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August 2012

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CBS launches effort to hire 16 new faculty for 6 research clusters

CBS launched an effort earlier this month to form six research clusters and hire 16 new faculty. The interdisciplinary clusters represent emerging areas of biology that address health and environmental issues, and build on strengths of existing faculty. The research clusters will also strengthen graduate and undergraduate education programs. They include: Cellular Biophysics, Functional Proteomics, Fungal Evolution, Genome Variation, Microbial Systems and Synthetic Biology, and Theoretical Biology.

For details, go to the college's cluster hiring website. Please help CBS get the word out about this effort to prospective candidates at other universities.

Your name on the donor wall at Itasca for $1,000

CBS has launched the final phase of a campaign to raise $6 million for a new campus center at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. In May, the Minnesota Legislature provided $4.1 million for the center. Private donors have pledged more than $1.2 million. Development Director Laurie Hennen has created an opportunity for donors who contribute $1,000 to be named on a recognition wall in the new center. The $1,000 contribution may be made through monthly installments over three years. There are also opportunities to name labs and classrooms to honor donors who contribute $25,000 to $50,000. For more information, contact Laurie at

148 students awarded 2012-13 CBS scholarships and fellowships

The CBS Scholarship Committee has awarded scholarships and fellowships to 148 students for the 2012-13 academic year. Awards range from $500-$3,000 for scholarships and $1,000-$20,000 for fellowships, and total $306,839. Some scholarships are supported by small annual gifts from alumni, while others come from endowments created to honor faculty, alumni, and friends. To see the names of this year’s recipients and learn more about individual awards, go to the CBS scholarship recipients page. Interested in making a gift to an existing scholarship? You can do it online. Or find out how to create an endowed scholarship by contacting Laurie Hennen (

CBS elects faculty senators and committee representatives

The results from this summer’s election are in. Here’s the lineup of faculty senators and staff who will represent the college community on key committees.

  • New faculty senator: Ruth Shaw (EEB)
  • Continuing faculty senators: David Kirkpatrick (GCD), Anke Reinders (PBIO) and Janet Schottel (BMBB)
  • P&A senator: Etty Deveaux (PBIO/EEB)
  • Alternate P&A Senator: Jeff Schaub (BMBB)
  • P&A Consultative Committee rep: Craig Bantz (CBS-IT)
  • P&A Educational Policy Committee rep: Stefanie Wiesneski (Student Services)
  • CSBU Consultative Committee rep: Juli Pelletier (Dean’s Office)   
  • CSBU Scientific/Technical Committee rep: Marianne Moodie (CBS-IT)


Voytas named co-PI of $12 million DOE grant to develop bioenergy grass

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a five year, $12.1 million grant to researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and their collaborating institutions, which include the University of Minnesota, to develop a new model plant system, Setaria viridis, to advance bioenergy grasses as a sustainable source of renewable fuels. Dan Voytas (GCD) is the principal investigator for the U of M effort. The group’s overall goal will be to understand genetic mechanisms that enable some drought-tolerant plants to thrive on less water than others. Voytas' role will be to develop genetic technology to tweak the genetic code of other plants in order to survive drought. The ability of bioenergy feedstocks to use water efficiently and to produce abundant yields at high density will be major drivers in the development of improved varieties that can serve as a replacement for petroleum-based fuels. The knowledge and technology gained from this research could ultimately be applied to food crops as well as energy crops, says Voytas, who was interviewed about the project by Cathy Wurzer for Minnesota Public Radio.

Ecology and phylogenetics offer new insights into biodiversity

Ecology | 6.12

The August issue of Ecology, co-edited by Jeannine Cavender-Bares (EEB), shows how ecology (the study of relationships between living organisms and their environment) and phylogenetics (research on evolutionary relationships among groups of organisms) can help scientists understand how human impact is changing global biodiversity and how to maintain and restore biodiversity as the pace of change accelerates. "As human domination of our planet accelerates," says Cavender-Bares, "our best hope for restoring and sustaining the environmental services of the biological world is to understand how organisms assemble, persist and coexist in ecosystems across the globe."

The issue features research findings by six CBS scientists, including Cavender-Bares, Sarah Hobbie (EEB), David Tilman (EEB), George Weiblen (PBIO) and former graduate students Jessica Savage and Tim Whitfeld as well as Peter Reich (CFANS).

$1.3 million grant funds effort to improve proteomics data analysis

Tim Griffin (BMBB) along with colleagues from the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute and the Research Informatics Support Systems (RISS) were recently awarded a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to modify Galaxy, a web-based framework used to analyze genomics data, for use with proteomics data.  Several key software programs for mass spectrometry-based proteomics data analysis will be integrated into the existing Galaxy bioinformatics platform to create Galaxy-P. The new tool will give researchers the ability to perform more in-depth analysis of MS-based proteomics data.

Loss of diversity hurts ecosystems as much as other human impacts; increasing biodiversity could help reverse the damage

PNAS | 6.11.12

It’s well known that biodiversity makes ecosystems more stable and more productive. A new study reveals that loss of biodiversity damages ecosystems at least as much as other types of human disturbance including changes in nitrogen, water, CO2, herbivores, climate change or fire. The findings also indicate that adding species to ecosystems could increase productivity of some biomass crops as effectively as fertilizers while providing environmental benefits. 

“As global population heads toward 9 billion people, we need ways to increase ecosystem productivity that also help the environment. Our work shows that there are cases where restoring biodiversity can be as good at increasing productivity as fertilization, and can also provide environmental benefits,” says Regents Professor David Tilman (EEB).

