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CBS News - May 2008

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From the dean

A growing list

Every year at this time, I look back over what we’ve achieved as a college. And every year, the list of accomplishments gets longer and the bar gets higher. The momentum propelling us forward comes from the daily contributions of faculty, staff and students striving to make this the best college in the United States for biological sciences.

We introduced the innovative Foundations of Biology course sequence this fall—a major step forward for our curriculum. Our freshman class was the most qualified in the college’s history with the majority graduating in the top five percent of their high school class. Next year looks brighter still with applications from more than 4,000 highly qualified students—a huge jump.

We have also seen the publication of high-impact research by CBS faculty relating to the ecological effects of biofuels, the use of bacteria to generate electricity and the atomic structure of a protein that inhibits the AIDS virus, to give just a few examples. In fact, CBS faculty publish more research in Science and Nature than faculty in any other college at the University of Minnesota. In addition, the college has made the news more than 100 times since last May with faculty quoted in dozens of publications and in the broadcast media.

Lots of behind-the-scenes efforts have helped make this level of excellence possible. The finance team has worked hard to make the transition to the new and more efficient Enterprise Financial System. We celebrated anniversaries with a Civil Service Bargaining Unit reception this spring honoring some of the veteran staff that keep this place running such as Cheryl Madsen who marked her 40th anniversary as a University of Minnesota employee.

Faculty, teaching staff and students also drew accolades. Gail Kalli received the University’s Outstanding Graduate Program Assistant Award. CBS senior Anh Tran received several awards including the President’s Student Leadership Award for helping found “Biology Withouot Borders.” EEB faculty member Don Alstad was awarded the Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award. The list goes on.

Together we have raised the profile of this college within the University and well beyond it. Thank you for everything you did this year to help make CBS a wonderful place to learn, teach, discover and work.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

Enterprise Financial System update

College finance staff are currently undergoing training to prepare for the new financial system’s July 1 Go Live date. Staff are hard at work to make the transition as smooth as possible, but software changes typically bring unanticipated challenges. Patience is appreciated as productivity will likely slow for a period during and after the transition to the new system.

Beautiful U: Itasca edition

The Headwaters Ecology Club received a $2,000 grant from the University of Minnesota to beautify the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Last month, 18 students spent the day rebuilding and replanting three wildflower/native plant gardens. Student volunteers included Nick Beermann, Anne Kellerman, Alexa Unruh, Andres Morantes, Sarah Markegard, Ben Roller, Melissa Pavek, Chris Remy, David Rittenhouse, Justin Martinez, Nick Ferlazzo, Janelle Frick, Gema Souto-Adeva, Cally Scherber, Bethany Krebs, Nirjhar Dutta, Mike Krejcarek and Camille Summers. Jon Ross and Charlie Schmidgall supplied equipment for the project.

Call for TA award nominations

Know an excellent teaching assistant deserving of recognition? Nominate him or her for the CBS Outstanding Performance Award. Teaching assistants in CBS courses who have demonstrated excellence in teaching or other instructional activities are eligible for the annual award. The deadline for submission of nominations covering courses taught from spring through fall 2008 is January 30, 2009. Please submit nominations to Bruce Fall ( or 3-104 MCB). 


Tuition up, spending on instruction down

According to a recent report, even as tuition costs have increased, funding to cover the costs of instruction has decreased over the last decade. Instead colleges and universities are channeling money into research, financial aid and public service. The report notes that on average student tuition pays for nearly half of operating costs at four-year public institutions compared to 37 percent 10 years ago.


Socioeconomic data key to conservation decision-making

Professor Stephen Polasky (EEB/Applied Economics) published a study that spotlights the need to incorporate socioeconomic data in conservation planning. According to the study, which appears in the April 30 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, socioeconomic data provides conservation organizations with much-needed information to help them decide how to set priorities in the face of limited resources and large-scale man-made threats to biodiversity.

Genetic recombination occurs during yeast’s mating cycle

Professor Judith Berman (GCD) led a study published online earlier this month in PLoS Biology, demonstrating that genetic recombination occurs during the mating cycle of Candida albicans. The study showed that this requires the activity of a protein necessary for meiotic recombination in other eukaryotes. The opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans has a cryptic parasexual mating cycle involving epigenetic switching and chromosome loss suggesting potential advantages of a parasexual cycle over a conventional sexual cycle. Research associate Anja Forche (GCD) also contributed to the study.


Peter Tiffin (PBIO), who joined the college in 2002, has been promoted to associate professor. Tiffin is also this year’s recipient of the John Hall Memorial Research Award in Plant Evolutionary Biology.

Associate Professor George Weiblen (PBIO) has received a $25,000 grant from the University of Minnesota’s Office of International Programs. The award will support efforts to accelerate the development of a large-scale, long-term tropical forest research site in Papua New Guinea.

Associate Professor Nathan Springer (PBIO) is profiled in the April 25 issue of Science for an article about the burgeoning field of plant genomics.

Gail Kalli (PBIO) has been recognized for her contributions to the Plant Biological Sciences (PBS) graduate program with the University’s Outstanding Graduate Program Assistant Award.

Graduate students Rachel Mills (PBIO) and Andrew Von Duyke (EEB) received the CBS Award for Outstanding Performance as a Teaching Assistant for 2007.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences selected EEB alum David E. Blockstein, a senior scientist with the National Council for Science and the Environment, as recipient of its 2008 Outstanding Service Award.

Tracy Anderson (Imaging Center) has been accepted into the President’s Emerging Leaders Program for 2008–09.

Brian Piasecki (PBIO), a student in the PBS program working with Carolyn Silflow, has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Sweden for the 2008–09 academic year. Brian will work with Peter Swoboda at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

This year’s CBS awards for teaching excellence went to Donald Alstad (EEB) and Jane Phillips (Biology Program). Alstad was awarded the Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award. Phillips received the John S. Anderson Academic Leadership Award.

The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, which supports research partnerships between University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic researchers, has selected two CBS faculty for 2008 research teams. Judith Berman (GCD) will work with Mayo Institute researcher Zhiguo Zhang on using genomic screening to identify and use molecules to inhibit potentially fatal fungal infections. R. Scott McIvor (GCD) will work with Mayo’s Stephen Russell to develop a gene-delivery system for treating diseases of the muscle tissue of the heart.


Evolution 2008

The University of Minnesota, the Bell Museum of Natural History and the College of Biological Sciences are hosting Evolution 2008, an annual conference focusing on the latest scientific research relating to evolution. New York Times science writer and bestselling author Olivia Judson will give a public lecture Sunday, June 22.

DETAILS: University of Minnesota | East Bank campus | June 20–24

STAR WARS reception

Attend a private reception at the Science Museum’s Star Wars Exhibition with Dean Elde, alumni and friends of the college. The reception includes access to the exhibit, which features costumes, models and props from all six films.

DETAILS: Science Museum of Minnesota | June 24 | 5:30 p.m. | $20–$45

2008 Developmental Biology Symposium

The Developmental Biology Center is partnering with the Lillehei Heart Institute for “Tubes, Branches and Pumps in Development.” Find a full speaker roster, instructions for poster presenters and a link to registration online.

DETAILS: McNamara Alumni Center | September 24–25