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CBS News - February 2007

From the Dean | News | Trendwatch | Research | People | Events | Deadlines



Global warming heats up interest in biofuels research

There’s been no shortage of interest in global warming and renewable energy among lawmakers and the media lately, from the U.S. Capitol to the State Capitol and from the New York Times to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

As this issue of CBS News was assembled, the NY Times and Star Tribune ran front page stories on a report by an international group of scientists (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) concluding that global warming is unmistakable and that human activity is the main cause. The report says the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere sets the planet on course for centuries of warming, shifting weather patterns and rising seas. But, the panel adds, if we act quickly, we can still cool things down.

It’s not just scientists sounding the alarm and looking for solutions. CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies recently urged federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions soon so that they can plan their future. Alternative energy played a prominent role in the President’s recent State of the Union Speech. And there were several hearings about climate and biofuels at the Legislature last week.

Arctic explorer Will Steger and U faculty David Tilman (CBS), Lee Freelich (CFANS) and Gary DeCramer (Humphrey Institute) testified to a group of 90 legislators about the impact of global warming on Minnesota, urging them to enact policy to reduce carbon emissions in the state. The joint session was the largest since a 1988 hearing on AIDS.

I gave my Biofuels 101 talk to the House Committee on Biosciences and Emerging Technologies on February 1.  That morning, visiting biofuels experts from Princeton, UC Berkeley and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) joined me to talk to three committees about the status of research on cellulosic biofuels. The visitors were in St. Paul for the symposium “Pathways Towards a Renewable Energy Future,” which Dave Tilman hosted on the St. Paul campus later in the afternoon.

As Edward Garvey, Minnesota’s deputy commissioner for energy, puts it  “biofuels is the jet stream at the legislature this year.”

Also in the headlines, BP announced that UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana would share its $500 million award for biofuels research. And research universities nationwide, including the University of Minnesota, submitted proposals for the Department of Energy’s competition to award two $125 million grants for biofuels research.

The University of Minnesota is the lead institution for the proposed DOE Midwest Bioenergy Research Center, which will focus on using microbial and plant genomics to discover new and better ways to make ethanol and other biofuels. The initial goal is to find or create microbes and enzymes that can turn cellulose into ethanol quickly and cheaply. Another focus is to breed plants with cellulose that breaks down more readily. The center will also include an education program to train the next generation of scientists and skilled workers for Minnesota’s biofuels industry.

I would like to thank Claudia Neuhauser for her extraordinary effort in pulling this proposal together. More than 100 researchers from the U and other institutions are represented in the grant. Partners within Minnesota include MnSCU, AURI and the White Earth Reservation. MnSCU will play a key role in training skilled workers, while AURI is raising our visibility within the state and strengthening our relationship with the agricultural community. And we hope to establish a demonstration project at the White Earth Reservation for growing prairie grasses and converting them into biofuels. 

We are also collaborating with colleges and universities in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Connecticut and Georgia. Each of these partners also brings unique resources and capabilities that add value to our collective strength.

Partnerships will be essential to making the transition from fossil fuels to biofuels and slowing global warming, with its devastating consequences for the planet and future generations. No individual or group can tackle this alone. It’s big science that calls for lots of people with lots energy and lots of ideas, much like the space program in the 1960s. And like the space program, it will require lots of money. You can’t pull off a moon shot with a slingshot.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences


Two McKnight land-grant awards go to CBS faculty

Daniel Bond and Helene Muller-Landau are among 11 University of Minnesota faculty named 2007–08 McKnight Land-Grant Professors. The award, given to highly promising junior faculty consists of a research grant, summer support and a research leave. “I’m very proud of Daniel and Helene and the many other talented young faculty who have joined CBS in the past few years,” says Bob Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. “The fact that two faculty on this short list are from CBS shows the value of investments the University has made to recruit outstanding young faculty in the biological sciences.”

