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CBS News - August 2010

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College news

$1.5 million boost for student research opportunities

The College of Biological Sciences has been awarded $1.5 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to improve biology education by engaging all undergraduates who take biology courses in hands-on research.

The award will support eight postdoctoral HHMI teaching fellows who will be paired with HHMI faculty fellows to develop research curriculum and learn teaching skills. The award also supports creation of the Northstar Institute for Science Education where the teaching and faculty fellows will work together to design educational materials and evaluate the results of their educational research.

The Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project will provide many of the actual research opportunities. Students will collect samples in the field and create genomic libraries as part of an effort to identify and document microorganisms in the Mississippi River.

CBS welcomes new associate deans

Clarence Lehman (EEB) and Tom Hays (GCD) took up their duties as associate deans for research and graduate education June 30. Lehman and Hays will work together to foster collaboration on high-impact research among CBS faculty and with faculty across the University. They will also provide leadership for CBS’ graduate programs.

Lehman, who earned his Ph.D. from the U, is a resident fellow at the Institute on the Environment and was associate director of Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve for six years. He uses theoretical ecology and computer modeling to address environmental issues such as climate change and decreasing biodiversity. As associate dean, he hopes to improve the college’s ability to identify and apply for large interdisciplinary grant proposals.

Hays, who joined the U faculty in 1989, earned his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His research focuses on the structural and regulatory mechanisms that drive intracellular transport.

Huber Warner, who served as associate dean for research for five years, retired at the end of June.

Masters of Biological Sciences program moves to CCE

The Masters of Biological Sciences (MBS) program officially moved to the College of Continuing Education (CCE) on July 1. Janet Schottel (BMBB) is the new director of the program.

Under the arrangement, CBS will continue to oversee all academic matters including admission standards, curriculum, program delivery, graduation requirements and academic advising. CCE will provide market research, enhancing visibility for the program, course registration and student services support.

CCE successfully manages a number of professional master’s programs and is well-equipped to provide the support necessary for the MBS program to grow. Transferring the program to CCE increases efficiencies and helps mitigate declining support from the Graduate School.

St. Paul-based Imaging Center merges with East Bank counterpart

To meet the growing biomedical imaging needs of the University research community, the College of Biological Sciences and the Academic Health Center/Medical School have merged the Biomedical Image Processing Lab (BIPL) and the Imaging Center (IC). The new entity – the University Imaging Centers – will focus on optical imaging (especially invitral and live cell imaging), and provide related electron microscopy and computational technologies and expertise. Mark Sanders will serve as program director. Michael O’Connor (GCD) and Timothy Ebner (Neuroscience) will supervise operations.

Both facilities will continue offering uninterrupted services in their current locations during the same hours. The Minneapolis facility will also begin offering audio-visual equipment rental and poster printing. Van service is available to transport samples between facilities as needed.

CBS development team raises $1.6 million in FY10

The College of Biological Sciences development team raised more than $1.6 million in funds for the college. Donors invested in Itasca and Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve as well as student support. Gifts totalled three times the amount as in FY09.

Summer edition of BIO online now

The summer 2010 edition of BIO is online now. Read about Steve Heilmann’s (BTI) efforts to convert algae to a coal-like source of fuel, Cedar Creek researchers Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom’s (EEB) “Nutrient Network,” science historian Mark Borrello’s (EEB) new book about the contentious history of group selection theory, and more.


Start-up company develops atrazine treatment based on BTI research

A start-up company launched by Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson, two recent College of Science and Engineering graduates, will offer an atrazine remediation technology based on the research of Lawrence Wackett (BTI/BMBB) and Michael Sadowsky (BTI/Soil, Water and Climate). NewWater will market a biocatalyst-based drinking water filtration technology that can reduce atrazine concentrations to acceptable levels.

