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CBS News - August 2011

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CBS hosts national biology education workshop

Dozens of educators from research universities around the Midwest converged on the U of M Twin Cities campus in early July for the HHMI National Academies Northstar Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology. The institute, which started at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and expanded to nine locations across the country this summer, is designed to improve undergraduate biology education by encouraging faculty to approach teaching with the same analytical skills used in the lab.

Participants spent the week learning about and putting active learning into practice. Participants were divided into four groups, given a topic such as evolution and tasked with developing a unit using the active learning approach. The institute was led by Robin Wright, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. Team leaders included the Biology Program’s Mark Decker, Sue Wick, Rob Brooker and Deanna Wassenberg. A number of CBS faculty participated in the workshop including EEB’s Scott Lanyon.

“The Northstar Institute provided a wonderful opportunity to learn new approaches to teaching biology and to compare experiences with faculty from other institutions,” said Lanyon. “It was gratifying to hear these colleagues comment on the high quality of the University of Minnesota's teaching facilities and our progress in making innovative changes to undergraduate biology education.  … I feel better prepared to make my courses more effective and more intellectually stimulating for our students.”

Cedar Creek launches artist residency program

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve has launched an artist residency program as part of a science-humanities collaboration happening across federally funded long-term ecological research sites. The nascent Ecological Reflections initiative will act as a hub for a network dedicated to long-term, collaborative science and art inquiry into particular sites of great ecological or cultural importance.

The first artist in residence, writer and teacher Linda Buturian (CEHD), contributed essays and photographs exploring the interactions between humans and ecology at Cedar Creek. Jill Johnson, an installation artist based in Fargo, ND, will use the research station’s oak savanna as the site for her piece “Ordinary Vikings,” which will debut in October.

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior unveils redesigned website

The Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior has a new website with features designed to appeal to prospective undergraduates. The retooled site includes faculty research highlights, Q&As with undergraduate and graduate students about their EEB experience, and streamlined navigation. The redesign is part of a college-wide migration to the University’s new templates and to Drupal, a content management system.

Online resources for faculty and staff now easier to access

Looking for timesheets or performance review guidelines? Need to download the CBS wordmark? Not sure how to contact the CBS help desk? CBS faculty and staff have a new entry point to these and many more resources on the CBS website. The Faculty + Staff link at the top right of the CBS website is your portal to timely human resources, communications, information technology, teaching and learning, and other college-wide information.



Lions feast when the full moon fades

PLoS One | 7.20.11

A new study led by Craig Packer (EEB) shows that while moonlight limits lions’ success at hunting, the last day of a full moon signals the beginning of a foraging opportunity for prey that includes humans as well as herbivores. After that day, the moon will not appear until well after dark. In rural areas where lions may turn to humans as a food source, big hungry cats catch up on missed meals after a week of brightly lit nights.

The finding emerged from a study of nearly 500 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009. More than two-thirds of the attacks were fatal and victims were eaten. The vast majority of victims were attacked between dusk and 10 p.m., when humans are most active, on nights when the waning moon provided relatively little light.

Chance drives wealth into the hands of a few

PLoS One | 7.20.11

Using a model that isolates effects of chance on concentration of wealth in an entrepreneurial system, Joe Fargione (EEB adjunct faculty), Clarence Lehman (EEB/CBS associate dean) and Steve Polasky (Applied Economics/EEB) have discovered that chance consistently pushes wealth into the hands of a few, ever-richer people. The paper attributes the trend to the fact that some investors will have a string of high returns that grow exponentially as earnings compound. The model also shows that a tax on the largest inherited fortunes would protect long-term economic stability by evening out the distribution of wealth.

“Predictions from this model about how wealth is distributed were more accurate than predictions from classic economic models,” said Fargione, who was first author.

Loss of a single gene triggers sex reversal

Nature | 7.21.11

David Zarkower and Vivian Bardwell (GCD) have discovered a gene that maintains male sexual characteristics throughout an organism’s life.  Removing the gene, called Dmrt1, causes male cells in mouse testes to become female ovarian cells. In mammals, sex chromosomes (XX in female, XY in male) determine the future sex of the animal during embryonic development by establishing whether the gonads will become testes or ovaries.

