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CBS News - May 2007

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

FROM THE DEAN

We’ve made a lot of progress together this year

This has been a great year for the College of Biological Sciences. And once again, the time has passed so quickly it’s hard to believe that 2006–07 is coming to an end.

Together, we have made a lot of progress towards our goals—increasing support for graduate education and the impact of research, developing the best undergraduate curriculum in the country and, along with several other colleges, positioning the University as a leader in renewable energy research.

We were swept up by the rising wave of public interest in replacing petroleum with renewable fuel. Local and national media showcased faculty research. Several legislative committees invited us to share our biofuels expertise with them. We submitted a proposal for a $125-million Department of Energy grant to establish a bioenergy research center at the U. And in February, Governor Pawlenty signed historic renewable energy legislation (“25 by 2025”) at the Cargill Building, where the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment is headquartered. Looking back, I can’t believe all of that happened in a single year.

Our graduate programs got a boost from the University with an increase of nearly $1 million in recurring funds. We have used the funds to pay teaching assistants (which allows us to use research funds for research instead of teaching) and to raise stipends for research assistants. This is an important step towards increasing the size and quality of our graduate programs, which are an essential component of our research enterprise.

We also developed a program with the University Library to track research CBS faculty members have published in high impact journals. It was noteworthy that 14 CBS faculty members combined to publish 17 highest impact articles in 2006. The previous annual high over the past six years was 13 articles, and the average over this six-year period was 12 articles.

We have been busy planning a core biology course, to be introduced this fall, that will advance our undergraduate curriculum goal. The lab-based course will tackle problems ranging from molecules to ecosystems to expose students to multiple layers of complexity and provide a better understanding of living systems.

This has also been an outstanding year for individual achievements, from undergraduate Katie Lee, who was named a Rhodes Scholar, to Claudia Neuhauser, who has added the designation of Distinguished McKnight University Professor to her list of credits, to Pete Magee, who was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Bob Herman, who received the Beadle Award for career contributions to the field of genetics. There are too many to list, but you can learn about the latest additions in the People section of this newsletter.

None of these accomplishments, collective or individual, would be possible without the work we all do to support each other throughout the year. I would like to thank each of you for your good work this year and wish you a very enjoyable summer.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

NEWS

Quiz Master

Ezra Lyon may be the go-to guy for the questions about moas and fungi, but he proved he can hold his own across the board as one of the top scorers during College Bowl National Championship. The Ecology, Evolution and Behavior graduate student, who has worked in R. Ford Denison’s lab on the evolutionary aspects of legume rhizobia, answered questions about literature, biology and everything in between during the team’s faceoff with USC in early May.

The keys to College Bowl success according to Lyon: 1) Being able to see where a question is going, or “decode” it, and 2) Being well-read, which was maybe why he cited the famous line from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner as the easiest question of the final.

Lyon headed to the College Bowl in Los Angeles along with four teammates, who ran the gamut from an undeclared freshman to a linguistics junior. Despite their differences, the team’s collective strength won the day after a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the opposing team. USC squandered an early 120-point lead to go down in defeat. Final score U of M: 330, USC: 295.

The team’s strategy? “We ran out the clock,” says Lyon. “We answered the questions slowly.”

Pace notwithstanding, Lyon managed to win a spot on the tournament all-star team for his 72-points-per-game average. This may well be Lyons’ last trip to the College Bowl. “It’s a bit of an addiction,” he concedes. “Hopefully I won’t do it again. … Ideally, I’ll graduate at some point.”

Researchers catch enzyme reactions in action

A recent study by professor John Lipscomb and post-doc Elena Kovaleva (both BMBB) describes the crystal structure of the chemical reaction caused by an iron-centered enzyme. The research, published in a recent issue of Science, is based on a technique partly pioneered by Carrie Wilmot (BMBB) in which enzymes are “frozen” in action to reveal structural changes in detail. Wilmot contributed a perspective piece about Lipscomb and Kovaleva’s findings in the same issue. Their research is also discussed in a USA Today article about the role of iron as a catalyst for life on Earth.

Study offers insights into tuberous sclerosis complex

Scott Selleck, director of the Developmental Biology Center, and colleagues published a paper in PLoS One in April that contributes to understanding tuberous sclerosis complex, a genetic disease affecting behavior and neural development. The discovery advances a mechanistic understanding of a pathway that affects behavior, mental retardation and epilepsy. It resulted from a collaboration between Selleck and fellow Development Biology Center members Tom Neufeld and Mike O'Connor. Read an abstract and complete text of “Mechanisms of TSC-Mediated Control of Synapse Assembly and Axon Guidance” online.

Protein that modifies sex chromosomes identified

David Zarkower, associate professor of genetics, cell biology and development, published a study in PLoS Genetics about the discovery of a protein that localizes the sex chromosomes during meiosis in mice, in a structure called the XY body or “sex body.” This is a special domain of chromatin found only in male mammals during spermatogenesis. They show that the protein (Dmrt7), required for male but not female meiosis, is found in all mammals but not in other vertebrates, and is apparently involved in modifying the sex chromatin. Read an abstract and complete text of “A Mammal-Specific Doublesex HomologAssociates with Male Sex Chromatin and Is Required for Male Meiosis” online.

