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CBS News - March 2009

From the Dean | College news | Research | Trendwatch | People | Events | FYI

From the dean

Act now to take advantage of funding opportunities offered through the federal stimulus package

There’s some very good news amidst the bad for science research. As part of its economic stimulus package, the federal government is making billions of dollars available for academic research through the National Institutes of Health ($8 billion), the National Science Foundation ($3 billion), the Department of Energy ($5.9 billion) and other funding agencies.

While the majority of the money will be awarded to highly rated proposals already in the pipeline that could not be funded previously, there are also many opportunities to submit proposals for new projects. These include NIH challenge grants for biomedical research, NIH and NSF grants for shared equipment, and DOE grants to support research in energy efficiency, renewable energy (including $800 million for biomass research) and fossil energy. NIH is also accepting requests for competitive and administrative supplements that meet priorities of the individual institutes (NOT-OD-09-058 and -056, respectively). Faculty should contact their NIH program officers to learn if their active grants or pending applications qualify. NSF has indicated that funding new investigators and high risk, high return research will be top priorities ( In contrast to NIH, NSF appears to be receptive to considering awarding grants with durations up to five years.

Details and deadlines are available on the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) website, which includes many links to more information. 

I encourage all CBS faculty to take advantage of this unique situation. There are a few caveats: most projects need to be completed in two years and funds will be awarded only to U.S. investigators, not international partners. But this is our best opportunity to advocate for ourselves. While Minnesota will get its share of federal stimulus money, a political tug of war between the governor and the legislature will determine how that is ultimately divvied up.

Please check the OVPR website daily for updates and note deadlines, which are rapidly approaching. This is an important window of opportunity for all of us and we need to act quickly before it closes.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

CBS faculty meet to discuss Graduate School closing

CBS leadership, faculty and graduate students gathered at meetings held on the Minneapolis campus on February 27 and the St. Paul campus on February 24 to discuss the University’s plans to close the Graduate School and move administrative responsibility for graduate programs to colleges. Comments focused on the way the closing was communicated, questions about how it would be implemented, the relative merits of centralized versus decentralized administration, funding issues, the fate of interdisciplinary programs and the impact on current graduate students. Read a detailed summary online.

Writing curriculum planning moves forward

The work of the Writing Enhanced Curriculum program, which will determine how CBS students learn to write effectively, is moving ahead with a meeting planned for later this month. CBS faculty and staff are invited to discuss a range of topics relating to these efforts. Agenda items will include an overview of the Writing Enhanced Curriculum Project and discussion about the online writing survey results, characteristics of writing in biological sciences and writing skills undergraduates should develop.

DETAILS: 64 Biological Sciences Center | St. Paul campus | March 25 | 2–4:30 p.m.

College introduces LinkedIn group for CBS alumni

Alumni of the College of Biological Sciences can now connect online through LinkedIn. The CBS group on LinkedIn allows alumni to network and make contacts with other alumni working in a variety of fields within (and beyond) the biological sciences. The group is open exclusively to CBS alumni, students, faculty and staff.


New hydrocarbon-producing bacterium discovered

[Applied Environmental Microbiology | 3.09]

Janice Frias (BMBB), a graduate student in the lab of Distinguished McKnight University Professor Larry Wackett, has discovered a new type of bacterium that produces hydrocarbons. Interest in the microbial production of hydrocarbons as a means of developing biofuels that are superior to ethanol is high.

Frias worked with organic chemist Jack Richman (BTI) to demonstrate hydrocarbon formation and identify the precise structures of the hydrocarbons produced by Arthrobacter species. Arthrobacter are common soil bacteria for which genome sequences are now available, which makes it possible to identify the genes involved in bacterial hydrocarbon biosynthesis.

Ancient gene transfer pattern boosts biosynthetic capabilities of fungi

[PLoS One | 3.12.09]

Assistant Professor Imke Schmitt (PBIO) co-authored a study with a researcher at the Field Museum that points to horizontal gene transfer across unrelated organisms such as bacteria and fungi as a mechanism in the evolution of polyketide synthase genes. Polyketides are natural products with a wide range of biological functions and pharmaceutical applications. The researchers used comparative phylogenetics to infer the ancestor of a group of polyketide synthase genes, some of which are involved in antibiotic and mycotoxin production. The results support an ancient horizontal gene transfer event from an actinobacterial source into ascomycete fungi, followed by gene duplication. Given that actinobacteria are unrivaled producers of biologically active compounds, such as antibiotics, the findings suggest that further study of biosynthetic genes of actinobacterial origin in fungi might be promising.