Biofuels in the spotlight

The College of Biological Sciences and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) have been garnering media attention recently as discussion of biofuels heats up at the capitol and elsewhere. Dean Elde, David Tilman and others were interviewed in late January for a series on renewable energy research at the University for WCCO’s Project Energy. Dean Elde also contributed two op-ed pieces to the Pioneer Press about second-generation biofuels and the increasingly competitive biofuels research landscape. Catch up on all the headlines at CBS MediaWatch.

U.S. House set to increase funding for science research

The U.S. House of Representatives plans to increase funding for scientific research as part of the fiscal year 2007 continuing resolution (H.J. Res. 20), which also includes increases in the federal Pell Grant program. The resolution includes:

  • $335 million more for the National Science Foundation for basic research and other initiatives.
  • $200 million more for the DOE Office of Science to support research including new energy technologies such as improved conversion of cellulosic biomass to biofuels.
  • a $300 million boost for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources to accelerate research and development activities for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
  • a $619 million increase to reverse a projected decline in new NIH research project awards and support an additional 500 research project grants and 1,500 first-time investigators.

U’s tech transfer program reorganizes

In an effort to reinvigorate commercialization of University research, Patents and Technology Marketing and the Office of Business Development have merged into the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC). The office is located in University Enterprise Laboratories in St. Paul. For more information, visit the OTC website.

Discovery Grants available for renewable energy research

University of Minnesota faculty members are invited to apply for Discovery Grants to support research on biofuels and the environment through the new Institute on the Environment and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. These interdisciplinary grants, supported by compact funds allocated by the Provost’s office, are aimed at increasing the University’s research capacity in these areas. Awards are expected to be in the $100,000–$300,000 range per year for up to two years. Pre-proposals are due March 5.

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Undergraduate research gains momentum nationwide

A recent CNN report spotlights the growing trend toward undergraduate research opportunities at universities across the country. According to the report: “Undergraduate research has become almost a prerequisite for top graduate programs. That’s a big reason demand is skyrocketing.” The benefit extends to both the students and the institutions since more alumni going on to graduate school translates to a boost for the school’s reputation. The trend is underscored by big investments from government agencies such as the National Science Foundation in an effort to cultivate a new generation of scientists.

Harvard alters its approach to scientific study

Harvard University is planning an ambitious effort to encourage interdisciplinary science research and backing it up with a $50 million investment, according to a recent report in the Boston Globe. A new university-wide science and engineering planning committee will create new interdisciplinary departments possibly focusing on areas such as stem cell research and innovative computing. The controversial plan has some scientists concerned that academic standards will be diluted and scientifically fashionable areas will receive undue attention and resources. 


New study looks at ecosystem response to climate change


Results from a study by University of Minnesota researchers published in the January 19 issue of Science could help scientists’ ability to predict ecosystems’ response to climate change. Jennifer King, an assistant professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate and in the department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (EEB), Carol Adair, a post-doc in EEB and Forest Resources, and graduate student Leslie Brandt were co-researchers for the 10-year study. The research focused on how nitrogen is released into soil as plant litter—leaves and grasses—decomposes. The research also has implications for the study of global warming since decomposition of plant litter releases carbon dioxide—an important contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Genetic cause of increased breast cancer risk identified

Naoko Shima (GCD) and her research team published a paper in the January 2007 issue of Nature Genetics, which suggests that the hypomorphic alleles of specific genes can increase breast cancer risk.



Professor Robert K. Herman (GCD) received the Genetics Society of America’s George W. Beadle award for his outstanding contributions to the community of genetic researchers.

Tracy Anderson, jr. scientist, Imaging Center, Mark Decker, associate director, Biology Program and Fred Dulles, director, Information Technology Department have been nominated by CBS as potential candidates for the 2007 President’s Emerging Leaders Program. The program develops the leadership skills of high-potential University staff in an effort to cultivate institutional talent.

Doctoral student Karl Gruber (EEB) received the Alexander and Lydia Anderson Fellowship to support his research into the sex determination gene in bees.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents will recognize 2007 Rhodes Scholar Katie Lee, a CBS/IT undergraduate, at its February meeting.