“Scientists have long assumed that once the sex determination decision is made in the embryo, it’s final,” Zarkower said. “We have now discovered that when Dmrt1 is lost in mouse testes – even in adults – many male cells become female cells and the testes show signs of becoming more like ovaries.”

Two years ago a team in Germany identified a gene that keeps key cells of the ovary from turning into the corresponding cells of the testes. The two discoveries provide insights into how cells are programmed and offer hope of reprogramming stem cells and cells involved in genetic diseases.

Rapid venom evolution in pit vipers might be defensive

PLoS | 6.22.11

Sharon Jansa, EEB, co-authored a research article showing that venomous snakes such as pitvipers may be engaged in an arm's race with opossums, a group of snake-eating American marsupials.

“We now have evidence that one of the proteins (a blood-clotting factor) that is attacked by pitviper venom has undergone extraordinarily rapid evolution in these venom-resistant opossums,” Jansa says.  “We've known for years that snake venom genes evolve rapidly, but the partner molecules in this arms race were unknown until now.  Our results suggest that opossums — which are one of the few mammals that can eat venomous snakes — may contribute to the rapid evolution of snake venoms.”

Jansa’s collaborator was Rob Voss, curator in the Department of Mammalogy at the The American Museum of Natural History.

Cooper Award goes to EEB paper on evolutionary responses to climate change

A paper by Margaret Davis, Ruth Shaw and Julie Etterson, published in Ecology in 2005 — "Evolutionary Responses to Changing Climate" — is this year's recipient of the Cooper Award from the Ecological Society of America. Davis is an emeritus professor, former EEB department head and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Shaw is an EEB professor, and Etterson is a former EEB graduate student now on the faculty at UMD.

Davis and her co-authors present a prescient synthesis of ecological and evolutionary processes in plant populations during periods of rapid climate change. This paper has led the way in breaking down the classic paradigm that evolutionary responses to quaternary climate change were slow and largely irrelevant. Instead, they present a comprehensive and compelling synthesis of evidence that plant populations can and do evolutionarily adapt to rapid environmental change.


Bond awarded $1.1 million grant from DOE for bio-electricity research

Daniel Bond (Microbiology/BTI) and colleagues were recently awarded a three-year $1.1 million, Department of Energy grant to study electron transfer within biofilms involved in biological electricity generation. The project (supported by the Biological and Environmental Research division) will combine mutant analysis with electrochemistry and three-dimensional imaging to study the basis of how bacteria create conductive biofilms, and what fundamentally limits electron transfer between microbial cells.

Hendrickson receives $1.2 million from NCI for DNA repair research

Eric Hendrickson (BMBB) has been awarded $1.2 million over four years from the National Cancer Institute to investigate the role of non-homologous end joining in radiation responses in human somatic cells. This is his third active NIH grant. Hendrickson’s work will be featured in the fall issue of BIO, the college alumni publication.

IREE funds four projects led by CBS faculty

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment recently awarded more than $4 million to 20 renewable energy projects. Four of the projects are led by CBS researchers. Jeff Gralnick (Microbiology/BTI) and CO-PIs Daniel Bond (Microbiology/BTI) and Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB/BTI) received a $150,000 “early career” grant to engineer bacterial bioelectrical catalysts that could be used to generate inexpensive electricity into more valuable biofuels and bioproducts.

In addition, three research teams were awarded smaller “seed” grants designed to help get research off the ground. John Lipscomb (BMBB), Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI), Carrie Wilmot (BMBB) and Larry Que (CSE) received $70,000 to develop an enzyme catalyst capable of producing renewable jet fuel. Paul Lefebvre (PBIO) is the principal investigator for a project to produce lipids from algae for biofuels and human nutrition. CO-PIs include Carolyn Silflow (PBIO), Steve Heilmann (BTI), Mike Hondzo (CSE) and Doug Mashek (CFANS). Schmidt-Dannert is leading efforts on a project to engineer protein-based nano-bioreactors for biofuel production and biocatalysis.



Melissa Gardner (GCD) is one of 22 scientists named 2011 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences. The program encourages early-career scientists to advance research that leads to important medical breakthroughs and treatments. Gardner got her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and spent years developing and designing medical devices before joining CBS last year.  Read a recent BIO feature about Gardner.

