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CBS News - February 2009

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From the dean

What we know about the budget

I know you are concerned about how state budget deficits will affect the University, CBS, your department and you personally in the coming months. To address those concerns as best I can, I will share information with you as I receive it through email updates and here in CBS News.

As you know, Governor Pawlenty cut the University’s budget for the current fiscal year (FY09) by $20 million to address the state budget shortfall. CBS’ share of that “unallotment” is $550,000, which we have taken from our reserves. This is a one-time cut that will not be carried forward to next year. While we have not distributed this cut to our departments, it will affect our ability to make commitments for matching grants and honor other discretionary requests.

More significantly, Governor Pawlenty has proposed a budget that would reduce the University’s base appropriation from the state by $78 million a year. Based on that, the University has asked each college to develop a plan to reduce its budget by 5 percent and 8 percent. The impact of this larger, recurring FY10 budget cut on CBS is less clear. There are many factors that will affect the amount of money we actually receive on July 1, 2009, when our next fiscal year begins:

  • National and state economic conditions;
  • The federal stimulus package, which may compensate for state funding deficits in some areas;
  • The state’s final budget, which hopefully will be completed when the legislative session ends on May 18;
  • Budget decisions UM central administration will make based on the state’s final budget.

All of this makes it difficult to say at this point, or even for the next several weeks, what cuts CBS will be making and whether there will be layoffs. Be assured we will do everything we can to preserve jobs by making cuts in other ways. But also know that economic conditions may make some layoffs inevitable.

The University’s total budget for FY09 is $2.8 billion. Primary revenue sources include the state appropriation ($666.9 million); tuition and fees ($622.8 million); sponsored grants and contracts ($579.5 million); and gifts and endowment earnings ($348.3 million). CBS’ total budget for FY08 was $41,566,567.

I pledge to keep you informed as the budget situation develops. And I ask each of you to make every effort to look for ways to cut expenditures in your job and beyond. Please submit your suggestions via the CBS Budget Idea Generator and visit the site periodically to read ideas your colleagues have proposed. The economic situation concerns all of us. That’s why it’s so important for us to work together to find solutions.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

Beckman Center becomes Center for Genome Engineering

The Beckman Center for Transposon Research has officially changed its name to the Center for Genome Engineering. While transposons—elements that constitute a large portion of DNA in many organisms—are still at the heart of the center’s research efforts, the new name reflects a broader mission to develop tools for manipulating genes and genomes in vivo. The center has new office space in the Molecular and Cell Biology building and a new Web page, which details the center’s mission and features news and announcements.

Grad students on ice

Gradate students in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior braved the cold earlier this month to staff “Biology Shanty,” part of the 2009 Art Shanty Project. Watch a short video about the lessons in limnology they share with visitors. Artists, scientists and others construct temporary “shanties,” inspired by the traditional ice fishing houses that dot the state’s lakes in winter. Biology Shanty was one of several science-themed “shanties” profiled in a recent issue of SEED magazine.


Novel cell death signaling suggests antifungal therapy

[Eukaryotic Cell | 12.08]

Professor Robert Brambl and Research Assistant Professor Nora Plesofsky (both PBIO) co-authored a paper that identifies a novel mechanism of cell death signaling, which may point to new mechanisms for antifungal therapy.

Most types of cells survive exposure to stresses, such as carbohydrate deprivation or high temperature, when these stresses are applied individually. However, cells of the model fungus Neurospora crassa die when exposed to these stresses simultaneously. This study found that unique sphingolipids are induced by the dual stresses and are key signaling molecules in this death, which does not occur when lipid biosynthesis or the MAP kinase pathway are blocked genetically or when a ceramide synthesis inhibitor is added.

Cellulosic ethanol has health benefits

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 2.09]

Filling our fuel tanks with cellulosic ethanol instead of gasoline or corn-based ethanol may have health as well as environmental benefits, according to a study co-authored by Jason Hill and Stephen Polasky, Department of Applied Economics, and David Tilman, Regents Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. 

The study finds that cellulosic ethanol is less detrimental to human health because it produces smaller amounts of fine particulate matter, a harmful component of air pollution. Earlier work showed that cellulosic ethanol and other next-generation biofuels also emit lower levels of greenhouse gasses.

The study is the first to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from gasoline, corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol made from biomass. The authors found that depending on the materials and technology used in production, cellulosic ethanol’s environmental and health costs are less than half the costs of gasoline, while corn-based ethanol’s costs range from roughly equal to about double that of gasoline.


Rethinking research funding

Steve Quake, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, suggests rethinking how research is funded in a guest column for the New York Times “The Wild Side” blog.

Quake describes the constant search for funding researchers face and argues that it undermines innovation. “Professors become highly attuned to the institutional priorities of various funding agencies—often at a cost to their own creativity and desired research directions,” he says.

“As we consider the monumental challenges facing our generation—climate change, energy needs and health care—and look to science for solutions,” says Quake, “it would behoove us to remember that it is almost impossible to predict where the next great discoveries will be made—and thus we should invest broadly and let scientists off their leashes.”


CBS undergraduate July Vang and 15 members of her family became homeless after their house collapsed due to fire January 28. Her family is receiving emergency assistance from food banks, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. A group of teachers in Forest Lake, where the Vang family lives, has established a fund for the family. Those interested in helping July and her family can send checks to: Yang Family Benefit Fund, Mainstreet Bank, P.O Box 638, Forest Lake, MN 55025.


What’s Next in Law, Health & the Life Sciences? Debating Openness, Access & Accountability

Nationally recognized speakers will address emerging issues in genomics, neuroscience, health care, environmental research and science oversight at the annual conference of the Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences.

DETAILS: Cowles Auditorium | East Bank campus | March 6 | 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Bollum Symposium: Biochemistry of Biofuels

The lineup for this year’s Bollum Symposium will include Jay Keasling (University of California, Berkeley), CEO of DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute; Tim Donohue (University of Wisconsin, Madison), head of DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Center; James Liao (University of California, Los Angeles), developer of the GEVO biofuel technology platform; and Steve Ragsdale (University of Michigan Medical School).

DETAILS: Coffman Union | East Bank campus | May 6 | 1–5 p.m.


New CBS wordmark

In order to support University efforts to move toward more consistent branding, the College of Biological Sciences is implementing a new wordmark. University Relations will announce its new branding policy this spring. In the meantime, please begin using the wordmark whenever possible. Download files of the new wordmark from the CBS website.

Borders offers discount to educators

During “Borders Educator Savings Week,” which runs March 19–25, faculty and staff with a University of Minnesota ID will receive 25 percent off most regular priced merchandise.