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CBS News - February 2013

college news | research news | people | events | fyi



Winter 2013 BIO online now

The latest issue of BIO, the college’s publication for alumni, donors and friends, is now available on the CBS website. Read about an unexpected discovery relating to breast cancer, how CBS is playing a role in the University’s $36 million MnDrive proposal to the legislature and more.

CBS sponsors Nobel Peace Prize Forum; more than 400 students to attend

CBS is an academic sponsor of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum, a three-day event (March 8-10) that brings speakers known for their work on behalf of social justice to the Twin Cities. The Dean’s Office has distributed more than 400 free tickets to undergraduate students (including 280 tickets to freshman who can earn Nature of Life points) to attend the Forum’s Science and Health Day on March 9. Speakers will include Paul Farmer, a leading thinker on health, human rights and the consequences of social inequality; Malcolm Potts, a scientist and obstetrician who has worked with governments, aid organizations and women who have been raped and brutalized during wars; and Peter Agre, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Students will be able to participate in conversations about food security, microlending, diplomacy and climate change, and to network with health and science experts, executives, world leaders, academics and other students. The forum is hosted and organized by Augsburg College and the U of M's Humphrey School for Public Affairs.

College launches website for graduate students in CBS programs

CBS has launched a website for the college’s graduate students designed to provide timely information and resources. Based on input from current graduate students, the site includes information about:

  • research resources on campus
  • academic forms and travel abroad
  • fellowships and funding opportunities
  • programs, graduate faculty and their research
  • seminars and events of interest to graduate students
  • updates about the Graduate School restructuring
  • graduate student profiles and recent research publications

A universal graduate student directory is also in the works. “Our graduate students are a critical part of our college and contribute in significant ways to our research and teaching efforts," says Tom Hays, associate dean for research and graduate education. "We hope the website will make it a little easier for them to find the information and resources they need quickly and easily." Have ideas for making the website better? Contact Stephanie Xenos (

Weisman exhibit features bio-inspired designs from class co-taught by CBS faculty member

Professor Neil Olszewski (PBIO) and his colleague in the College of Design, Marc Swackhammer, co-taught a course this fall on bio-inspired design that is the subject of an exhibition in the Weisman’s Target Studio for Creative Collaboration. Contextual flux uses student design concepts as well as large-scale installations by artist Jason Hackenwerth to explore how nature can guide and inform better design solutions to human problems. Some well-known examples of bio-inspired design include Velcro, echolocation and sonar.

“There is a lot that biologists can bring to the table in terms of what species [designers] could consider,” says Olszewski, whose own research focuses on how organisms solve novel problems. “For every characteristic a single organism may have, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of other organisms that do something similar but in a different way. … And biologists can also look at things from a broader evolutionary perspective, which is important because otherwise it’s not always clear what should be ignored and what should be copied.”

Two students from the class are first-round finalists in the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge. For their project, called “Featherlight,” they developed a variable rain-screen system that changes between states of water permeable and water repellent depending on the situation using a bio-inspired design process mimicking bird feathers. The exhibition runs through June 9.

Cluster hire candidate seminars calendar now available

A new seminar calendar on the CBS website lists upcoming candidate seminars for all research clusters making scheduling simple. Click on a seminar and add it to your own calendar or explore all the seminars scheduled for the week.


Antiviral enzyme appears to cause breast cancer mutations

Nature | 2.6.13

Reuben Harris (BMBB) found that high levels of APOBEC3B, one of the family of antiviral proteins that block HIV/AIDS, were present in more than half of breast cancer tissue samples. If confirmed by further research, the finding could be used to prevent and detect the disease. Harris considered the possibility that AB3 was over expressed in breast cancer cells because the immune protein was responding to cancer rather than causing it. But he excluded that because mutations in the samples carry a biochemical signature for the enzyme. Harris has studied APOBEC3 proteins in connection with HIV/AIDS for more than a decade.

Haploid C. albicans discovered and shown to mate sexually

Nature| 1.31.13

Candida albicans, a normally harmless microbe that can turn deadly, has long been thought to be exclusively diploid, reproducing primarily, if not exclusively, by conventional mitosis. But a new study by Judith Berman (GCD) and colleagues at the University of Minnesota and Tel Aviv University shows that C. albicans is capable of forming haploids. The group found haploids formed under a number of conditions, including during passage through mammalian hosts. In addition, they found that the haploids can mate with one another to generate new combinations of genetic progeny. The finding represents an important breakthrough in understanding how this pathogen has been shaped by evolution, which could suggest strategies for preventing and treating the often serious infections that it causes. C. albicans, which causes thrush and vaginal yeast infections, can enter the bloodstream and cause death, which usually happens in individuals whose immunity is compromised by other medical conditions.