Emilie Snell-Rood (EEB) organized an Animal Behavior Outreach Fair in conjunction with the Animal Behavior Society’s national meeting in Bloomington, Indiana in late July. Fifty-five scientists from 16 animal behavior research labs participated including Snell-Rood’s lab and Mark Bee’s (EEB) animal communication lab. Exhibits covered a range of topics from “animal apps” that allow zoo visitors to share observations to spider aggression and frog communication. About 550 people attended the event. Read more about it.

Steve Heilmann (BTI) was recognized by 3M at its annual Inventor's Recognition Event in May for accruing 100 U.S. patents to the company. A former 3M employee, Heilmann is one of only six in the company’s history to do so.

Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) recently met with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) as part of a University group formed to advise the lawmaker on energy research and policy. Wackett also chaired a session on biodegradation and spoke in a session on biofuels at the Society for Industrial Microbiology meeting in July. He also gave the keynote lecture at a American Society for Microbiology conference this spring.

Mark Bee (EEB), Sean Conner (GCD) and Jeffrey Gralnick (Microbiology) were recently promoted to associate professor. Sarah Hobbie (EEB), Fumiaki Katagiri (PBIO), Vivian Bardwell (GCD) and George Weiblen (PBIO) were promoted to full professor.

Janice Frias (Ph.D., BMBB) and Dave Sukovich (Ph.D., MiCaB), both advised by Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI), have new appointments. Frias is now a lead scientist at at Novozymes in Davis, California, where she is developing new enzymes for biofuels applications. Sukovich recently began a postdoc at MIT with Chris Voigt, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Engineering.

Six CBS graduate students were named 2011-12 Doctoral Dissertation Fellows by the U of M Graduate School. They are Aaron Ehlinger (BMBB), Peder Cedervall (BMBB), Kristina  Hellberg (BMBB), Thomas Giarla (EEB), Gina Quiram (EEB) and Beth Pettitt (EEB).

Brandon Goblirsch (Ph.D., BMBB) successfully defended his doctoral thesis in July and will start a joint postdoctoral associate position splitting his time between the labs of Carrie Wilmot and Larry Wackett (both BMBB) working on the development of biofuels.

Lyndal Jensen, a research associate in Carrie Wilmot’s lab (BMBB) since 2008, moved to a new position at Ecolabs. Erik Yuk, also a member of the Wimot lab, won a prestigious National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship. Yukl is studying how a heme-containing enzyme catalyzes the assembly of an in situ protein cofactor required in microbial metabolism.

Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior staff member Lisa Wiggins was selected to participate in the 2011-12 cohort of the Women's Leadership Institute. Noel Phillips, also a member of the EEB staff, was chosen to represent the Civil Service Committee on the University-wide Information Technologies Committee for a three-year term.

Nikki Letawsky Shultz and Meaghan Stein (CBS Student Services) presented a session at the NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conference in June. The session was titled “Leadership Education as a Tool to Increase Student Persistence and Retention.”

Three new staff members joined CBS Student Services this summer. Dawn Graff is the new CBS freshman admissions counselor, Jennifer Decker is student services specialist and Chad Ellsworth is a new academic advisor in early August. Graff is a 2011 graduate of the College of Biological Sciences. Decker is a 2011 U of M honors graduate in global studies and German studies with a minor in Spanish. Ellsworth has worked at the University of Minnesota for the past seven years, serving most recently as the program director for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

2010-12 CBS election results

University Senate Election
Newly elected Senator: David Kirkpatrick
Continuing Senators: Daniel Bond, Anke Reiners and Janet Schottel

CBS Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators (CAPA) Election (2011-2014)
Newly elected Senator: Stephanie Xenos

CBS Academic Professional and Administrative Staff Representatives
Consultative Committee: Stefanie Wiesneski
Educational Policy Committee:  Rogene Schnell
CBS Civil Service /Bargaining Unit Clerical Representative
Consultative Committee: Sue Knoblauch

CBS Civil Service/Bargaining Unit Scientific/Technical Representative
Consultative Committee: Belinda Belfort

Stephanie Xenos (CBS Dean’s Office) was promoted from assistant to associate director of communications.



September 23-25

Weekend in the woods

Come enjoy the natural beauty of Itasca, mingle with friends, and participate in faculty-led classes at the station or go with a group on a local outing. Associate Dean for Research Tom Hays will lead a short program at a reception after dinner Saturday evening, followed by a bonfire.