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CBS News- November 2010

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Direct from the Dean

College News

Team Minnesota wins gold in synthetic biology competition

A team from the U of M took home gold from the 2010 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGem) competition, an annual event hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Teams participating in the competition design and build simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable biological parts called BioBricks.

Team Minnesota won a gold medal for its entry, which focused on identifying and transforming protein-based compartments within cells that can allow metabolic reactions to occur without interruption. The group demonstrated how these compartments could function as natural nanobioreactors.

The team was led by faculty members Jeffrey Gralnick (Microbiology/BTI) and Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB/BTI), and was made up of CBS undergraduates Matthew Adams, Rachel Farr, Anthony Goering, Annie Kathuria and Ian Windsor.

U of M and two Norwegian universities sign new research agreement

The University of Minnesota, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Oslo renewed and strengthened their shared commitment to research on bio-based, sustainable energy and products as well as food security with the signing of a tripartite agreement in Washington, D.C. last month.

The University of Oslo pledged a total of $750,000 over four years, matching gifts made by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Minnesota in 2006 to create the Norwegian Centennial Chair and the Norwegian Centennial Graduate Fellowship. Funds support transatlantic research teams of scientists and students (undergraduate through post-doctoral fellows) from all three universities.

The new, four-year agreement also marks a change in leadership. Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB/BTI) has been appointed to the Norwegian Centennial Chair, replacing Judson Sheridan, who retired this fall.

Twin Cities campuses to close December 24-January 2

In an effort to reduce costs, the University of Minnesota Twins Cities campus will shut down between December 24 and January 2. University services and business offices will be closed. Only essential services will be open.

Civil Service and Bargaining Unit employees will not be expected to work and will not be paid for December 28-30 (with the exception of notified staff). These three unpaid, mandatory furlough days will impact paychecks on January 12. Academic staff are encouraged to use their personal holiday, which can be combined with vacation time and/or voluntary furlough days, to take time off during the closure.

Research News

New mathematical models for the study of developmental processes



Developmental Cell | 2.10

Advances in image acquisition and informatics technology have led to development of databases cataloging gene expression and protein distributions within developing embryos. A new generation of mathematical models is needed for discovery and hypothesis testing in order to make the most of this information for the study of developmental processes. To that end, Michael O'Connor (GCD), Hans Othmer (Math) and their research team developed a data-driven, geometrically accurate model of early Drosophila patterning. The researchers demonstrate that using bioimages to build and optimize a three-dimensional model provides significant insights into mechanisms that guide tissue patterning.

Study explains delayed metamorphosis in “giant” Drosophila


Developmental Biology | 9.9.10

For many insects final body size is determined by the amount of time spent in the feeding larval phase before metamorphosis. In 1925 Calvin Bridges described a mutation in Drosophila called “giant” because it delayed metamorphosis allowing the larvae to feed for a longer period of time. This produced adult flies 30 percent larger than wildtype. This mutant played a significant role in the history of Drosophila cytogenetics since it also produced large salivary glands with extra large chromosomes that enabled better visualization of chromosomal abnormalities associated with mutagenic events. In this report, Arpan Ghosh and Michael O'Connor (both GCD) finally explain how metamorphosis is delayed. This mutation affects the regulation of a transcription factor that is required to specify PG neurons that produce the metamorphosis triggering substance known as Prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH). In the absence of these neurons, no PTTH is produced leading to the developmental delay and large adult body size.

New research grants

The National Science Foundation has awarded Nathan Springer (PBIO) $1.6 million over three years to study maize epigenomic variation. Epigenetic variation refers to heritable changes that are not due to changes in DNA but to other types of modification to the sequences, usually the addition or removal of methyl groups to the DNA. The phenomenon is not well understood but can lead to large changes in phenotype, which is important for plant breeding and crop improvement. Springer and co-PI Matthew Vaughn (University of Texas) will look at methylation patterns in maize as compared with existing datasets on genes and phenotypes.

Min Ni (PBIO) recently received a four-year $500,000 USDA grant to study regulation of SHB1 on canola seed development and seedling de-etiolation. Ni previously received two National Science Foundation grants totaling more than $1 million to study aspects of seed development.

Richard Linck (GCD) received a four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study the structural and functional interactions of tektin filaments in flagellar microtubules. Tektin proteins are thought to provide for the complex, longitudinal spacings of dyneins arms and radial spokes in cilia and flagella, and their sequences are reported to be one of the most powerful tools for investigating speciation of Lepidoptera.

Jennifer Powers (EEB) received $216,328 from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of lianas (woody vines) on community and ecosystem dynamics. Evidence suggests that lianas are increasing in abundance in tropical forests.

The Institute on the Environment awarded Discovery Grants to projects involving Sarah Hobbie and Jeannine Cavender-Bares (both EEB). Six projects will receive funding over four years. Discovery Grants fund projects with the potential to make a transformative difference in interdisciplinary research and discovery. Hobbie is the principal investigator of “Connecting People, Land and Water in Urban Ecosystems” and Cavender-Barres is a co-principal investigator of “Opportunity Knocks: Transformative Steps in Plant Data Synthesis.”


Jeannine Cavender-Bares (EEB) has been named a 2011 Fulbright Scholar to Mexico. The Fulbright Scholar Program sends American scholars and professionals to countries around the world each year to teach and conduct research. Cavender-Bares will continue her research on New World oak species, investigating the role of migration and diversification in explaining the biogeography and community assembly of tree populations. In addition, with funding from the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis and the Institute on the Environment, Cavender-Bares will launch a two-year “distributed” graduate seminar on sustainability across six institutions.

Daniel Voytas (GCD), director of the U of M’s Center for Genome Engineering Education, is featured in a New York Times article about emerging genome “editing” capabilities and how new techniques are reshaping the debate over the use of biotechnology in agriculture. In addition, Voytas was named chief scientific officer for Cellectis, a French biotech company that just opened a plant science division in University Enterprise Laboratories.

David Tilman (EEB) was among six new members inducted into the Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame. Tilman and the others were recognized by the Minnesota High Tech Association and Science Museum of Minnesota at a November 3 event.

Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) traveled to Washington, D.C. in late October to help the American Academy of Microbiology craft a policy statement on oil spills. “In the aftermath of the Gulf Oil spill, there is a realization that the insatiable global quest for energy will bring other such incidents,” says Wackett. “It is important to use our knowledge of microbiology and biochemistry to minimize the environmental impact of these tragic events.”

Judith Berman (GCD) was recently elected to the Genetics Society of America Board of Directors. She will serve as a director from 2011-13. Berman also contributed a “News and Views,” titled “Evolutionary genomics: When abnormality is beneficial,” to the November 10 issue of Nature.

Susan Jones (EEB) recently published Death in a Small Package: A Short History of Anthrax. The book tells the story of how anthrax, an agricultural disease, was transformed into a biological weapon.

Mark Borrello’s (EEB) latest book, Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection, was published last month. Read more about the book in the most recent issue of BIO (“Life and Times of an Evolutionary Debate”).

in Australia, is featured in a video of keynote speakers.Applied Evolution Summit (EEB), who presented at this year’s R. Ford Denison