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CBS News - August 2005


It’s been a busy summer at Itasca Biological Station

Last month we welcomed nearly all 350 of our incoming freshman to CBS with the Nature of Life program at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Now in its third year, this unique immersion program just seems to keep getting better. I’d like to thank all of the faculty, staff, and students who helped to make it a success this year.

Our peer mentors get extra kudos for the Amazing Itasca Games, a series of creative and entertaining activities, many of which involved water balloons, to help break the ice.

In one of the games participants were blindfolded and given an animal name, told to make their animal’s sound and, as a group, put themselves in alphabetical order based on the sounds. I’m sure you can imagine how funny this was. I suspect the games will become a tradition at Nature of Life.

There was lots of other activity at Itasca this summer. Tom Sullivan, senior vice president provost, toured the station during Nature of Life and took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for Habitat for Biologists, a campaign to renovate housing, labs, and other facilities. Ground was broken for the first cabin, which is for women students.
Construction began in mid-August, and volunteers will raise the walls and shingle the roof over two weekends in September. President Bob Bruininks and his wife, Susan Hagstrom,
will join the volunteer crew on Sunday, September 25.

In addition, the Plant Biological Sciences Graduate Program held their student orientation at Itasca for the first time this year. They joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program, which has held orientation at Itasca for many years, and the Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology, and Genetics Program (a joint first-year program for grad students in BMBB and GCD). As usual, the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program (LSSURP) held its student orientation here. And a variety of field biology courses were offered early in the summer.

Finally, a group of presidents of 18 Chinese universities wound up their tour of U.S. universities with a few days of R&R at Itasca in early August. Sponsored by the China Center at the University of Minnesota, they spent several days at Itasca to write reports about their experience in the United States, learn about administration of the station, and tour the surrounding area to get a “taste” of Minnesota.

Itasca is an exquisitely beautiful living laboratory and outdoor classroom that showcases Minnesota’s best natural features. It’s also ideal as a site for a retreat. There is no better place to hear yourself think and to regenerate. It’s good to see that a growing number of people and programs enjoying it. Other universities operate field stations such as this on a much larger scale, using them for a broad spectrum of research, education, outreach and professional development programs. I believe that Itasca has the potential to be that kind of a resource for the university.

Bob Elde



Construction begins on “Habitat for Biologists” cabin for students

A July 28 groundbreaking ceremony at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories signaled the beginning of work on a new cabin for women students and a campaign to improve the entire complex. Thomas Sullivan, Senior Vice President and Provost, joined Dean Elde for the ceremony.

CBS raised $50,000 from alumni and friends to build the first cabin. John Tester, professor emeritus of ecology, is leading a campaign to raise $150,000 to restore a three-bedroom log cabin built in 1911. There are 34 cabins and 12 laboratories and classrooms at the field station. For more information or to make a contribution, go to

Construction of the cabin began in mid-August. A professional crew will lay the foundation, install utilities, frame the floors and raise the roof. In September, volunteer crews will build the walls and shingle the roof. Bob Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota, and his wife, Susan Hagstrom, will join volunteers on Sunday, September 25.

IREE awards $8.5 million renewable energy grants

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) recently awarded over $8.5 million to 24 renewable energy projects at the University of Minnesota.

The multi-year projects focus on a wide range of topics including bio-energy and bio-products, economic and policy assessments, production and distribution of hydrogen, carbon sequestration, nanotechnology, solar thermal heating systems and conversion of livestock waste to energy and products.

Sixty-one faculty members, 65 graduate students and post-docs, 18 undergraduates, and eight research scientists at University of Minnesota campuses and research and outreach centers around the state will be involved with the projects.

“The overwhelming response to our request for proposals reflects the deep and enterprising pool of talent within the university to address renewable energy issues.” said Dean Elde, who chairs the IREE executive committee. “The awards, aligned with the Minnesota Environment Initiative report on renewable energy research priorities for Minnesota, will position the university to excel in the areas where we have the most potential.”

For a complete list of grants, go to Following are projects involving CBS faculty.

• $270,000 for “Recombinant Lignin Depolymerase with Enhanced Stability and Catalytic Activity.” Simo Sarkanen, bio-based products; Stephen Gantt, plant biology.

