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CBS News - October 2012

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COLLEGE NEWS

Student Services moving to Minneapolis, Biology Program to St. Paul

CBS Student Services will be moving to the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building (MCB) on the Minneapolis campus in late December/early January. Their new location will be in the Biology Program office suite, which is on the third floor (street level) of MCB. The office will be open during the move, but probably with limited service. Mark Decker and Sehoya Cotner of the Biology Program will be moving to the St. Paul campus, using Student Services offices on the second floor of Snyder Hall. Other Biology Program staff will remain on the Minneapolis campus. The relocation of Student Services will make it much easier for students, who take most of their classes on the Minneapolis campus, to consult with advisers. Watch for details about the move.

CBS partners with MCTC on student transfer program

CBS and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) have formed a partnership to help MCTC biotechnology students transfer to CBS. All students with GPAs of 3.5 or higher will be accepted into CBS and the biotechnology program will be transferable in its entirety. Seven students form the first group of transferees. All have undergraduate research or internship experiences and some already have jobs in the bioscience industry. Members of LifeScience Alley, a trade organization for people who work in Minnesota’s life science industry, served on the advisory group that developed the partnership.

CBS freshmen among the U’s best & brightest

CBS freshmen once again had the highest average high school rankings (94.3%) and SAT scores (1385) among freshmen at all the University’s undergraduate colleges, which include the College of Science and Engineering, the Carlson School of Management, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Design and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. CSE freshmen had slightly higher ACT scores, 30.6 compared to 30.3 for CBS.

President Kaler leads Itasca groundbreaking

University President Eric Kaler led a group of officials who broke ground for the new campus center at Itasca in late September. Others included Regents Clyde Allen and Tom Devine and CBS Dean Robert Elde. Besides the shovel ceremony, the event included tours of the station and the headwaters area. "It was an exhilarating, emotional occasion," said CBS Dean Robert Elde. "Everyone there had a personal connection to Itasca and hopes of sharing the Itasca experience with future generations of students. The groundbreaking symbolized our success in making that happen." Check out this slide show from the event.

Fall 2012 issue of BIO

The fall issue of BIO, CBS’ newsletter for alumni, faculty and staff, is now online. View a photo essay about butterfly research. Learn about the evolution of the gecko’s sticky toes. Find out about a scholarship for caddies. And read about CBS’ plan to hire 16 new faculty.

New Human Resources walk-in hours

Walk-in orientation hours in CBS Human Resources have changed to Mondays and Thursdays from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. New employees should stop in for 15-20 minutes during these times to complete paperwork and receive any information they may need to begin working. Human Resources is located in 124 Snyder Hall.

RESEARCH NEWS

Nathan Springer leads $3.4 million NSF study of epigenetic variation in maize

Nathan Springer (PBIO) is principal investigator of a new $3.4 million, four-year National Science Foundation grant to pursue research on the causes and consequences of epigenetic variation in maize. The project will be carried out at the University of California - Berkeley, the University of Texas - Austin, and Hamline University as well as the University of Minnesota. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

Faculty get NSF support for technology to clean up fracking wastewater

BioTechnology Institute members Larry Wackett (BMBB), Mike Sadowsky (CFANS) and Alptekin Aksan (CSE) have received a $600,000 NSF Partnerships for Innovation grant to develop bioremediation technology for removing toxic chemicals from wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, which releases methane gas trapped deep underground. The team will use bacteria, possibly embedded in silica, to create a filtration system that will eliminate the chemicals. While U.S. methane gas reserves have the potential to meet energy needs and stimulate the economy, the process threatens to contaminate drinking water. Current filtration methods produce a toxic sludge, which presents a disposal challenge. Bioremediation would completely degrade the pollutants. The BTI team will work with two companies, Tundra Companies of White Bear Lake, Minn., and Luca Technologies of Boulder, Colo., on the project.

Gary Muehlbauer contributes to barley genome mapping

Nature | 10.17.12

Gary Muehlbauer, head of the Department of Plant Biology, participated in developing an integrated physical, genetic and functional sequence assembly of the barley genome, one of the world’s most important and genetically complex cereal crops. The advance will give researchers the tools to produce higher yields, improve pest and disease resistance, and enhance the nutritional value of barley. It will also accelerate breeding improvements to help barley adapt to climate change. Muehlbauer is vice chair of the International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC), which carried out the sequencing. The IBSC includes scientists from Germany, Japan, Finland, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and China. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation provided funding for the U.S. part of the effort.

