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CBS News - March 2004

Dean's Comments

Join the discussion about the future direction of microbial and molecular biology at CBS

I’d like to encourage you to attend a series of Brown Bag Lunches planned for this spring to discuss how we can all take advantage of CBS expertise in microbial and molecular evolution.

As you well know, genomics has opened the door to new research opportunities in areas ranging from molecules to ecosystems. Evolutionary biology provides a common language that enables us to recognize connections between seemingly disparate genomics projects.

Here at the U, we are very fortunate to have many resources in this area.

  • The Center for Microbial and Plant Genomics in the new Cargill Building, which fosters campus-wide collaborations to develop and apply genomics research as well as consider related ethical and social issues
  • The Center for Microbial Genomics, which houses the Biocatalysis/Biodegradation Database and promotes studies of the genomes of microorganisms
  • The Center for Community Genetics, which focuses on studying community interactions within the context of ecology and evolutionary biology

Most of our research focuses on single organisms or small groups of organisms. With the increased availability of genomes of many different organisms, we have new opportunities to make comparisons among organisms and to study evolutionary diversification. This work needs to be carried out by research teams that combine genomic, biochemical, ecological, and evolutionary perspectives.

The Brown Bag lunches are designed as open forums where we can share information about our resources and ideas about how we can use them to increase collaboration and develop ideas for new initiatives.

The first Brown Bag Lunch is scheduled for Tuesday, March 30, from noon to 1 p.m., 274 McNeal Hall. Larry Wackett will talk briefly about his research on genomics of microorganisms used in bioremediation, and then we will have an open discussion. I hope to see you there.

I’d also like to call your attention to the new Reporters Guide to CBS Biology Experts, which is posted on the University’s News Service website. As you know, biology is big news these days and we are the local experts. The guide will help us share our knowledge about how developments in biology are changing the world.

Bob Elde
Dean, College of Biological Sciences


All-College Meeting to focus on CBS Compact

All faculty and staff are invited to attend one of two upcoming All-College meetings to learn more about the draft of the CBS Compact for 2004-05. Dean Elde will discuss the outcome of last year's compact and the major compact goals for the coming year. Suggestions are welcome. For convenience, a meeting will be held on each campus. Please mark your calendar now.

Monday, March 29
noon – 1 p.m.
MCB 2-122
Minneapolis campus

Wednesday, April 7
noon – 1 p.m.
239 Gortner
St. Paul campus

Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE)

IREE has awarded more than $1 million to faculty who have submitted research proposals for projects ranging from production of biohydrogen to collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota to create a Prairie Maze. Following is a breakdown by award category and research cluster.

  • $325,000 for program support for the “Renewable Energy Research and Demonstration Center” at Morris [in addition to $2.5 million committed for the center]
  • $ 75,000 for three seed grants in the Hydrogen Cluster
  • $281,585 for 10 seed grants in the Bioenergy and Bioproducts Cluster
  • $117,928 for three seed grants in the Conservation and Efficient Energy Systems Cluster
  • $88,500 for three seed grants in the Policy, Economics, and Ecosystems Cluster
  • $150,000 for two special opportunities grants
  • $100,00 for one matching fund grant

Three additional matching funds grants totaling $2,175,000 have been approved by the IREE executive committee, pending receipt of matching funds from outside agencies.

IREE leader invents hydrogen reactor that uses renewable fuel

Lanny Schmidt, IREE cluster leader, and colleagues have invented the first reactor capable of producing hydrogen from a renewable fuel source (ethanol) efficiently enough to hold economic potential. When coupled with a hydrogen fuel cell, the new device--small enough to hold in your hand--could generate one kilowatt of power, almost enough to supply an average home. The technology provides a practical means of producing hydrogen fuel that moves the hydrogen economy a step closer to reality. Currently, the only viable way to produce hydrogen relies on fossil fuels. The work, which was featured in the February 13 issue of Science , was supported by the University of Minnesota’s Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schmidt, who is Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Institute of Technology, is a co-leader of the hydrogen research cluster and member of the IREE working group.

Legislature 2004 - House panel supports most of the U’s capital request

The House Higher Education Finance committee presented its bonding recommendations to the House Capital Investment Committee in the form of a prioritized list of University projects on Thursday, March 4. All projects were included in their recommendations, but with a number of changes in priority order and amount of funding. Total recommended amount was $149.3 million of the University’s $155 million request. Governor Pawlenty recommended only $77 million of the U’s request and the Senate has not yet announced its recommendations.