• $477,000 for “An Integrated Approach for Optimization of Microbial Fuel Cells.” Daniel Bond, microbiology, Biotechnology Institute; Timothy LaPara and Raymond. M. Hozalski, civil engineering; Edward Cussler, chemical engineering and materials science.

• $405,000 for “Design and Synthesis of Electrically Conducting Polymers from Renewable Materials.“ Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, Romas Kazlauskas, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics (BMBB); Friedrich Srienc, Biotechnology Institute, chemical engineering and materials science.

• $270,000 for “Petroleum Fuels in Real-Time from Renewable Resources.” Larry Wackett, BMBB.

• $512,990 for “Liquid Fuels from Biomass: An Integrated Biorefinery Approach.” Vernon Eidman, applied economics; Kenneth Valentas and Marc von Keitz, Biotechnology Institute; Steve Polasky, applied economics and ecology, evolution, and behavior (EEB); Ulrike Tschirner and Shri Ramaswamy, bio-based products; Richard Cairncross, Drexel University.

• $270,000 for “Bacterial Synthesis of Bioplastic from Renewable Materials.” Friedrich Srienc, Biotechnology Institute, chemical engineering and materials science; Romas Kazlauskas, BMBB, BTI.

• $185,000 for “Minnesota Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration Project.” James Anderson, Water Resources Center; Steve Polasky, applied economics, EEB; Edward Nater, soil, water and climate.

• $333,000 for “Carbon Sequestration in Minnesota’s Wetlands: An Important Sink with Management Implications.” James Cotner and Shinya Sugita, EEB; Kyle Zimmer and Kevin Theissen, University of St. Thomas.

• $278,233 for “New Technologies for Full Carbon Accounting in Developed Land.” Joseph McFadden, EEB; Marvin Bauer, forest resources.

• $270,000 for “Metabolic and Regulatory Landscape of Photosynthetic Evolution of Hydrogen.” Arkady Khodursky, BMBB; Jim Cotner, EEB.

• $404,988 for “Enhancing Phototrophic Production of Hydrogen by Genetic Engineering of Chlamydomonas Reinhardtii.” Paul Lefebvre, Carolyn Silflow, plant biology; Michael Flickinger, BMBB, Biotechnology Institute.

• $673,995 for “Full Cost Accounting of Renewable and Conventional Energy Sources.” Steve Polasky, applied economics and EEB; David Tilman, EEB; Vernon Eidman, applied economics; Frank Kulacki, mechanical engineering; Jennifer Kuzma, Humphrey Institute; Doug Tiffany, applied economics.

Move-in day at University Enterprise Laboratories, Inc. (UEL)

Eight bioscience start-up companies moved into newly completed labs at University Enterprise Laboratories, Inc. (UEL) on August 1. Six moved from temporary quarters at the College of Biological Sciences on the St. Paul campus (Innovative Surface Technologies, ANDX, Syntiron, Optomec, MD Biosciences, and Gel-Del). Two came from elsewhere in the metro area (C2C Technologies, Twin Star Medical). Three additional tenants are set to move in on September 1. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house are planned for Wednesday, October 19. Watch for details.

New members of the UEL board represent Minnesota’s leading organizations

In July, UEL expanded its board to include additional representatives of Minnesota’s leading enterprises. New board members include:
• Aron Anderson,Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Surmodics
• Kenneth Cutler, J.D, Partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLP
• Daniel Foley, M.D., Vice President of Medical Affairs, Allina Hospitals & Clinics; Medical Director, United Hospital
• Steven Goldstein, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, University of Minnesota Foundation
• Tim Mulcahy, Ph.D., Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota
• Tim Mulhere, Vice President and General Manager of Health Care, Ecolab
• Stephen Oesterle, M.D. Senior Vice President of Medicine and Technology, Medtronic
• Susan Paquette, Commercialization Services Director, 3M Health Care Business
• Joseph Smith, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Guidant Corporation

New members join CBS Dean Robert Elde, chairman; St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly; Kent Larson, Xcel Energy; Steve Mertens, Boston Scientific; Kathy Pickard, UM Foundation, and Tom Triplett, City of St. Paul.