Atrazine is a selective herbicide widely used by farmers in the United States to control broadleaf weeds and grasses. In NewWater's technology, enzymes developed by Wackett and Sadowsky will serve as a catalyst to initiate the bacterial metabolism of atrazine, decomposing it into harmless by-products. The process does not produce a water waste stream, and it can treat much lower levels of atrazine than the current solution, activated carbon.

Local conditions drive infection of grasses by some vector-borne viruses

Ecology Letters | 7.10 

A recent study, led by Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom (EEB), reports the results of an experiment replicated in six host species at five sites across seven degrees of latitude. The study demonstrates that local biotic and abiotic conditions are better predictors of infection risk in common grasses than either host species traits or the broader regional context. Vector-transmitted pathogens (like West Nile virus carried by mosquitoes, Lyme disease carried by ticks, or barley yellow dwarf virus carried by aphids) are of particular concern as leading causes of emerging human, plant, and animal diseases. Understanding of disease dynamics rests primarily on mathematical models, large-scale observations, and, occasionally, experiments performed at single sites. From these, researchers know that disease risk for a wide variety of pathogens can vary with the local and regional combination of factors including host species, host nutrition, rainfall, and temperature, yet because of the observational nature of most disease studies, the mechanisms controlling this variation are often elusive.

Research grants

Associate professors Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom (EEB) were recently awarded $784,994 from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to study the community ecology of viral pathogens. The funding is part of a larger $2.5 million grant supporting a multi-institution initiative led by the researchers (read more about their “Nutrient Network” in the summer edition of BIO).

Professor David Stephens (EEB) and Aimee Dunlap, a former student in his lab, will receive a four-year, $575,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the experimental evolution of learning abilities. Dunlap, who is a postdoctoral student at the University of Arizona, will supervise the project.

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, received $286,286 from the National Institutes of Health to identify and clone the biosynthetic enzyme responsible for the production of cytotoxic sesquiterpene natural products made by higher fungi.

Associate Professor David Kirkpatrick (GCD) was recently awarded a two-year, $275,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study environmental factors influencing minisatellite stability in yeast. Kirkpatrick’s research will focus on identifying environmental factors (radiation, metals, ions, and DNA-damaging compounds) that destabilize repetitive minisatellite DNA tracts in stationary, post-mitotic yeast cells, and identifying all of the genes that regulate the response to any identified environmental minisatellite-destabilizing factors.

Professor David Bernlohr (BMBB) received $416,209 from the National Institutes of Health to support research related to the analysis of obesity-linked insulin resistance and the mechanisms that control adipocyte and macrophage inflammation. Focusing on fatty acid binding proteins, this study addresses the roles of lipid second messengers as regulators of insulin action.


The National Institutes of Health has awarded Associate Professor Kylie Walters (BMBB) $180,128 for her efforts to define how the 19S regulatory particle of the proteasome recognizes and processes ubiquitinated proteins. Protein degradation by the proteasome must be tightly regulated, as it controls events ranging from cell-cycle progression to cell death. The Walters lab will study the factors that lead to substrate recognition and the determinants of proteolysis by proteasome.


Professor and department head David Bernlohr (BMBB) and Etty DeVeaux, administrative director for EEB and PBIO, were selected to serve on the 12-person Presidential Search Advisory Committee. The committee will identify and evaluate candidates to replace outgoing U President Robert Bruininks, who will retire in June 2011.

Meet Terri Ritz, director of the BioGen Administrative Center, in the latest edition of CBS People, an ongoing feature highlighting the personalities behind the positions at the College of Biological Sciences.

Robin Wright, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, and teaching professors Deena Wassenberg and Mark Decker (Biology Program) were recently featured in a story about active learning on Minnesota Public Radio (Universities hope to ban boring lectures, 7.15.10).

Isaac Kazuo Uyehara, a student who participated in Global Change at the Headwaters of the Mississippi, published a study in a recent edition of the Herpetological Review. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) course was led by Sehoya Cotner (Biology Programs), Jim Cotner (EEB), Daniel Bond (Microbiology/BTI) and Sarah Hobbie (EEB) and post-doctoral student Tony Gamble. The paper, titled “The Presence of Ranavirus in Anuran Populations at Itasca State Park,” is the third undergraduate study published in the two years the course has been up and running.