NSF awards EEB researchers $1.5 million for plant microbiome research

Eric Seabloom, Elizabeth Borer, Georgiana May (EEB), and Linda Kinkel (Plant Pathology) have received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the development of plant microbiomes. The work will be conducted through the Nutrient Network, an international network of ecology research sites established by Borer and Seabloom, and headquartered at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.

Cotner awarded $525K NSF grant to study phosphorus regulation

While organisms evolved in a relatively phosphorus-poor environment, humans have added huge amounts of phosphorus fertilizers to the environment over the past century. The National Science Foundation has awarded James Cotner (EEB) $525,000 over three years to investigate how organisms regulate phosphorus levels given the extremes of its availability. His central hypothesis is that phosphorus-rich environments select for fast-growing bacteria that can’t vary the amount of phosphorus they require while phosphorus-poor environments select for slow-growing bacteria that are capable of changing their phosphorus requirements. The project will provide training for undergraduates, a graduate student and a post-doctoral fellow, contribute to an undergraduate course, and include public outreach activities.

New method for cultivating iron-oxidizing bacteria

Daniel Bond, Jeff Gralnick (Microbiology/BTI) and postdoctoral researcher Zara Summers recently published a paper in mBio, an open access journal from the American Society of Microbiology, about using electrodes to cultivate iron-oxidizing bacteria. The publication was followed by a blog post in mBiosphere about the new process and its potential for producing biofuels.

Debunking myths about human evolution

Marlene Zuk’s (EEB) new book, Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live,  will be released March 11. Per a starred review in Publishers Weekly, Zuk “dismantles the pseudoscience behind nostalgic yearnings for our caveman days with razor-sharp wit.” Paleofantasies call to mind a time when everything about humans was in sync with the environment, Zuk says. But she argues that no such time ever existed and “shreds the underlying premises of the paleo diet, the paleo exercise regimen, and structure of the paleo family.” All organisms are engaged in a never-ending attempt to do the best they can in a changing environment, Zuk says, and evolution never yields either perfection or a final product: “We are always facing new environments, and always shackled by genes from the past.” She goes on to demonstrate the ways in which humans are still evolving.

Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore (Biology Program) have published a new book titled U

nderstanding Galápagos—What You'll See and What it Means. “We wrote the book that we were looking for when we took our first group of students to Galápagos,” Moore says in an interview on Holbrook Travel's blog.

Mary Porter (GCD) was co-author of a paper in the January 27 issue of Nature Genetics titled “The nexin-dynein regulatory complex subunit DRC1 is essential for motile cilia function in algae and humans.” Working with a group of researchers at the University Hospital of Muenster in Germany, Porter helped identify and characterize a gene known as DRC1 in Chlamydomonas that is involved in regulating ciliary motility. The team also found that mutations in the human counterpart of DRC1, CCDC164, are linked to respiratory disease. The findings demonstrate that Chlamydomonas continues to be an excellent model for identifying new genes involved in human disease.

David Moeller (PBIO) was first author on a paper published in Ecology that was named an “Editor’s Choice” by Science magazine. Science noted that Moeller’s paper, “Reduced pollinator service and elevated pollen limitation at the geographic limit of an annual plant,” sheds light on how mutualisms influence the geographic distribution of species, which has become increasingly of interest in the context of contemporary climate change. Peter Tiffin (PBIO) was a co-author.

An article by Charles Argue (PBIO) on “Seed production in Aplectrum hyemale (Adam and Eve Orchid, putty-root)” was recently published in The Native Orchid Conference Journal.


David Bernlohr (BMBB) and his clinical colleague Sayeed Ikramuddin, professor of surgery in the Medical School, are featured in a recent issue of Diabetes Forecast, the magazine of the American Diabetes Association. Their article focuses on their study of the effect of bariatric surgery for diabetes. Bernlohr, professor and head of BMBB, is principal investigator on a grant supporting the study.

Marlene Zuk (EEB) published a commentary titled “Why Our Flu Vaccines Can’t Keep Up” in the February 3 issue of the Boston Globe. The article explores how rapid evolution of flu viruses, which she calls “quick change artists,” keep effective flu vaccines out of the reach of public health agencies. More research on rapid evolution is needed to enable science to close the gap and create flu vaccines that are as effective as earlier vaccines for polio, smallpox and other infectious diseases.

Anna Mosser and Brian Gibbens have joined the Biology Program as teaching assistant professors. Anna and Brian are teaching introductory biology for biology majors (Foundations of Biology) in the new active-learning classrooms in the STSS building.

Eleanor (Ellie) Lombardi has joined the EEB staff as an accountant. Ellie comes to the college from Florida State University where she was a grants accountant.

CBS Student Services recently welcomed two new academic advisors. Will O’Berry comes to CBS from St. Paul College where he supported transfer students in the areas of academic advising, course equivalencies and academic difficulty. Aya Maruyama worked with STEM students in the Academy of Math and Science at Normandale Community College as an academic advisor prior to joining the college.