Summer students present research at poster session

The annual Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program (LSSURP) culminated with a poster session from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Friday, August 12 in the St. Paul Student Center. All 42 students presented results of research conducted during the 10-week summer program. The students, half of whom are from underrepresented groups, were recruited from around the U.S. In June, each was paired with a faculty mentor to conduct a research project in ecology, molecular biology, neuroscience, or other area. The goal of LSSURP is encourage high ability college students, particularly from underrepresented groups, to pursue graduate studies and careers in life sciences research. John S. Anderson is the faculty director; Evelyn Juliessen is program coordinator. CBS and the Medical School are co-sponsors of LSSURP.

Ronald E McNair Summer Research Program

Two CBS students recently presented the results of their summer research projects at the Ronald E. McNair poster presentation.

• Naomi Kreamer, biochemistry major, "Studies on chromate reductases and flavoproteins." [Mentor: Larry Wackett, BMBB and Biotechnology Institute]

• Abdisa Taddese, microbiology major, “The influence of media on childhood obesity."
[Mentor: Corliss W. Outley, Kinesiology]

The 10-week program, named after an African American astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, prepares low-income, first-generation college students for graduate study.

CBS at the State Fair

CBS will share a booth at the State Fair with the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences, the College of Natural Resources, the Initiative for Renewable Energy, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. Innovative research in healthy foods and renewable energy will be exhibited. CBS will be represented by Daniel Bond, who will demonstrate how to generate electricity using common bacteria found in mud on the bottom of oceans, lakes, and ponds.

The booth is located in the University of Minnesota Building on Dan Patch Avenue. CBS volunteers will staff the booth from August 25 through August 28, which is Maroon and Gold Day. Daniel Bond will be in the booth to demonstrate his research from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kyle Cady, an undergraduate student who works in Bond’s lab, will staff the booth from 1 to 3 p.m.

18 Chinese university presidents visit Itasca Biological Station

Eighteen presidents and eight students from universities near Beijing, China, visited the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories August 5-7. The distinguished visitors were touring private and public universities in the United States as part of a program to learn about higher education administration in the U.S. Sponsored by the China Center at the University of Minnesota, they spent several days at Itasca to write reports about their experience in the United States, learn about administration of the Station, and tour the surrounding area to get a “taste” of Minnesota. The presidents represented a diverse array of universities such as the Beijing Technology and Business University, the Beijing Dance Academy, the Capital Institute of Physical Education, and the Beijing Vocational and Technical Institute of Industry. The students were accompanying the presidents for training in international treaty studies and English language studies.

What’s that in front of the Plant Growth Facilities?

If you’ve driven by the new Plant Growth Facilities on Gortner Avenue lately and asked yourself this question, the answer is the “Seed of Knowledge,” a 22-foot high sculpture made from glass and steel. It was created by Iranian artist Alavi and commissioned by the University of Minnesota Public Art on Campus program at the Weisman Art Museum. Inspired by the shape of an apple seed, the sculpture is tilted backward and cracked open to reveal a live tree growing in its center. The exterior of the seed is also designed to look like a greenhouse for the single tree inside.

Alavi has created more than 20 public artworks throughout the United States. His work has been exhibited the New Museum of Contemporary Arts in New York, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. A committee of faculty and staff from the College of Biological Sciences and College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences chose the artist in a competitive process.


BMBB lauded for postdoc practices in Science-Next Wave

The Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics was featured in the August issue of Science-Next Wave, an online companion to Science magazine that focuses on early career issues. The article, "Making it Great for Everyone,” details BMBB practices as a model department for postdoctoral education and training.  The article also discusses future possibilities for innovative reform in national postdoc training, based on an interview with John Lipscomb, director of postdoctoral affairs in BMBB.

Making it Great for Everyone

A pioneering department at the University of Minnesota is showing that efforts at the departmental level can make a very big difference for postdocs.

It's not a science gap (yet)

As late as 1975, the United States graduated more engineering and scientific PhDs than Europe and more than three times as many as all of Asia, reports Harvard University economist Richard Freeman in a recent paper. No more. The European Union now graduates about 50 percent more, and Asia is slightly ahead of us. By Freeman's estimates, China has reached almost half the U.S. total and will easily overtake us by 2010. Among engineers with bachelor's degrees, the gaps are already huge. In 2001 China graduated 220,000 engineers, compared to about 60,000 for the United States, the National Science Foundation reports.
Washington Post (8/10)



Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, associate professor, has been named a McKnight Presidential Fellow. The awards, which provide newly promoted associate professors with research funds for three years, complement the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for new assistant professors, and the Distinguished McKnight University Professorship for new full professors. All McKnight awards recognize and support outstanding faculty at different stages of their careers.

Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and head of microbial biochemistry, is giving the keynote lecture at the Merck Symposium for Undergraduate Research sponsored by Merck and the AAAS this month - at University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. "Biodegradation and Bioremediation: Where Chemistry Meets Biology," he will describe the use of bioremediation in the clean-up of sites contaminated with atrazine.


Chris Clark, graduate student, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Award for "Why plant communities shift after chronic nitrogen addition: The organic connection." Chris’ advisors are David Tilman, Regents Professor, and Claudia Neuhauser, professor and head of EEB.

Diane Larson, adjunct professor, and Ruth Shaw, professor, received a U.S. Geological Survey grant of $18,587 to study "Evaluation of methods for Canada thistle-free habitat restoration."

Helene Muller Landau, assistant professor, received $45,399 from the NSF for “Seed dispersal by wind and plant recruitment in tropical forests – an interdisciplinary investigation across multiple scales.”

Clarence Lehman, adjunct professor, received a grant of $60,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for prairie and savanna restoration at Cedar Creek Natural History Area. Together with its matching funds, this will provide about $180,000 towards preserving the rare savanna habitats at Cedar Creek for future generations of students, researchers, and the public. Troy Mielke, Cedar Creek Research Coordinator, helped prepare the proposal.


Judy Berman, professor, published a paper in the August 5 issue of Science titled “Rewiring of the Yeast Transcriptional Network Through the Evolution of Motif Usage.” Read the abstract and full text at

Anath Das, professor; Paul Judd, graduate student; and Renu Kumar, research associate published an article titled “Spatial location and requirements for the assembly of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens type IV secretion apparatus” in the August 9 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. [102:11498-11503]

Robert Herman, professor, received $435,008 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center.

Robert McKinnell, professor, co-authored two chapters for Amphibian Declines, edited by Mike Lannoo and published by the University of California Berkeley Press:
• Lucke renal adenocarcinoma. pp. 96-102.
• Monitoring pigment pattern morphs of northern leopard frogs. pp. 328-337.
Anna Selmecki, graduate student, has been awarded a two-year interdepartmental fellowship ($25,000 each year) from the Department of Plant Biology. The fellowship will cover her research on Candida albicans’ genomic instability and will foster a collaboration between Judy Berman’s lab in GCD and Nathan Springer's lab in plant biology


David McLaughlin, professor, received $127,514 from the NSF for “Collaborative Research: Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life.”

Peter Tiffin, assistant professor, received $9,863 from the NSF for “Partner Variability and Fitness in a Legume-Rhizobium Mutualism.”

Kate VandenBosch, professor and head of plant biology, received $226,185 from the NSF for “Defensin-Like Genes in Two Model Plant Species: Expression, Function, and Genome Organization of a Large Gene Family.”

John Ward, associate professor, received $247,761 from NSF for “Arabidopsis 2010: Collaborative Research: Discovering Transporters for Essential Minerals and Toxic Ions in Plants.”


Tracy Anderson, CBS Imaging Center, has been named one of 35 finalists in Nikon's 2005 Small World competition, which is one of the highest honors for microscopists who bridge the gap between art and science. Tracy’s work will be recognized at an event in New York in October and will appear around the US as part of a traveling exhibit.

Huber Warner, associate dean for research, has been selected to receive 2005 Donald P. Kent Award by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA). The Kent Award is given to a member who exemplifies the highest standards for professional leadership in gerontology through teaching, service, and public education. The award will be presented at the Society’s annual meeting in New Orleans in November. As recipient of the 2005 award,
Warner will deliver the Kent Lecture at the GSA’s 2006 annual meeting.


Read about CBS faculty, staff, and students featured in news on the MediaWatch page
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Fall semester begins
Convocation, Northrop Auditorium
Tuesday, September 6
4:30 p.m. – ceremony in Northrop Auditorium
5:45 p.m. – celebration in Coffman Memorial Union

Habitat for Biologists
September 9-11
September 23-25
Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories
Volunteers will help build a new cabin for women students

All College Meeting & Reception
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Coffman Mississippi Room

Annual Developmental Biology Symposium
“Chromatin & Chromosomes in Development"
Monday, September 26, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, September 27, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 pm
Coffman Memorial Union