Also on March 4, the Governor released his supplemental budget. The budget recommendation solves a $160 million deficit for the FY 2004 -2005 biennium through reductions and other methods while funding select initiatives, including $1 million for 4-H programs. The Governor has not proposed cuts for the University but the legislature may still do so.

What you can do:

Contact your legislators by phone, letter, or email and ask them to support the University of Minnesota capital budget request. Let them know you are a constituent.

Join the University of Minnesota Legislative Network, a coalition of volunteers committed to higher education and the University of Minnesota. Go to

EEB group publishes Nature article on effects of lion hunting

Karyl Whitman, graduate student in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, is first author on "Sustainable trophy hunting of African lions," which is available online at and published in the March 11 issue of the journal Nature. EEB professors Craig Packer and Tony Starfield are co-authors along with Henley Quadling, an alumnus who earned his Ph.D. in physics at the U. Peyton West, Meggan Craft, and Bernard Kissui also contributed to the study. The group presents a novel approach for managing hunted lion populations that improves the conservation of lions.

Great Conversations - “Predicting the World’s Ecological Future”

David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology, will pair up with Jared Diamond for Great Conversations on Tuesday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. in Ted Mann Concert Hall. Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, is author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” The two renowned environmentalists will explore the impact of human civilization on global ecosystems.

NIH awards structural biology lab $440,000 for new equipment

The Kahlert Structural Biology Laboratory, which houses the U’s macromolecular X-ray diffraction facility, has been awarded $440,000 by the National Institutes of Health to upgrade the X-ray equipment, with $150,000 matching funds from CBS, the Medical School and the Office of the VP for Research. The new equipment will make it possible to collect high quality X-ray data more quickly using smaller crystals of biological molecules. Principal investigator is Carrie Wilmot, assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology & biophysics, who is also lab director. The Kahlert lab is located in the BSBE Building on the Minneapolis campus. The new equipment is expected to be operational by fall 2004.

Neuroscience Graduate Program recognized

The Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota is among nine neuroscience programs nationwide selected for the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, a five-year action and research project aimed at improving doctoral education at American universities. The initiative is supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, go to

Reporters Guide to CBS faculty experts

A newly completed guide to CBS faculty experts is now posted on the UM News Service website as well as on the CBS website under Resources for the Media. Please contact Peggy Rinard,, if you have questions.

Student Volunteer Award – $500 prize!

Do you know a deserving student volunteer? Encourage him or her to apply for the CBS Student Volunteer Award, which carries a cash prize of $500. Applications are due by April 1. For more information contact CBS Alumni Relations, Kristen Denzer, at or 612-624-4770.

Plant sale

The Phytograds and the CBS Greenhouse will hold their annual plant sale Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the St. Paul Student Center. Plants for sale include herbs, orchids, and blooming plants.

Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium

This year's Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium will take place on Wednesday, April 28 in Coffman Memorial Union. Students from a wide range of life sciences disciplines will showcase their research. The scientific presentations (1:30 to 4:30 p.m.), reception, and poster awards (4:30 to 6:00 p.m. ) are free and open to the public. Faculty, please encourage students in your labs and classrooms to participate. The deadline to submit abstracts is April 9.

2004 Siggelkow Immersion Learning Retreat

The Siggelkow Immersion Learning Retreat is a weekend retreat from April 2-4, 2004. This program was founded in 1975 by Edwin O. Siggelkow, director of Student Unions, to revive leadership interaction between students, faculty, and staff of the University of Minnesota. The annual Siggelkow Immersion Learning Retreat is developed, organized, and facilitated by students of LeaderQuest. If you are interested in helping our students build the confidence and skills they need to be successful leaders, please contact Feifei Xue at To learn more about LeaderQuest and the Siggelkow experience, go to:

Summer teaching and internship opportunities

Summer teaching and intern positions at the Science Museum of Minnesota are now posted. For information, go to and click on the Get Involved button on the left.