Study shows how neocentromeres are formed

[PLoS Genetics | 3.6.09]

Judy Berman and colleagues have published research showing that Candida albicans has small regional centromeres and forms neocentromeres when normal centromere DNA is deleted. The resulting chromosomes are stably propagated. Neocentromeres can form either very close to the position of the deleted centromere or at other positions along the chromosome arms, including at the telomeres. According to a perspective article in the same issue, Berman et al demonstrate that C. albicans provides an excellent model system for studying neocentromere formation that raises new questions about the process and its impact upon transcription. The research also shows that the ability to form neocentromeres is common from fungi to humans and is clearly an integral part of the genome, according to the reviewer.

Berman is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development.


Knowledge map shows “worldwide scientific activity”

Scientists at the research library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a knowledge map based on online data searches in academic journals. The map, published in PLoS One, shows how users moved from one journal to another. Johan Bollen, the leader of the research team that created the map, says that that the knowledge map is a better indicator of scholars’ behavior than citation analysis. Says Bollen: “What we have is a map of worldwide scientific activity.”


Professor Don Alstad (EEB) has been named a recipient of the Morse Alumni Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Alstad grew up in New England and earned his bachelor’s degree at Amherst in 1969. He holds a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Iowa and a doctorate in biology from the University of Utah. He joined the faculty in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota in 1982. Alstad is known for his ability to build rapport with his students. He holds informal coffee hours on a regular basis where students can meet to discuss coursework and other topics.

Distinguished McKnight University Professor Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) was recently elected a member of the American Academy of Microbiology for his contributions to our understanding of the breadth and evolution of microbial metabolism.


New Frontiers in Plant Health: Will climate change tip the balance toward disease?

This half-day symposium will cover key scientific findings on plant disease interactions with emphases on assessment, modeling and adaptive management in agricultural and natural landscapes to lessen negative impacts of changing climate and plant disease epidemics.

DETAILS: Northstar Ballroom | St. Paul Student Center | March 25 | 12:30–5 p.m.

Biofuels: A strategic perspective

World-renowned biofuels expert Lee Lynd, chief scientific officer of Mascoma Corporation, will present three working hypotheses about how to best meet energy demand with cellulosic biofuels without compromising sustainability and food production.

DETAILS: 105 Cargill | St. Paul campus | March 25 | 11 a.m.–noon

Biomedicines from plant sources

Cornell University Professor Eloy Rodriguez will present a lecture on “The Healing Forest: The Origin and Discovery of Natural Organic Medicines from the Forbidden Forests of Africa and the Amazon in Peru.” Learn about novel biomedicines derived from plants and arthropods, which are used for treating diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.

A reception and student research poster session will begin at 5:30 p.m. The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

DETAILS: Bell Museum | East Bank campus | April 7 | 7:30 p.m.

Imaging Center open house

The College of Biological Sciences’ Imaging Center will host an open house to introduce faculty and staff to the latest in sample preparation, imaging instrumentation and printing capabilities. See demonstrations of a high-speed Nikon swept-field confocal imaging system designed to collect fluorescence images at unprecedented speed, a TIRF microscope and the latest in microscope cameras. Invitrogen representatives will be on hand to showcase the latest in labeling re-agents available in the Imaging Center. Contact Mark Sanders with questions or to reserve time on the instruments.

DETAILS: 13-37 Snyder Hall | St. Paul campus | April 8–9 | 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

A Sense of Wonder: Rachel Carson’s Legacy

The Bell Museum and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy present a special Earth Day screening of the new film, A Sense of Wonder. Based on the life and writings of environmentalist Rachel Carson, the documentary-style film stars actress Kaiulani Lee in Carson’s final year of life as she battled cancer as well as backlash from her critics.

DETAILS: Bell Museum of Natural History | East Bank campus | April 22 | 7 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.

Conference on Genome Engineering 2009

Attend sessions on targeted mutagenesis, insertional mutagenesis using transposons, and gene therapy. A half-day workshop on zinc finger protein engineering will be held June 27. Keith Joung and Morgan Maeder from Harvard Medical School will explain the nuances of their protocol for making zinc finger nucleases using the OPEN platform.

DETAILS: Depot Renaissance Hotel | Minneapolis | June 25–27

Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Research Showcase

Hear outstanding, final-year Ph.D. candidates describe their work in fields ranging from engineering to English. This year’s participants represent 40 different graduate programs and will display more than 65 posters highlighting some of the most interesting research taking place at the University of Minnesota.

DETAILS: Coffman Memorial Union | East Bank campus | April 7 | noon


The CBS Student Board is partnering with the 5K Run for Research student group to put on its annual 5K Run for Research. The run occurs on the East Bank campus and all proceeds will go to the Autism Initiative. Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to participate. Register online.

DETAILS: Northrop Plaza | East Bank campus | April 4 | noon | $15