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CBS News - April 2010

 Direct from the Dean | College news | Research | Research grants | People | Events | FYI

Direct from the Dean

This month, Dean Elde talks about the budget picture for the college in the coming biennium.

For more details about budget cuts and University policies, watch an audio slideshow (PPT) that explains some of the strategies that the U is adopting to reduce costs. The presentation was made to faculty and staff at meetings on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses earlier this month.

College news

Tilman wins prestigious science prize

Regents’ Professor David Tilman (EEB) received the 2010 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this month. Tilman was selected for his seminal findings, published in Science and Nature during the 1980s and 1990s, which showed that biodiversity is essential for stable and productive ecosystems.

Tilman’s grassland experiments at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve are among the longest running in the world, providing a rich resource for ecology research. His work at the field station is the subject of an article and a collection of short video clips recently published online by the University of Minnesota Foundation.

Two CBS faculty awarded Institute on the Environment fellowships

George Weiblen (PBIO) and Sarah Hobbie (EEB) were among a dozen new resident fellows selected by the Institute on the Environment (IonE). Fellows receive funding over a three-year period to pursue cutting-edge research. The fellowships are awarded to faculty with the ability to pursue interdisciplinary research. Weiblen studies plant systematics, molecular phylogenetics, coevolution, and plant/pollinator interactions. Hobbie studies ecosystem ecology, carbon and nutrient cycling, decomposition, species effects on ecosystem processes and plant-soil interactions.

Five EEB grad students receive NSF fellowships

More than a quarter of the 2010 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships awarded to students at the University of Minnesota went to graduate students in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Five EEB graduate students were awarded NSF fellowships. Andrea Bailey (Advisor, Mike Wilson), Matt Dufort (Advisors, Keith Barker and Ken Kozak), Daniel Ndizgorski (Advisor, Sarah Hobbie), Lisa O’Bryan (Advisor, Mike Wilson) and Ali Swanson (Advisor, Craig Packer) will receive a $30,000 annual stipend over three years to pursue international research.

Three student groups with CBS ties recognized

Three CBS-affiliated student groups were recognized at the Tony Diggs Excellence Awards April 15. The awards are designed to recognize outstanding student group achievements. Biology Without Borders (Jane Phillips, Advisor), a group for students interested in volunteering abroad in a healthcare setting, received the Innovation Award. Circle of Giving, launched this year by CBS undergraduates Thuy Nguyen-Tran and Dame Idossa, received the “Outstanding Co-sponsored Program or Event” and the “Rookie Registered Student Organization” awards. The group is geared toward giving students opportunities to learn about and address healthcare disparities. And the “Outstanding Rookie Campus Life Program of the Year” went to Future Leaders Aspiring in Science and Healthcare (F.L.A.S.H.) (Kathryn Hanna, Advisor).

Biochemistry undergraduate wins Goldwater Scholarship

College of Biological Sciences undergraduate Xiaoxiao Lou was one of only two students at the University to receive a 2010 Goldwater Scholarship. The Goldwater is widely considered the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the United Stated for students studying the sciences. Lou is majoring in biochemistry with plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. and eventually become a cardiothorasic surgeon and researcher.

CBS faculty tapped for McKnight awards

Jacques Finlay (EEB) and Tim Griffin (BMBB) received McKnight Presidential Fellow Awards. The award goes to highly promising faculty recently granted tenure and promotion to associate professor. Finlay and Griffin will receive $15,000 in support of their research for three years.


Study looks at “pressure cooker” approach to converting algae to coal


ScienceDirect | 2.10]

A recently published study led by Steve Heilmann, a research associate with the BioTechnology Institute (BTI), explores the potential for producing coal from algae using hydrothermal carbonization, a process that involves “pressure-cooking” algae. The process creates a substance similar to coal that can be converted into gasoline and other chemicals or burned to generate heat and electricity. Other BTI researchers involved in the study include Ken Valentas, Ted Davis, Lindsey Jader, Paul Lefebvre, Michael Sadowsky, Fred Schendel and Marc von Keitz.

Two studies shed light on plant fitness and reproduction

[Evolution | 3.10.10 + Ecology | 3.10]

Stuart Wagenius, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and a former EEB graduate student, was lead author of two studies published online in March. In one study, Wagenius and a team of EEB researchers that included Ruth Shaw (EEB) artificially pollinated purple coneflower plants with pollen from distant, nearby, and related plants to gauge the effects of habitat fragmentation on plant fitness. The resulting plants were grown and measured for eight years. The researchers found that inbred plants (those with related parents) died more and flowered less than other plants—overall fitness was 68 percent lower.

In another study, Wagenius and fellow researchers looked at reproduction in the purple coneflower. For two years researchers observed native bee pollinators visiting plants in small and large prairie remnants in western Minnesota. They found that isolated plants had lower reproductive rates. In both years of the study, bees visited isolated individual plants the most and visitation rates did not vary with remnant size.

How immune cells move towards a chemical signal

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 4.13.10]

Meg Titus (BMBB) and colleagues used a simple model system, the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, to understand how immune cells such as leukcocytes and neutrophils respond to signals alerting them to clean up cellular debris from injury or infection. The process is important because it can trigger a cascade of events resulting in plaques on blood vessel walls. It’s also related to the way cancer cells metastasize.