Unification in the Century of Biology - Science Editorial

February 27, 2004

Scientific progress is based ultimately on unification rather than fragmentation of knowledge. At the threshold of what is widely regarded as the century of biology, the life sciences are undergoing a profound transformation. They have long existed as a collection of narrow, even parochial, disciplines with well-defined territories. Now they are undergoing consolidation, forming two major domains: one extending from the molecule to the organism, the other bringing together population biology, biodiversity studies, and ecology. Kept separate, these domains, no matter how fruitful, cannot hope to deliver on the full promise of modern biology. They cannot lead to an appreciation of life in its full complexity, from the molecule to the biosphere, nor to the generation of maximal benefits to medicine, industry, agriculture, or conservation biology…

Harvard adds Systems Biology Department

In the last half-century, medical and biological science has increasingly focused on reductionist approaches to understanding the nature of living systems. This has been a tremendously important and productive collective endeavor. Nevertheless, as we understand more about the pieces that make up biology, it becomes increasingly clear that we do not understand how they work together as systems….

Reaping the Benefits of Renewable Resources - Chemical Week

February 11, 2004

If industrial biotech proponents have their way, chemical firms could soon be adding products such as corn and soybeans to their raw material requirements. A wave of projects are under way that aim to convert renewable resources into industrial chemicals. Developments in enzymatic biocatalysis are already allowing for the production of new materials that have improved properties compared to existing products; bioprocesses also have the potential to make existing chemicals at lower cost.


Claudia Neuhauser is among six University faculty who will receive the 2004 Horace T. Morse--University of Minnesota Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. Awards will be presented in a ceremony at the McNamara Alumni Center on April 26. Neuhauser is professor and head of ecology, evolution, and behavior.

Robert Sterner received a $337,076 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct a study on "Element Linkage and Growth-Competition Tradeoffs in Freshwater Zooplankton."

Reuben Harris has been has been named as a 2004-2006 Searle Scholar. This national award program recognizes excellence in biomedical research and names 15 assistant professors for this honor each year. Harris studies enzymes involved in nucleotide metabolism, specifically the class of proteins that deaminate RNA and DNA, which are involved a variety of biological process from RNA editing to innate immunity.

Judd Sheridan, associate dean for research and international programs, has announced plans to step down September 1, 2004. He will continue his research as a faculty member in GCD. Dean Elde will announce plans in April for a search process to select Sheridan’s successor.

Leslie Schiff, director of undergraduate studies in microbiology, will receive the Carski Award at the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans on May 24. The Carski award is the highest honor given for teaching microbiology to undergraduate students. Only one recipient is named each year.

Barbara Theno joined CBS as Director of Human Resources on Monday, March 1. Theno comes to the University from Great River Energy in Elk River, where she worked for nine years and helped arrange a successful merger. She brings a great deal of professional experience in organizational development, performance management, conflict resolution, contract negotiation, legal compliance, and policy development. Barb can be reached at or 624-2793.

Kathleen Lacasse, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior graduate student, has received a Carolyn M. Crosby Fellowship. This is an endowed Graduate School Fellowship that will support her research on buckthorn invasion in North America.

Amy Reese, former graduate student in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics is lead author of “Specificity determinants for lipids bound to ß-barrel proteins,” published in the February issue of the Journal of Lipid Research. Professor Leonard Banaszak, Reese’s advisor, is co-author. The cover features an image from Reese’s paper. [J. Lipid Res. 2004 45: 232-243]

Events & Seminars

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance workshop
March 16-18
Structural Biology NMR Resource
BSBE Building, Minneapolis campus
Beverly Ostrowski, or 626-1148

National Academy of Sciences Lecturer Series
Chris Somerville, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution, Washington
Somerville pioneered the use of Arabidopsis thaliana in molecular genetics. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and has received numerous honors and awards.

“Genetic dissection of cell wall structure and function”
2 p.m., Friday, March 19, 2004
Seminar Room 105
Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics
1500 Gortner Avenue, St. Paul
Sponsored by the Center for Microbial and Plant Genomics

“Mathematical Models of RNA Silencing: How an Intracellular Immune System Avoids Autoimmune Reactions”
Carl Bergstrom
Department of Biology
University of Washington
Friday, March 26, 12 Noon
150 Ecology

Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics
January 31 through May 2
Weisman Art Museum
Minneapolis Campus

Biodiversity 911: Saving Life on Earth
January 31 through May 2
Presented by the World Wildlife Fund
Featuring the work of David Tilman, David McLaughlin

"A Snail Hunter Explores the Great Barrier Reef"
Ellen Strong, Curator of Vertebrates
Bell Museum of Natural History
Sunday, March 28, 2004, 2 p.m.
10 Church St. S.E. (University Ave. at 17th Ave.)
Information: 612-626-9660
Bell Museum members $4, nonmembers $7
Tickets at the door