Sehoya Cotner (EEB) describes her efforts to implement an active learning model in a large, content-based, introductory course in the feature article for the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s Transform newsletter.

In memoriam

Jean M. McIntosh, who served the Botany (now Plant Biology) Department as secretary and administrator for more than 40 years, passed away on January 16 at the age of 85.

McIntosh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in botany at the University of Minnesota in 1942, remained active in department and college events after her retirement and generously supported the Eloise Newcomb Pitmann Scholarship for undergraduate women students majoring in plant biology. Pitmann was a classmate of McIntosh’s.

Jean is survived by a niece, Elizabeth (James) Paetznick (St. Cloud); nephews, Bruce (Kathy) McIntosh (Fifty Lakes), Stewart (Kathy) McIntosh (St. Paul); grandniece, Carin (Luke) Gulstrand (Grand Marais); grandnephew, Andrew (Jamie) McIntosh (Burnsville); great grandnephew, Emmett McIntosh. A memorial service will be held in the spring.


Project Art for Nature: Presence, Essence, Absence

WHEN: Opens February 10
WHERE: Bell Museum of Natural History | East Bank campus

Seventeen artists from Minnesota and Wisconsin working in a variety of media take inspiration from the region’s increasingly splintered wild places and explore changes in the environment caused by weather, climate and human activity.

CBS Imaging Center Open House

WHEN: February 13–14 | 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
WHERE: CBS Imaging Center | Snyder Hall, Rooms 13–37 | St. Paul Campus

Get familiar with newly acquired imaging capabilities and the latest in imaging instrumentation at the College of Biological Sciences’ Imaging Center Open House. Students, staff and faculty are invited to drop in for equipment demonstrations, food and refreshments.

Café Scientifique: Understanding Evolution

WHEN: February 13 | 6 p.m.
WHERE: Varsity Theater | Dinkytown | $5 suggested donation

A panel of University of Minnesota researchers discusses evolutionary biology and the history of America’s cultural response to teaching evolution. Learn about new research from professor and science blogger PZ Myers, Bell Museum Director Scott Lanyon, and historian and biologist Mark Borrello.

BioBook Club: Omnivore’s Dilemma

WHEN: February 22 | 6 p.m. (SOLD OUT)
WHERE: Eastcliff | St. Paul

CBS Dean Robert Elde leads a discussion of the acclaimed Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.

Across Africa: Unpredictable Lions

WHEN: February 25 | 2 p.m.
WHERE: Bell Museum of Natural History | East Bank campus | $6–$8

EEB graduate fellow Anna Mosser discusses her amazing experiences while studying lions in East and South Africa.

Great Conversations: The Future of Education

WHEN: March 27 | 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Ted Mann Concert Hall | Minneapolis | $23.50–$28.50

Meet two innovators who are changing the way we provide education in America. Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, envisions the future of K-12 education with Larry Rosenstock, founder and CEO of High Tech High in San Diego, California.

2007 Undergraduate Symposium

WHEN: April 18 | 1–6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Coffman Union | East Bank campus

Celebrate the research, creativity and scholarship of undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. Take in an array of poster presentations and talk with students about their projects and see the level of their understanding, innovation and passion for science at this annual event.


Undergrad research grant applications due March 5

The deadline to apply for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) funds is March 5. CBS faculty members are encouraged to let students working in their research labs know about this opportunity. Complete UROP applications must be submitted to the front desk of CBS Student Services.

Leadership development nomination deadline March 9

The President’s Emerging Leaders Program (PEL) is currently accepting applications. The program is designed to identify and further develop the leadership skills of talented P&A, Civil Service and Bargaining Unit staff. The application deadline for is March 9.

Undergraduate Symposium project abstracts due March 30

Students interested in participating in the Undergraduate Symposium poster presentations must submit abstracts of their research or scholarly work by March 30. Poster presentations are encouraged for both completed projects and projects still in the early stages. Students with especially interesting results can also request the opportunity to present their work at one of the platform sessions.