CBS Student Board wins Diggs award

The CBS Student Board was named the Rookie Organization of the Year at last month’s Tony Diggs Excellence Awards. The rookie award, granted by the Student Unions and Activities Office, recognizes newer student groups that have demonstrated significant success in realizing the mission and goals of their organization. The award cited the CBS Student Board’s communications and events outreach, and rapid growth from 20 members to more than 200.

U alum funds new Itasca scholarships

Two students studying at Itasca this summer will get a financial boost thanks to longtime CBS donors Denny and Joan Dvergsten. The couple is funding a new award for students taking summer classes at the field biology facility in Northern Minnesota. Denny received both his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. The Denneth & Joan Dvergsten Itasca Summer Award Fund will support two students taking summer research courses at Lake Itasca Biological Station with $2,500 grants.

TRENDWATCH

Midwestern universities vie for biofuels research dollars

Efforts at research universities across the country to develop better biofuels have attracted the attention of politicos and the private sector alike. A wave of investment from industry and government is already giving a big boost to fledgling initiatives at a number of universities. The goal: to transform biomass into inexpensive source of fuel. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a handful of land-grant institutions in the Midwest—including the University of Minnesota—stand to gain most from the surge of interest and investment.

A number of high profile partnerships between industry and academia shine a spotlight on the trend. BP has designated $50-million a year for 10 years to a consortium led by Berkeley and including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Iowa State’s biofuels research got a huge boost from ConocoPhillips. And Stanford draws millions each year in support from Exxon Mobil. Meanwhile, the DOE is set to hand out three biofuels research grants this summer of $25-million a year for five years; the largest single federal research grants to academe ever.

Government support for academic research stronger than thought

New projections from the National Science Foundation run counter to the perception that research funding has dropped precipitously in recent years, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The NSF estimates that federal funds for all academic research and development increased by almost eight percent last year, and by 14 percent from 2003 to 2006.

PEOPLE

Mark Decker, associate director of the Biology Program, is among a select group of 25 participants accepted to the President’s Emerging Leaders Program for 2007–08.

 

Professor Stuart Goldstein (GCD) received the John S. Anderson Academic Leadership Award for his contributions to undergraduate education at CBS.

Laura Antos (BMBB), Paul Grimsrud (BMBB), Karl Gruber (EEB) and Nils Wubbels (Biology) received teaching assistant awards for exceptional instruction in undergraduate labs.

Graduate student Meggan Craft (EEB) has been awarded a Doctoral Fellowship for International Research and Writing from the U’s Office of International Programs. The fellowship will support study of the dynamics of two multi-species diseases in the Serengeti ecosystem: canine distemper virus and rabies.

Paul and Bebe Magee (both GCD) co-authored a study, published in the April 9 issue of Genome Biology, titled “Assembly of the Candida albicans genome into sixteen supercontigs aligned on the eight chromosomes.”

Graduate student Anna Selmecki (GCD) received the Bacaner Research Award, which recognizes excellence in creative basic science research, for her thesis research: “Aneuploidy and drug resistance in Candida albicans.” Selmecki works in Judy Berman’s lab.

This year’s Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award went to Paul Siliciano (BMBB), director of undergraduate studies for biochemistry at CBS.

EVENTS

Chemical Biology Symposium

WHEN: Wednesday, May 30
WHERE: Continuing Education and Conference Center | St. Paul campus

This year’s Chemical Biology Symposium—“Chemical Biology: An Interface for Discovery”— features lectures by Philip Low (Purdue), Matthew Francis (UC Berkely), Tom Tullius (Boston University), Yi Lu (UI Urbana-Champagne), John Kozarich (ActivX Biosciences) and Gunda Georg (University of Minnesota).

BioBook Club

WHEN: Fall 2007
WHERE: Eastcliff | St. Paul

Dean Elde leads a group discussion of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. The book traces the development of four plants and their associated desires—apples for sweetness, tulips for beauty, marijuana for intoxication and potatoes for control.

For more information, contact Rebecca Brzezinski at rlb@umn.edu.

Natural Classroom Tour

Canceled

FYI

Want to recognize an outstanding teaching assistant? All CBS teaching assistants (undergraduate and graduate) who have demonstrated excellence in teaching are eligible for the annual CBS Outstanding Performance Award. CBS students, faculty and staff associated with a CBS course can nominate teaching assistants who taught courses in spring or fall 2007 for the award. Submit nominations to Bruce Fall by February 1, 2008.

An Invitrogen Supply Center opens at the CBS Imaging Center this month. Shop from the entire line of Invitrogen research supplies onsite and online.

Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs will host approximately 30 highly qualified students from across the United States and Puerto Rico. The program runs from May 31–August 11.