Ford Denison publishes book on evolution and agriculture

As human populations grow and resources are depleted, agriculture will need to use land, water, and other resources more efficiently and without sacrificing long-term sustainability. Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture presents an entirely new approach to these challenges, one that draws on the principles of evolution and natural selection.

Author R. Ford Denison (EEB) shows how biotechnology and traditional plant breeding can draw on Darwinian insights to identify promising routes for crop genetic improvement. Darwinian Agriculture reveals why it is sometimes better to slow or even reverse evolutionary trends when they are inconsistent with society’s goals, and how we can glean new ideas from natural selection's innovations in wild species.

“The need to produce a higher yield is continually growing, yet natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce,” Denison says. “Improving crop genetics – and avoiding costly dead ends in the process – is paramount to the long term sustainability of agriculture. This requires a comprehensive approach, one that incorporates the lessons of nature when applying modern science.”

Geckos gain and lose sticky toepads based on habitat, new study shows

PLoS One | 6.27.12

Geckos are known for sticky toes that allow them to climb up walls and even hang upside down on ceilings. A new study shows that geckos have gained and lost these unique adhesive structures multiple times over the course of their long evolutionary history in response to changes in habitat, from boulders and trees to sandy plains.
 Postdoctoral researcher Tony Gamble (GCD), in collaboration with scientists at Villanova University and the University of Calgary, found that sticky toes evolved independently in about 11 different gecko groups and were lost in at least nine groups. In order to understand how the toepads evolved, the research team produced the most complete gecko family tree ever constructed.

Gecko toepads adhere through a combination of weak intermolecular attractions, called van der Waals forces, and frictional adhesion. Hundreds to hundreds of thousands of hair-like bristles, called setae, line the underside of a gecko’s toes. The toepads have inspired engineers to develop biomimetic technologies ranging from dry adhesive bandages to climbing robots. Gaining a better understanding of the complex evolutionary history of the toepads will allow bio-inspired engineers to learn from these natural designs and develop new applications.


Scott Lanyon (EEB) was recently named 2012-14 president elect of the American Ornithologists Union. He will serve two years in that role followed by a two-year stint as president of the AOU, which is one of the oldest organizations in the world devoted to the scientific study of birds. Lanyon’s father served as president of the organization from 1976-78.

Brian Eby is one of two U of M students selected for the Katherine Sullivan Scholarship. The scholarship supports a fifth year of undergraduate study in another country for one or more outstanding seniors. Eby is majoring in genetics, cell biology and development, and minoring in chemistry. After a year of study in Freiburg, Germany he plans to attend medical school and become a physician.

Meaghan Miller Thul has been named to fill the new position of assistant director in CBS Student Services. She will help manage CBS Student Services and its initiatives with direct responsibility to support and strengthen the academic advising model. Thul has a master’s degree in higher education and has held a variety of student services positions at several universities. She comes to CBS from CLA Student Services where she has worked since 2005, most recently as coordinator for student engagement. CBS Student Services also welcomed a new advisor in June. Before joining the college, Kristin Economos served as liaison to the University of Minnesota for the Kaplan test preparation company. She received her master’s degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies from Iowa State University.

Why should Minnesotans care about the state of the world's oceans? Jim Cotner (EEB) explains how neglect, ignorance and overuse of of oceans threatens human welfare in a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary.

Marlene Zuk (EEB) was interviewed on Minnespta Public Radio and quoted in a New York Times article in July,  She also recently gave a talk about her new book, Sex on Six Legs, at the Bone Room, a store specializing in natural history in Berkeley, California.

In May and June, Randy Moore and Sehoya Cotner (Biology Program) took 21 students to Ecuador as part of their Biology of Galápagos course. The 2013 course will be announced in mid-September.

Sehoya Cotner (Biology Program) and two of her former teaching assistants, undergraduates Joe Kleinschmidt and Michael Kempnich, contributed a chapter on using student-generated video podcasts (vodcasts) as a teaching tool to the e-book Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories From the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota 2012.

Julia Knoll joined Ecology, Evolution and Behavior as the department’s new executive assistant August 1. Julia earned a degree in music St. Olaf College.  She comes to CBS from the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities where she managed the organization’s gift database and maintaining the donor website, among other tasks. 
Elisabeth (Beth) Bagley joined Plant Biology August 1 as the department's new executive assistant. Beth earned her bachelor's degrees in English and communications from the University of Minnesota. She comes to the college from Goalcrease, Inc., where she coordinated front office operations and managed the company's financial and employee records.



Excess nitrogen: A confounding problem for energy use, food production, the water we drink and the air we breathe

In the United States, we put five times more nitrogen into the environment than is deposited or released naturally. That excess nitrogen causes a variety of environmental and health problems – pollution of ground and surface waters, smog, increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Otto Doering, professor of agricultural economics and director of Purdue University's Climate Change Research Center, will discuss the dangers of excess nitrogen in this lecture co-sponsored by CBS and the Freshwater Society.

St. Paul Student Center | 7 p.m. | More information


Developmental transitions: Timing is everything

Speakers at the 21st annual University of Minnesota Developmental Biology Symposium, which will focus on development transitions, include: Victor Ambros (University of Massachusetts), Maria Dominguez (Unidad de Neurobiologia del Desarrollo), Kirst King-Jones (University of Alberta), Fred Nijhout (Duke University), Scott Poethig (University of Pennsylvania) and Manuel Tena-Sempere (University of Cordoba).

University Hotel | East Bank | More information