizona law professor, water expert and author Robert Glennon will share his insights on the sustainability of current water use in the United States. A panel of Minnesota water resource experts will also be on hand to discuss the future of water in the state. This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and pre-registration is required. Parking is available in the Gortner ramp.

DETAILS: St. Paul Student Center | St. Paul campus | February 22 | 7 p.m.

CBS Faculty-Student Bowling Night

The CBS Student Board invites faculty to an evening of bowling and socializing with CBS students. The event is designed to boost interaction between students and faculty outside the classroom. Interested in attending? RSVP to Michelle Holman (holma078@umn.edu) by February 23.

DETAILS Coffman Union | Goldy’s Gameroom | March 2 | 5–7 p.m.