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CBS News - January 2010

Ask the Dean | College news | Research | People | Events | FYI

Ask the Dean

We are changing the format of the dean's message.  In an effor to address the questions most on your mind, Dean Elde will answer a query submitted by CBS faculty and staff.  This month's question: "CBS attracts some of the best undergraduate students at the U.  When students graduate, are they still the best?"

College news

Next steps for the Itasca capital request

Sketch of new campus center

Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his bonding proposal earlier this month, which included $100 million in U construction funding—far short of the University’s total request. The higher education and capital investment committees in the state legislature are already meeting to develop their own bonding bill proposals before the start of the legislative session in early February. Students, alumni, faculty and staff are encouraged to contact legislators now to voice their support for Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories while committees are discussing the U’s capital request.

Itasca is part of the University’s capital request to the state. If funded, the field station would receive $5.5 million—$3.7 million of which will come from the legislature and the rest from donors—for phase one of an $8 million construction plan. Private donors have already committed $1.3 million.

Now is the time to let state lawmakers know how important the field station is to biology education and research at the University. Need help identifying your legislators? Locate them with this district map. Not sure what to say? Check out this Itasca quick reference. It includes talking points relating to the educational, environmental and economic benefits to the state.

To stay in the loop about fast-moving developments:

  • Join the U Legislative Network
  • Join the Itasca fan page on Facebook
  • Visit the Itasca legislative Web page

EEB research featured in new documentary series

A new television production featuring interdisciplinary research by faculty at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Studies and the Department of Anthropology will air January 24. “Our Origins: Exploring the Human Spark,” produced in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, highlights U research on early human evolution. Watch the program January 24 at 4 p.m. in the Twin Cities (tpt2) and 8 p.m. statewide (tptMN).

Smithsonian cover

CBS lion expert Packer the focus of Smithsonian cover story

Craig Packer (EEB), an expert in lion behavior who has spent decades observing the predators in the field, is featured in the January issue of Smithsonian magazine. “The Truth About Lions” draws on Packer’s research and work on the Serengeti Lion Project, an effort to boost lion conservation. The article addresses the common misconception that lions band together primarily to hunt citing Packer’s findings that they form groups in order to attack competitors and defend their pride from attack.



Metagenome project tops list of U research highlights

In her final column for Minnesota magazine, longtime University of Minnesota Alumni Association CEO Margaret Carlson cites the Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project (M3P) in “One Last Salute to the U,” a roundup of key efforts by U faculty, students and alumni.


Molecular security system protects human cells from foreign DNA

[Nature Structural and Molecular Biology | 1.10.10]

Reuben Harris (BMBB) and colleagues have discovered a molecular security system in human cells that deactivates and degrades foreign DNA. The discovery could open the door to major improvements in genetic engineering and gene therapy technologies.

In the study, the researchers show how APOBEC3A, an enzyme found in human immune cells, disables double-stranded foreign DNA by changing cytosines (one of the four main bases in DNA) to uracils (an atypical DNA base). Persisting DNA uracils result in mutations that disable the DNA. In addition, the authors show that other enzymes step in to degrade the uracil-containing foreign DNA and sweep its remains out of the cell.

Rate and type of spontaneous mutations in model plant discovered

[Science | 12.17.09]

Ruth Shaw (EEB) and colleagues have determined that the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana incurs spontaneous mutations at a rate of 7 × 10–9 base substitutions per site per generation, the majority of which are G:C→A:T. The researchers used high throughput sequencing to search for spontaneous mutations in the complete nuclear genomes of five Arabidopsis thaliana mutation accumulation lines that had been advanced by single-seed descent for over 30 generations. They identified and validated 99 base substitutions and 17 small and large insertions or deletions. This corresponds to about two new mutations per individual plant, on average, about 10 times the rate that mutations affecting fitness occur in Arabidopsis, previously determined by Shaw’s group. Understanding mutation is critical because it is the ultimate source of genetic variation on which all evolution depends. This research makes an important advance by directly determining the rate of mutation contributing to molecular evolution and by allowing comparison with mutation rate affecting fitness.

Genetic basis found for type of tumor

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 12.10.09]

Tony Krentz (GCD), a graduate student in David Zarkower’s lab, recently published a study which found that loss of DMRT1 (a regulatory protein required for testicular development in vertebrates) in mice causes a high incidence of testicular teratomas. Teratomas have fascinated researchers for centuries. They are tumors in which germ cells inappropriately form all the cell types of the body, in essence developing into disorganized embryos. This finding establishes that DMRT1 controls pluripotency of germ cells and is required to prevent the uncontrolled growth and differentiation of germ cells. It reveals a genetic link between failure of testicular development, pluripotency regulation and teratoma susceptibility.

Complex relationships among plant immunity pathways defined

[PLoS Genetics | 12.09]

A study co-authored by Fumiaki Katagiri and Jane Glazebrook (PBIO) with post-docs Kenichi Tsuda and Masanao Sato and then-undergraduate Thomas Stoddard explores the network properties of immunity in plants. The research makes clearer the role of specific “signaling sectors” in supporting certain plant immune responses.


Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom joined the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior earlier this month. The researchers come to CBS from Oregon State University where they co-founded the Nutrient Network, a grassroots research effort to address questions about human impacts on ecological systems based on coordinated research at more than 40 grassland sites around the world.

Professor Dan Voytas (GCD) was featured in a New York Times Science article (“In New Way to Edit DNA, Hope for Treating Disease”) about the “zinc finger” approach developed by his lab. The technique makes it possible to alter, and potentially repair, genes in a highly targeted way.

Brian Gibbens, a graduate student in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, and a CBS alumni, recently taught a course in developmental biology at North Hennepin Community College.

Sherry Bassett, an undergraduate who has worked in the labs of Pete Lefebvre and Carolyn Silflow (PBIO), received a highly competitive internship with the primate exhibit at the Como Zoo.

Eileen Furlong, a senior lab services coordinator for the Biology Program, answers questions about her work at the college and her life beyond it for the latest edition of CBS People.


Urban Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Integrating Social and Ecological Knowledge

How can urban ecosystem science and the design and management of cities be better integrated to accomplish improved human well-being and sustainability? This symposium is designed to advance the development of an urban ecosystems research agenda for the Twin Cities, with an emphasis on the intersection between human well-being and the urban environment.

DETAILS: Continuing Education and Conference Center | St. Paul | January 25 | 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Forum of Women in the Environmental Field

This event will explore business knowledge and skills, best practices, resources, and past experiences integrating sustainability into everyday commerce. Panelists will include Tim Smith, U of M, Institute on the Environment; Sue Bast, City of Burnsville; Todd Wilkening, Ridgeview Medical Center; John Dwyer, Shelter Architecture.

Register by January 25. Cost: $10 for students, $12 for members, $18 for non-members. Walk-in registrations add $2.

DETAILS: 380 Vocational and Technical Building | St. Paul | January 27 | 5:30–7 p.m.


Internal communications survey results

We recently asked for your feedback about internal communications at the college. Almost 200 faculty and staff responded. Here’s what we found. Research news, college news and events rank high among the topics of interest. Many would like more information about college-wide goals and initiatives. Most were satisfied with the scope and quality of CBS communications. We are following through on several of the suggestions we received. We have added links to speaker bios in the seminar listings in CBS Weekly Update. We are changing the format of the dean’s message in CBS News. And you won’t see Trendwatch among the sections in CBS News since a relatively small percentage of those who responded found it useful. We’ll be considering other ways to improve communications based on the suggestions we received as we continue to work to improve how the college communicates. Thank you to all who took the time to provide their perspective.