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CBS News - January 2008

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

FROM THE DEAN

Do you have a rivet-ing story to share?

CBS has always been a source of great stories. That’s because, from molecules to ecosystems, there are lots of interesting things happening around here.

What makes a good story? Discoveries that shed light on human diseases. Research news about renewable energy, global warming and other environmental issues. Basic research that adds to our understanding of how the world works. Stories about lions, chimpanzees or frogs—especially when animal behavior reflects human behavior. Human interest stories about faculty who inspire students or students who overcome personal challenges to excel and make a difference.

Here are some examples of great stories from CBS archives that range from groundbreaking to inspiring to humorous. These stories have appeared in local, national and international media as well as CBS and University publications for faculty, staff, alumni and donors.

  • Gone fishing: Discovery-based foray lands a big catch
  • “Chlamy” genome holds clues for renewable energy, the environment and human health
  • Mixed prairie grasses may make best biofuel
  • When froggy goes a courting
  • From refugee camp to medical school
  • It’s a wonderful life in the neighborhood

If you’ve ever looked at the stories that appear in University media or the external press and thought “I know a story that should be out there,” we’d like to hear from you.

The University’s process for telling its stories begins with faculty and staff just like you, who share their news with collegiate communications staff. We need your help to get more stories like these bubbling up through CBS, the University, Minnesota and beyond. They let people know who we are and why they should care about—and support—the important work we do.

I encourage you to think about your own stories and those of students, faculty and staff you know. Please contact Peggy Rinard at rinar001@umn.edu with your suggestions. All ideas are welcome.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

NEWS

Bee and Wilson named McKnight Land Grant Professors

Assistant professors Mark Bee and Michael Wilson (both EEB) have been named 2008-2010 McKnight Land Grant Professors. The award, which goes to promising junior faculty, includes a research grant and the option of a year’s leave to pursue research. Bee’s research draws on mechanistic and evolutionary studies to answer fundamental questions about animal communication. Wilson uses data collected over four decades to better understand intergroup aggression and vocal communication in chimpanzees.

Dan Voytas named director of transposon research center

The University of Minnesota’s Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Transposon Research has named Dan Voytas its new director. Voytas comes to the University of Minnesota from Iowa State University where he worked in genetic engineering since 1992.

“The University of Minnesota—through the Beckman Center—has one of the world’s strongest constellations of researchers working on transposable elements and harnessing them for a variety of applications in basic and applied technology,” Voytas said. He hopes to expand the center by promoting the many new technologies being developed to manipulate genomes to augment and complement existing research programs. Voytas also plans to expand the impact of the Beckman Center’s research to applications in plant agriculture.

A record year for applications to CBS

The College of Biological Sciences has received a record 4,044 applications, up from 3,329 at this point last year. Director of Student Services Nikki Letawsky Shultz attributes the college’s appeal to its strong, innovative undergraduate program. “We are pleased that our applications continue to increase,” says Letawsky Shultz. “It speaks to the strength of CBS’ reputation for undergraduate biology education.”

New CBS wordmark available online

Looking for the new College of Biological Sciences wordmark? Want to incorporate the new look into your next PowerPoint presentation? Not sure how to use the wordmark properly? Several versions of the wordmark—color and B&W / print and Web—along with a PowerPoint template and usage guidelines are available online now.

CBS faculty and students to visit Galápagos

The first-ever “Biology of the Galápagos” class heads for Ecuador in May. After two days of cultural and biology-related activities in Quito, the group will live aboard the Floreana while exploring the Galápagos for ten days. Contact Randy Moore (moore@umn.edu | 612-626-4458) or Sehoya Cotner (harri054@umn.edu | 612-626-2385) for more information about the course.

Enterprise Financial System update

The CBS Enterprise Financial System (EFS) Design Team has completed a staffing plan to support the University’s new financial system, which begins July 1. Several people will move from their departments to the Dean’s Office by February 18 to form a cluster that will provide financial and human resource services to all CBS faculty and staff on the St. Paul campus. They are Adeline Mersch (BTI), Deb Drange (PBio), Janet Hopkins (LSSURP) and Kay Biermaier (EEB).

The Minneapolis campus cluster is in the final stages of design. Watch for an update in the February issue of CBS News.

Privacy training update

The University has been doing a phased rollout of online training designed to educate all employees about rules and methods for protecting private information encountered in our jobs. Many of you will have received notification about this in your email in recent weeks (if not before) as CBS is one of the last colleges to go through this process. The online training is required for all employees. It goes beyond HIPAA training covering, for example, financial and student data privacy. Most CBS computers should already be completely set up to do the training, but if you have problems or questions, contact the CBS IT Help desk at cbshelp@umn.edu or 612-625-9284. For more information about the training, visit the Privacy and Security Project website.

Toys for Tots drive a success

Thanks to everyone who generously contributed a toy. The collection box was overflowing.

RESEARCH

Researchers have found no evidence that chimpanzees in the wild undergo menopause in the way that women do, according to a report in the Dec. 19 issue of Current Biology. That’s despite the fact that reproduction tends to diminish at a similar age in both species. The study, co-authored by Anne Pusey (EEB), director of the University of Minnesota’s Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Studies, draws on data from chimpanzees at several sites in Africa, including Gombe National Park, where Jane Goodall began her pioneering work in 1960.

A team of researchers led by David Kirkpatrick (GCD) authored a study published in December 2007 Genetics, examining the role of zinc in regulating variations in genomes. The study finds an unexpected link between metal ion homeostasis and minisatellite stability. Minisatellite sequences are a major source of variation in most genomes. Co-authors include Maire Kelly, Peter Jauert, Linnea Jensen, Christine Chan and Chinh Truong.

