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CBS News - November 2006

FROM THE DEAN

A lesson from the honeybee genome

The October 26 issue of Nature featured the publication of the honeybee genome, which was sequenced primarily by faculty from the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to take a look.

There’s a valuable lesson here for us, not so much about honeybees or genomes, but about how researchers who work together on “big science” projects like genomes are advancing science and their own discoveries at the same time.

The genome story triggered a flurry of related papers in the same issue of Nature and in the next day’s issue of Science. They were written by researchers who were involved in this genome project and who, as a consequence, gained insider information that enabled them to get papers in press immediately. One of the insiders was Edward O. Wilson who wrote an article on the social behavior of bees.

It makes sense that scientists and institutions will increasingly be looking for opportunities like this to gain insider information. I hope we will see the value of that trend.  As a whole, that’s not the way we work at the University of Minnesota now. Although we are diligent and productive, most of us are still more comfortable with the traditional single-question approach to discovery.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. It continues to produce many success stories. An example is Roger Kornberg, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for figuring out the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription. Edward Wilson is another example. In fact, a big-science approach isn’t better than a single-question approach. They have different advantages. We need to diversify our scientific portfolios by using both. We can take cues from the social behavior of bees. Like honeybees, we can find our place in a larger social order and like wasps, we can work on our own.

I’d like to know what big-science projects you think would be a good fit for us. Where do we have strategic advantages? Where do those advantages overlap with discoveries that we can see on the horizon? I’m not suggesting we stake out the next genome to be sequenced. In fact, I don’t have any specific suggestions. I’d like to hear yours. What ideas appeal to you? Who would you like to collaborate with?

As part of the Strategic Positioning Process, the University is developing a plan to encourage multi-investigator, interdisciplinary research. When the Science and Engineering Task Force came up with the idea last year, they called it STIR (Science and Technology Interdisciiplinary Research Institute). I like that name because of the image it conjures up—stirring up our research to see what new ideas bubble up.

The effort, now called the Institute for the Advancement of Science and Technology, seeks to identify new synergies and to foster grant proposals involving faculty from CBS, the Medical School, IT and CFANS. The U is seeking state funds to support this through the biennial legislative request. I hope that when the institute is in place, we’ll be ready with some ideas to help stir things up.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

NEWS

State of the College address online

If you missed the State of the College Address on November 7, Dean Elde’s presentation is posted online.

The discussion focused on CBS’ four primary goals for the year, which are outlined in our compact with the Provost.

  •     Increase support for graduate education
  •     Increase high-impact research
  •     Create the best undergraduate biology program in the United States
  •     Position the University to be a leader in biofuels research

These goals are closely aligned with the University’s aspirations to become a top research institution.
Proposed 2008–09 U budget would expand research funding

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents will present a $192 million budget proposal for 2008–09 to the Minnesota Legislature this session. Of that amount, more than $8 million would go toward expanding programs in environmental, agricultural and renewable energy research, including funding for the new Institute on the Environment and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Ecologist wins Packard, third for CBS

Assistant professor Helene Muller-Landau (EEB) has received a $625,000 Packard Fellowship to study mechanisms that control biodiversity in tropical forests and how human impact—including global climate change—affects those mechanisms. She is the third College of Biological Sciences faculty member to receive a Packard Fellowship in the past several years. Others are George Weiblen (PBIO) and Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB).

Rhodes honor goes to CBS undergrad

Katie Lee, a CBS honors student majoring in biochemistry, was recently named one of 32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars. Lee is the fourth University of Minnesota recipient since 2000. The senior is also finishing a degree in chemistry in the Institute of Technology.

IT launches new interdisciplinary nanotech initiative

The Institute of Technology is launching a nanotechnology effort that will bring together researchers from across the University. The new Center for Nanostructured Applications will grant up to $200,000 per year to interdisciplinary research teams focusing on the emerging applications of nanotechnology. The goal: to create devices and systems for energy, biomedicine and information processing. The center is currently seeking proposals from groups of three to five interdisciplinary faculty. Applications are due December 31.

CBS names new college research safety officer

David Okita, associate administrator in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, has been appointed Research Safety Officer (RSO) for the College of Biological Sciences. He will be responsible for helping researchers comply with applicable state, federal and university requirements, and for college-wide safety training. Contact David at okita001@umn.edu or 612-624-7107 with questions about laboratory safety or training. For more information about RSO’s roles and responsibilities, check out the RSO Toolkit.

Progress at Cedar Creek

The new 12,000-square-foot Science Interpretive Center and 10,000-square-feet of housing are on their way as construction continues at the CBS field station. Completion of the new facilities, which will provide additional space for students, faculty and others, is slated for spring 2007.

“Got Research” gets good turn out

More than 200 students turned out November 1 to hear about research opportunities available at the college. “Got Research,” hosted by the CBS Student Board, included presentations by Jane Phillips (Biology Program), Nathan Springer (Plant Biology) and a panel of CBS students already involved in research at the college.

New center helps IT and CBS students chart career

The new Career Center for Science and Engineering—a joint effort of CBS and the Institute of Technology—held two open houses in early November, one for faculty and staff, and one for students. More than 400 students turned out to find out about the career services offered by the center, which assists students and alumni in all aspects of career planning and the job-search process.