Several members of the CBS Student Services staff will be presenting at the University of Minnesota Focusing on the First Year Conference. Meaghan Miller Thul and Jamie Nelson will present a session titled “Tapping freshman talent in your U of M houses to guilds: Harry Potter as an inspiration to CBS student success.” Katie Russell and Suzi Pyawasay will present a session titled “Strengths and classes: Stories of success, ideas to share, lessons learned.” Meaghan Stein, Chad Ellsworth and Lisa Novack will present a session titled “Bringing them back: Supporting student persistence throughout the first year.” Nikki Letawsky Shultz and Lisa Novack will present “Beyond smile sheets: Measuring student learning in first-year advising appointments and events.”

Two Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve artists-in-residence have been accepted into the Ecological Reflections art show at the 2013 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) mini-symposium taking place February 28 at the National Science Foundation. Linda Buturian will present her essay “Secret Knowledge,” developed during her residency at Cedar Creek and Glenn Terry will showcase six paintings of scenes from Cedar Creek. The show continues through June 15 at NSF Headquarters in Reston, VA.

Maria Gabriela Gei, EEB graduate student, was recently named a recipient of a Committee on Institutional Cooperation and the Smithsonian Institution fellowship for her project "Phylogenetic, resource, and rhizobial controls on different strategies of nitrogen fixation in tropical legumes." This one-year fellowship supports research in residence at Smithsonian Institution facilities.

Brittany Eich, CBS undergraduate student, spoke to the Board of Regents earlier this month about her experience with 4-H, and how the program influenced her to attend the U of M and major in biology. Her comments were part of a larger presentation on the University’s public engagement mission. Eich, a junior majoring in genetics and cell biology, is on the CBS student board and is a CBS mentor. She was a 4-H member for 13 years and a 4-H state ambassador for two years.



Student mental health: The role of faculty and staff

This interactive training session provided by the Provost's Committee on Student Mental Health will highlight the state of student mental health issues on campus and provide practical language and concrete steps that faculty and staff members can use to assist students experiencing mental health related issues.

Mississippi room, Coffman Union | East Bank | noon (lunch at 11:30 a.m.) | Register
An additional session will be presented in St. Paul on April 1. Register 


3M Seminars on Technology Commercialization

Designed for graduate and PhD students from across University seeking to turn their technology and science-based ideas into profitable businesses. Four-hour workshops with keynote speaker, panel session with emerging entrepreneurs and lean startup workshop led by Carlson School entrepreneurship faculty.

  • March 2 Jon Foley, director of Institute on the Environment, will keynote initial session on “Addressing Global Food Supply Challenges.”
  • April 13 Serial health care entrepreneur Kyle Rolfing will lead the session on "Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Health Care Services." 

All sessions - Hanson Hall 1-103 | West Bank | 8 a.m.-noon | more information


The College of "Brewological" Sciences alumni event

Join the Biological Sciences Alumni Society and CBS alumni for an evening of biology, beer and fun at Harriet Brewery. Tap into conversation with CBS alumni. Belly up to the bar and grab some grub. Socialize with some stout. Soak up the atmosphere on a brewery tour. Learn more about the biology of your brew from our resident beer-ologist, Professor Jim Cotner. Look for more information and a link to register later this month.


2013 UMAA Annual Celebration

Celebrate the University of Minnesota, network with U alumni and friends, same Minnesota wine and U of M cheese, and enjoy dinner and student performances.

McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank | More information


Institute on the Environment accepting mini-grant proposals through March 15

The Institute on the Environment is now accepting proposals from interdisciplinary teams for its Mini Grants program. Mini Grants help spur new collaborations by providing small amounts of funding ($500 to $3,000, with average grants of $1,500), administrative support, and space for meetings and other activities to interdisciplinary groups of faculty, staff and students from across the University system. Funds may be used to conduct preliminary research, develop a proposal, sponsor a workshop, etc. Proposals are due March 15. More information

Call for judges - state science and engineering fair

The Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair, taking place April 7-9, is looking for volunteer judges. For more information and to register, visit the Minnesota Academy of Science online.

Local opportunity for undergraduates to present research

Looking for a professional venue for undergraduate students to present their research without traveling out of state? The Minnesota Academy of Science (MAS) Annual Meeting and Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 13, 2013 will be hosted by Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Categories for presenting include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Math & Computer Science
  • Earth Science
  • Ecology and Environmental Science
  • Economics and Business
  • Engineering
  • Neuroscience
  • Organismal and Physiological Sciences
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Social Science

Abstracts are due March 22. To submit an abstract go to the MAS website (registration opens February 15). For more information, contact Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright at or Megan Buchanan at