Melanie Legrand (GCD), advised by Kirkpatrick, published a paper in the December issue of Eukaryotic Cell. Legrand examined six DNA repair enzymes, and determined that DNA mismatch repair and double-strand break repair act to maintain genome stability in Candida albicans. A complete loss of either repair activity allows the yeast, an important human fungal pathogen, to more frequently develop resistance to antifungal drugs, a significant clinical problem.

A study, authored by Mark Bee (EEB) and former student Eli Swanson, published in the December 6, 2007 issue of Animal Behaviour, reports that human-caused noise may interfere with animal behaviors by masking the perception of acoustic communication signals. The researchers tested the hypothesis that traffic noise can inhibit a female’s perception of male signals in the grey treefrog by comparing the effects of traffic noise and the background noise of a breeding chorus on female responses to mating calls. Results highlight the fact that sources of human-caused noise could interfere with the communication systems of animals living in urban environments.

An international team of researchers, including Tony Sanderfoot (PBIO), has completed a draft genome sequence of the model moss Physcomitrella patens and published the results of a comparison of its features with those of flowering plants and unicellular aquatic algae in the January 4, 2008 issue of Science. The comparison revealed genomic changes that occurred at the same time as the evolutionary movement to land.

A study co-authored by Michael Sadowsky (BTI), published in the December 7, 2007 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that semiconductor-like nanotubes are formed by the bacterium Shewanella sp. HN-41. This is the first time that these specialized arsenic-sulfide nanotubes have been produced by biological rather than chemical means. Sadowsky and co-researchers found that the bacterium Shewanella has the unique ability to convert arsenate into arsenic sulfide nanotubes, tiny filaments that may find use in the optical, medical and electronics industries.

Larry Wackett (BTI) led a study published in the November 2007 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology which shows that a bacterium reported to produce significant qualities of diesel fuel does not make alkanes. The study investigates the alkane-producing phenotype of V. furnissii M1 using a combined approach of whole-genome sequencing and biochemical studies. Wackett and his research team reported that alkane-producing genes could not be identified and alkane biosynthesis could not be demonstrated in vivo or in vitro.

Michael Wilson (EEB) edited a special issue of the journal Behaviour focusing on inter-group aggression in primates. He also published two studies in the same issue titled: “Intergroup aggression in wild primates” and “Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) modify grouping and vocal behaviour in response to location-specific risk.”

TRENDWATCH

Mentoring key to innovative undergrad science program

A recent Science report suggests that conventional approaches to science education do not allow undergraduates to exercise their curiosity in selecting courses. The report, titled “Linking students’ interests to science curricula,” notes the benefits of using students’ interests as the starting point for instruction and describes an approach adopted by faculty at several universities that relies heavily on peer mentoring by upperclassman, along with visits to academic and industrial laboratories and hands-on research experiences to help create stronger connections with the subject matter. The report is critical of the more traditional approach, which requires students to take courses in sequence.

PEOPLE

Duane Nelson (BMBB), principal accountant, has been appointed chair of the member relations and communications committee of the Central Association of College and University Business Officers (CACUBO). The association represents chief business officers at more than 700 institutions throughout the north central region of the United States.

EVENTS

Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology Symposium

WHEN: Friday, 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 collaborate in data mining methods for clinical and laboratory data and computational methods for rational drug design.

2008 University of Minnesota Legislative Briefing and Reception

WHEN: Wednesday, January 23 | 5:30–8 p.m.
WHERE: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank campus

Connect with other University supporters and President Bruininks in this energizing annual event. You will get an insider’s preview of the University of Minnesota’s 2008 capital bonding request and learn how to share our story in a way that will help the leadership and citizens of this state realize how the University of Minnesota touches each and every one of them. Enjoy a light dinner buffet and learn what you can do to support the U. RSVP online or call 612-626-1417.

Focus the Nation

WHEN: Wednesday, January 30 | 7 p.m.
WHERE: Bell Museum Auditorium | East Bank campus | Free

Stanford climate scientist Stephen Schneider, sustainability expert Hunter Lovins, and “green jobs” pioneer Van Jones will discuss global warming via a national Webcast. A panel discussion with Bell Museum and University of Minnesota partners will follow.

Focus Minnesota

WHEN: Thursday, January 31 | 6 p.m.
WHERE: First Avenue, Mpls. | Free

This event, sponsored by the Bell Museum in an effort to spark conversation about climate change, will include a presentation by explorer Will Steger, live music, and appearances by local politicians.

University of Minnesota Quality Fair

WHEN: Thursday, January 31 | 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
WHERE: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank campus

Faculty, staff and students are invited to attend this event focusing on best practices for making the University more effective and efficient. Participate in breakout sessions on the future of higher education and other topics relating to advancement.

FYI

Stay up on bio science library offerings

The Periodic Update for the College of Biological Sciences, an online newsletter compiled by biological sciences library specialists, offers insights into the resources available at McGrath Library on the St. Paul campus. The quarterly newsletter covers new biological sciences materials and library news, and spotlights resources of interest.

CBS college calendar

Find listings of seminars, events and important dates such as the CBS picnic and commencement all in one place. Use the “CBS Calendar” link on the homepage to get the lowdown on happenings across the college. Contact Katie Hoffman (hoff0530@umn.edu | 612-625-2247) with calendar listings.