Research grants

Study will examine sources of variation within species

Tapping into a growing interest in understanding how epigenetic variation might contribute to phenotypic variation, Nathan Springer (PBIO) is leading a study that will look at the prevalence, heritability and potential consequences of epigenetic variation in maize. The National Science Foundation is providing more than $500,000 in support of the effort.

The research project will compare the DNA methylation patterns in the genome of nearly 30 different inbred lines (or breeds) of maize. DNA methylation can act as a “tag” to add additional information to DNA sequences and is one of several epigenetic marks. Epigenetics studies heritable variation that is not caused by DNA sequence changes. By adding information about the epigenome to a wealth of existing data on genetic and phenotypic information it will be possible to understand how epigenetic variation contributes to phenotypic variation within a species. The project will also study how epigenetic differences are inherited in hybrids and in recombinant inbred lines in order to assess the stability of epigenetic variation over multiple generations. The primary goal of this project is to document the role of epigenetic variation in heritable phenotypic variation within a species.

Undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota and Hamline University will participate in the primary research. All data produced by this project will be made public and available to researchers studying breeding and evolution across a wide range of disciplines.

Institute on the Environment accepting Discovery Grant proposals

The Institute on the Environment (IonE) is accepting proposals for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research projects that address environmental challenges of global significance. Approximately three proposals will be selected to receive between $200,000 and $600,000 over two to four years. IonE will also provide space, staff and other support. Initial concept papers are due May 7.


Professor Pat Cleary (Microbiology) is the recipient of the 2010 Stanley Dagley-Kirkwood Award for Undergraduate Education, which acknowledges exceptional faculty contributions to undergraduate education. Cleary, who joined the Medical School faculty in 1972, has a distinguished career as a researcher and educator. His research focuses on understanding the molecular pathogenesis of strep bacteria and developing strategies for immunization. Although dedicated to education at all levels, he has a special interest in undergraduate teaching. He uses a variety of approaches to help undergraduates learn and continuously updates his courses to keep them fresh and relevant. Cleary used licensing fees from his own research to establish an undergraduate scholarship.

Sarah Corrigan, assistant director of the U of M honors program in CBS, has been awarded the John S. Anderson Leadership Award in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the college. Sarah has been a member of the Student Services staff for nine years and assistant director of honors for the past four years. Corrigan advises all CBS honors students and serves as co-instructor of Biology 2960H and 4960H. She is also helping shape new University honors program policies, procedures, and CBS honors curriculum.

Phoebe Smith and Diep Luu will join the advising staff in CBS Student Services in early June. Smith currently serves as graduate first-year advisor at Miami University in Ohio and Luu is graduate assistant in the Center for Students With Disabilities at the University of Connecticut. Both are completing master’s programs in student affairs and higher education.

CBS undergraduates Dame Idossa, Jenna Racine, Thuy Nguyen-Tran, Rachel Weigert and Neli Mottey received 2010 President’s Student Leadership and Service Award. Mottey and Nguyen-Tran also received UMAA Student Leadership Awards.


2010 Undergraduate Symposium

Show your support for undergraduate research by attending this annual event highlighting student research projects. Poster sessions will be held throughout the day highlighting the work of undergraduates across the University.

DETAILS: Coffman Union | East Bank | April 21 | 11:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

CBS Greenhouses’ Annual Plant Sale

Choose from a large selection of blooming annuals, tropical plants, herbs, carnivorous plants, succulents and orchids at this annual sale to benefit the CBS Greenhouses.

DETAILS: St. Paul Student Center | April 21–22 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Poisoned Waters: The Pollution Peril

Pulitzer Prize and Emmy-winning reporter and producer Hedrick Smith, who produced the PBS Frontline documentary Poisoned Waters, will discuss the sources and risks of water pollution, policies that have enabled it, and potential solutions. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register online.

DETAILS: St. Paul Student Center Theatre | April 27 | 7 p.m.

CBS Year-End Picnic

College of Biological Sciences faculty, students and staff are invited to come celebrate the close of another academic year at the annual picnic. Register by May 3.

DETAILS: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank | May 7 | 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Red-Headed Woodpecker Day

Come spend an afternoon observing Red-Headed Woodpeckers. Members of the Redhead Recovery Organization will guide you on a walk into Cedar Creek’s interior to view the birds as they feed and prepare for nesting.

DETAILS: Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve | East Bethel | May 8 | 1–3 p.m.


Sign up for summer courses at Itasca now

Registration for summer field biology courses at Itasca Biological Station and Labs began this month. Offerings include Ecology (Biol 3807), Introduction to Animal Behavior (Biol 3811), Mammalogy (EEB 4839), Field Ornithology (EEB 4844) and more. New this summer: Flowering Plant Systematics (PBIO 4811). Scholarships are available. For more information, contact Erin Fider (612-624-6743 /

Minnesota Cup

is looking for that million-dollar product or service idea. From high-tech to high-touch, biosciences to retail, agriculture to social ventures, this is a competition for entrepreneurs, inventors and anybody with an innovative business idea. More than $130,000 in prize money is up for grabs across six divisions: clean technology and renewable energy, biosciences, high-tech, social entrepreneur, general and student. Deadline to enter: May 21 (the deadline for the Social Entrepreneur division is April 23).Minnesota CupNow in its sixth year, the