Sandra Mackey retired July 31 after 20 years with the CBS teaching labs. Mackey supported plant-related courses in the departments of Plant Biology and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Mackey assisted thousands of students on independent projects, co-leading teacher workshops in plant science investigation, and managing fungal, algal and bacterial cultures for the teaching labs.

Associate professors Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom, and post-doctoral student Lydia O’Halloran (EEB) will host a meeting August 8-13 of more than two dozen researchers involved in a five-year, NSF-funded collaboration of ecologists conducting a global experiment looking at the effect of nutrients/fertilizers and herbivores on grasslands at 50 sites in nine countries.

The cover of the July issue of Trends in Biotechnology features an original lab bench from Gortner Laboratory. The image accompanies a review article by Misha Golynskiy and Burckhard Seelig (BMBB) on the emerging field of de novo enzyme generation; enzymes that nature has never seen before.

Matt Sabongi joined CBS in June as the college’s new freshman admissions counselor. He graduated from the U with a B.S. in biochemistry and a minor in the history of medicine. Sabongi has served as president of CBS Student Ambassadors, a tour guide for the Admissions Visit Office, and an intern in the Office of Admissions.

Sasanehsaeh (Suzi) Pyawasay joined CBS in July as academic advisor/transfer coordinator. She will focus on advisement and recruitment/admission of prospective internal and external transfer students. Before joining the college, Suzi worked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recruiting students throughout the state. She received undergraduate degrees in sociology and American Indian studies and a master's degree in higher, post secondary and continuing education at UMW.

Meaghan Stein (Student Services), coordinator of student engagement and retention, has been appointed to serve as the 2010 Minnesota College Personnel Association conference chair. She has also been tapped to participate in this year’s University of Minnesota's Women's Leadership Institute.

Academic Advisor Lisa Novack (Student Services) has been appointed to the University of Minnesota's Academic Advising Network Board for 2010-11.

CBS undergraduate Randi Jundt was awarded a $3,500 Gilman Scholarship to study in Venezuela this fall. The scholarship is designed to boost diversity among students who learning abroad as well as greater geographic diversity in the countries and regions where they go to study.


Itasca weekend in the woods

Join Dean Bob Elde for a fall weekend at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. By day, see the fall colors, tour the Iron Springs Bog and Forestedge Winery, and learn about the Metagenomics of the Mississippi River. Enjoy dinner and a bonfire by night. Activities and meals are included with registration. Lodging is not included.

DETAILS: Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories | September 24-26 | $99 adults, $55 children


2010-11 faculty senate and college election results

Newly elected Senators: Anke Reinders and Janet Schottel
Continuing Senators: Daniel Bond and Susan Gibson

The alternates for 2010-2011 are the pool of all faculty and academic professionals eligible to vote for senators.

CBS Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators (CAPA) Election (2008-2011): Jessica Kuecker Grotjohn (continuing representative)

The alternates for 2010-2011 are the pool of all academic professionals and administrators eligible to vote in the CAPA elections

CBS Academic Professional and Administrative Staff Representatives:
Consultative Committee: Peggy Rinard
Educational Policy Committee: Jessica Kuecker Grotjohn

CBS Civil Service /Bargaining Unit Clerical Representative:
Consultative Committee: Cindy Lawson

CBS Civil Service/Bargaining Unit Scientific/Technical Representative:
Consultative Committee: Gail Celio

Alumni advocacy committee seeks new members

The Alumni Association’s Advocacy Committee is looking for new members who are not current board members. The committee is connected to the Alumni Association’s National Board. Members of the committee collectively provide the ‘alumni voice’ to University decision makers and to key external entities on substantive policy and legislative issues. Non-board committee members serve a three-year term. The first meeting of the academic year is scheduled for September 22. Interested? Contact Sandy Massel ( or 612-626-3956)