University opens the door to the business community

The University’s Academic and Corporate Relations Center (ACRC) is open for business, literally. The new “front door” to the University offers the business community access to otherwise difficult to access resources and information. Find out more about this new University-wide initiative.

TRENDWATCH

Honeybee genome project puts collaboration into spotlight

The October 26 issue of Nature features in-depth coverage of the honeybee genome, the third insect genome to be sequenced. The issue highlights the critical role of the honeybee in global ecology and as a model for social behavior based on research conducted primarily at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana.

Online science forum looks at the big picture

UC San Francisco has launched “a weekly conversation about the culture, conduct and community of science.” The online feature, Science Café, profiles faculty and researchers at the school as an entry point for talking about the future of biology, scientific innovation, trends in science research funding and more.

Nature launches microbial ecology journal

A new publication from the publishers of Nature—The International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) Journal—will follow major advances in this emerging multidisciplinary field. The journal launches in May 2007.

Send us the trends! If you have resources on major trends in biology education or research, we want to hear about them. Forward to sxenos@umn.edu.

RESEARCH NEWS

Study offers a new glimpse into evolution of life on Earth

As early fungi made the evolutionary journey from water to land and branched off from animals, they shed tail-like flagella that propelled them through their aquatic environment and evolved new mechanisms to disperse spores and multiply according to a paper published in the October 19 issue of Nature. David McLaughlin (PBIO) co-authored the groundbreaking study, which provides a new glimpse into the evolution of life on Earth. The discovery is the latest installment in an international effort to learn the origins of species. McLaughlin is one of five principal investigators leading a team of 70 researchers at 35 institutions.

New approach seeks to illuminate environmental costs

Steven Polasky, professor of applied economics, co-authored a paper published in the October 13 issue of Science about assessing the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. The paper describes the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment designed to help decision-makers quantify the risks of ecosystem catastrophes. The model provides a theoretical basis for linking ecological diversity to ecosystem dynamics; information necessary to understanding the limits and consequences of biodiversity loss and the actions needed to maintain or restore ecosystem functions.

Researchers discover novel target for cancer therapy

A study published in the October 24 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the discovery of a galectin-1, a novel angiogenesis target on the synthetic anti-cancer peptide anginex. The research team, which includes Kevin Mayo (BMBB), found that galectin-1 is highly unregulated in various cancers, which makes it an excellent new target for cancer therapy.

PEOPLE

A photomicrograph taken by CBS Imaging Center’s Tracy Anderson made the cover of American Laboratory’s October 2006 issue.

Graduate student Teresa De la Mora-Rey (BMBB) was one of four recipients of the Paul Prize for her research presentation at the 2006 American Crystallographic Association Annual Meeting.

Graduate student Jacob Egge (EEB) won the Stoye Award for best student paper in the Genetics, Development, and Morphology Section of the 2006 Meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

Dario Fornara (EEB), a postdoctoral associate with David Tilman, received a Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship research award to study the effects of ecosystem processes such as plant diversity and community composition, nitrogen deposition and vegetation consumption on the cycling of soil carbon.

Jana Harris and J. Amaranath Govindan (both GCD) are co-first authors of a paper published in the November 1 issue of Developmental Biology, entitled, “Major Sperm Protein Signaling Promotes Oocyte Microtubule Reorganization prior to Fertilization in Caenorhabditis elegans.” A photo from their work appears on the cover of the issue.

CBS undergraduate and Nature of Life peer mentor Van Huynh has been accepted into the Tom Burnett Advanced Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota.

A paper by Erin Marasco (BMBB), about the cleavage activity of a new class of enzymes from green bacteria appeared in the October 20 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The study found three enzymes in the genome of aphotosynthetic cyanobacteria that cleaved carotenoids into interesting products including an aroma compound and Vitamin A. Erin is a graduate student advised by Claudia Schmidt-Dannert.

Claudia Neuhauser (EEB) is one of only three University faculty featured in the University of Minnesota Foundation’s 2006 report on giving. Claudia talks about her efforts to integrate math into biology curriculum.

CBS graduate student Beth Pettitt (EEB) has received the 2007 Carol H. and Wayne A. Pletcher Graduate Fellowship to fund her work on acoustic communication in frogs.

A paper on microwave tissue processing techniques co-authored by CBS Imaging Center’s Mark Sanders appears in this month’s Microscopy and Microanalysis journal.

The Royal Botanic Garden has awarded George Weiblen (PBIO) a $14,400 Marie Cure Outgoing International Fellowship.

NEW STAFF

Marianne Peloquin is the new office manager for CBS Student Services. She most recently worked for Buerkle Honda Co. in St. Paul as payroll and benefits administrator.

EVENTS

Annual IREE Research Symposium

WHEN: November 28, 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
WHERE: McNamara Alumni Center

University of Minnesota faculty and researchers will showcase groundbreaking new work on renewable energy and the environment at this annual event. Don Shelby, news anchor with WCCO TV and radio, is a keynote speaker. The symposium is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Register at the IREE website.

REMINDERS

New summer course offered at Itasca

Students will have the opportunity to study genetic variation and population structure in nature while surrounded by it this summer. Ecological Genetics (Biology 3825), a new summer course being offered at Itasca, will cover how to isolate DNA from tissue samples, run gels, amplify DNA using polymerase chain reaction and analyze DNA sequence variation. Course dates: May 24–June 14. For more information, visit the Itasca website.