Low nitrogen in soil limits capacity of plants to absorb CO²

Nature Climate Change | 10.2.12

Peter Reich (CFANS) and Sarah Hobbie (EEB) published an article showing that even through plants absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and can benefit from higher levels of it, they may not get enough of the nutrients they need from typical soils to absorb as much CO² as scientists had previously estimated. Carbon dioxide absorption is an important factor in mitigating fossil-fuel emissions. The results suggest that limited levels of fertility typical in most soils likely eliminate a large fraction of the capacity of plants to scrub CO² out of the atmosphere. Go to the study.

Dan Voytas’ nucleases used to adapt zebrafish genome for human research

Nature | 9.23.12

Stephen Ekker of the Mayo Clinic used a variant of TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) developed by Dan Voytas (GCD) to edit zebrafish genomes for research purposes, eliminating a barrier that has prevented scientists from using the fish as a model for human disease. For many researchers, zebrafish are becoming the model of choice for genetic studies. However, the inability to efficiently target genetic modifications has delayed their use by some. Go to the study.

Insect diversity increases with plant productivity

Ecology Letters | 10.1.12

Using extensive data on insect diversity from a grassland plant diversity experiment, Elizabeth Borer, Eric Seabloom and David Tilman (EEB) showed that insect diversity increases with plant diversity indirectly via increased energy capture and transfer from plants to consumers. This finding implies that plant diversity may not directly control consumer diversity, as is generally assumed. Instead, the results suggest that environmental changes that increase plant productivity (but often lead to loss of plant species), including such widespread impacts as nitrogen deposition and fertilization, may also increase arthropod biomass and diversity. Go to the study.

PEOPLE

R. Ford Denison (EEB) was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about “vertical farming,” growing crops on urban high rise buildings. Also, Science just published an enthusiastic review of Denison’s book Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture.

Corinne Fairchild, a graduate student in the Gammill lab, won third prize in the student poster competition at the Society for Developmental Biology’s Annual Meeting in Montréal this summer. She will represent the society at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ 50th Anniversary Symposium at the National Institutes of Health this month.

Judy Helgen, who earned a Ph.D. in zoology at CBS in 1982, has published a book titled Peril in the Ponds based on her experience investigating deformed frogs in Minnesota as a research scientist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Helgen will be profiled in the December issue of Minnesota, the University’s alumni magazine. Read a recent MPR story about her and her book.

Jordan Herman is CBS’ new undergraduate admissions counselor. A 2011 CBS graduate (EEB), Jordan promotes the CBS undergraduate program to high school students through group presentations and one-to-one meetings. She spent a year post-graduation studying avian behavior in Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Trinidad and Tobago. Ultimately, she plans to go to graduate school and pursue a career in research.

Sarah Hobbie (EEB) is featured in a recent Nature article about her leadership of a campaign to persuade the National Science Foundation (NSF) to reconsider policy changes that give scientists in some fields, including ecology, fewer opportunities to apply for funding. In August, Hobbie garnered more than 550 signatures with an open letter to the NSF stating that the changes are jeopardizing the careers of young scientists.

Launa Shun (EEB) has been elected to the Grants Management User Network Advisory Committee (GMUN) for a three-year term. GMUN informs the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Controller's Office about factors and changing conditions that could impact the effective administration of the University’s research process.

Marlene Zuk (EEB) did a recent podcast reading her book, Sex on Six Legs, on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website. Zuk was also interviewed by The Scientist, along with other scientist-authors, about how to write a book.

EVENTS

November 2

An inexplicable disease: Using prion disease as a “choose-your-own-experiment” case study to introduce students to scientific inquiry

Justin Hines, assistant professor at Lafayette College, addresses the challenge of designing interesting and engaging case studies that can introduce students to the nature of scientific investigation within the limits of a single course period.

312 STSS | East Bank | 2:30 p.m.

November 12

CBS Reflections From Abroad

Undergraduates share experiences from study abroad.

President's Room | Coffman Memorial Union | 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

December 6

Fracking: Facts, Fiction and Fixes

Join Larry Wackett (BTI) for an expert assessment of fracking and its effects. Dr. Wackett is leading an effort at the University to use biotechnology to mitigate the potential environmental impacts of fracking.

Continuing Education and Conference Center | St. Paul | 7 p.m.

FYI

New online resource, BLINK, lists U-wide scientific seminars

CBS has launched a new multi-college seminar resource focusing on campus seminars in the life sciences. Called BLINK, this new portal provides more than 40 scientific seminar series at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

U of M launches service to help faculty and staff with projects in other countries

Global Operations is a new University initiative that aims to increase access to information for University faculty and staff undertaking research or other projects abroad. The initiative brings together experts in the area of taxes, purchasing, law, human resources and compliance to assess issues, provide advice and reduce internal infrastructure barriers. Learn more