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CBS News - October 2007

From the Dean | News | Research | Trendwatch | People | Events


Back to basics

Some scientists are driven by a curiosity to understand how life works. Their goal is to add to the world’s collective body of knowledge. Others are searching for a puzzle piece that may yield a better way to treat cancer, produce food or create renewable forms of energy. Both are essential, and there is plenty of overlap between the two.

As a whole, our faculty members engage in curiosity-driven research. Sometimes a curiosity-driven scientist can be lured to the other side by the right problem. The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment has provided a platform for several CBS faculty members to pursue solutions.

As a curiosity-driven college, it’s CBS’ job to keep adding to the foundation of knowledge that supports translational and solution-driven science in other colleges such as the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, and the engineering disciplines in the Institute of Technology. We are the stewards of the foundational disciplines in the biological sciences.

In order to keep fueling translational and solution-driven research, we need to infuse foundational disciplines with critical resources—financial, technological, intellectual—to keep pace with the rapidly evolving state of the science. Making investments now in new cutting-edge imaging technology, interactive classrooms and graduate education are a few of the ways we are hoping to shape the future of the biological sciences and the college as our faculty members increasingly lead the way in turning basic, curiosity-driven research into solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences


Foundations of Biology open house

After five years of planning involving nearly 70 faculty and staff, the new introductory courses for biological sciences majors is being offered for the first time in a new cutting-edge classroom. Come learn more about the courses and watch demonstrations of the capabilities of the classroom.

In this year-long course sequence, students consider the relationships among biological disciplines, chemistry and other physical sciences, and apply what they learn through activities and labs where they use scientific approaches to solve real-world problems. The class meets in a newly remodeled “Active Learning Classroom,” designed to foster teamwork and sharpen problem-solving skills. The new hi-tech classroom is one of only two at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

Learn more about this innovative new classroom and course at the Foundations of Biology open house.

DETAILS: 64 Biological Sciences | St. Paul campus | October 18 | 3:30–5:30 p.m.

All-College meeting set for October 29

CBS faculty and staff are encouraged to attend this year’s All-College meeting. Dean Elde will present a progress report on the college’s compact goals touching on graduate program funding, high-impact research and renewable energy research and funding. Stu Goldstein will provide an update from the Educational Policy Committee. Claudia Neuhauser will discuss graduate programs in Rochester. And Nikki Letawsky Shultz will talk about what’s new in Student Services. The program will be followed by small group discussions and a wine-and-cheese reception.

DETAILS: Cargill Building | St. Paul campus | October 29 | 3–5 p.m.

CBS gets a new look

The College of Biological Sciences has a new word mark. Look for it in print and online. The word mark will be available for download in the near future. If you need it sooner, please contact Sue Martinez.

Ask Us!

Now CBS staff and students have an easy way to find answers online on a range of topics relating to the college. The new “Ask Us!” feature on the CBS website aggregates FAQs, making it easy to find information about everything from what to do if a student is cheating in class to the next Nature of Life session dates.

University bonding bill moves forward

A state capital bonding request of $238.9 million was approved by the University’s Board of Regents October 12. When combined with a U investment of $69.4 million, it would give a total capital bonding investment of $308.3 million. Projects include $100 million in asset preservation and replacement; a new civil engineering building at UMD; the renovation of a gateway center at UMM; and, at UMTC, a new science teaching and student services building along the Mississippi River, a new home for the Bell Museum of Natural History, the renovation of historic Folwell Hall, and infrastructure improvements for the Academic Health Center’s ambulatory care and learning center. Included in the request is $100,000 to refurbish the lakeside lab at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories; a first stop for many CBS incoming freshman taking the college’s Nature of Life course at the field station.

Bell Museum to break ground on new site

The University’s Board of Regents recently reviewed and approved schematic designs for a new $36 million public facility on the University’s St. Paul campus. Funding for the project will come from a proposed $24 million in state appropriations and $12 million in private support and federal appropriations. The building is scheduled to break ground in 2008, with doors opening in 2010.

The new museum will reinterpret the best of the museum’s existing exhibits including the world-class habitat dioramas and the popular Touch-and-See Room. Ultimately, the new facility will include 12 acres of highly interactive outdoor space representing Minnesota’s three ecosystems: prairie, northern coniferous forest and maple-basswood deciduous forest.


“Chlamy” genome holds clues for renewable energy, the environment and human health

Pete Lefebvre, Tony Sanderfoot and Carolyn Silflow (PBIO) contributed to a national effort to sequence the genome of an ancient, one-celled organism. The genome map will help advance research in a broad range of areas, from biofuels to restoring the environment to understanding a variety of human diseases.

Led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute, the University of California and the Carnegie Institute, the genome study is published in the October 12 issue of Science.

The organism, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, known affectionately as “Chlamy,” has long fascinated scientists because it has characteristics of both plants and animals which it has retained from the common ancestor of plants, animals and green alga. Like green plants, Chlamy (a type of green alga) uses photosynthesis to convert solar energy and carbon dioxide into biomass. And like many animal cells, including human sperm, it has flagella that allow it to swim.

Lefebvre provided the DNA sample that launched the effort and Carolyn Silflow contributed a molecular map that helped the team identify genes involved in photosynthesis and the formation of flagella. Students in the College of Biological Sciences also took part in the historic research.

Study refutes link between prostate cancer and race

Results from a study, led by Akhouri Sinha (GCD) and published in the Sep. 21 issue of Anticancer Research, found no basis for the notion that prostate cancer is more aggressive in black men than in white men. Instead, what appears to be greater aggressiveness is most likely the result of inferior treatment.

In previous studies of prostate tumors, those in black patients tended to be larger and at a more advanced stage, and black men had higher blood levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a substance produced by the prostate that, at high levels, points to the possibility of prostate cancer. But, according to the study, all these criteria are interrelated and could be the result of delayed diagnosis or medical care.

“Previous studies showing differences in prostate cancers among races require re-evaluation because inconsistent criteria were used in selection of patients,” Sinha says. “Our data shows that for patients receiving similar treatment, African-American patients are not following up with their doctors as opposed to Caucasians, and this difference is highly significant. Also, Caucasian patients are four times as likely to receive additional treatment after prostatectomy.”

R. Ford Denison (EEB) is co-author of a paper in the October 17 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society entitled “Human selection and the relaxation of legume defenses against ineffective rhizobia.” The paper sheds new light on the symbiotic relationship between legumes and rhizobia, bacteria that live in root nodules of legumes and supply them with nitrogen. Scientists previously learned that soybean plants favor rhizobia that produce more nitrogen and penalize underperformers. This new study shows that 60 years of breeding soybeans has diminished the ability of soybeans to retaliate against underperforming bacteria. Toby Kiers, who was a graduate student for Denison at UC Davis, is first author.

Mark Bee (EEB) recently published results of two studies aimed at understanding how the auditory system makes sense of the complex sound mixtures encountered in everyday life.

“Detecting modulated signals in modulated noise: II. Neural thresholds from the songbird forebrain” was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience [26: 1979-1994]. This study looked at how songbirds use their sensitivity to subtle volume fluctuations to separate sounds.

“Sound source segregation in the grey treefrog: Spatial release from masking by the sound of a chorus” was published in Animal Behaviour [74:549-558]. This study focused on how grey tree frogs use spatial separation between signals to improve signal perception.

Bee’s research is the subject of a television commercial developed by the University for the Driven to Discover campaign. He has two additional papers coming out in the near future, one of which explores how human noise, such as traffic, affects communication among animals.

Anja-Katrin Bielinsky and graduate student Sharbani Chattopadhyay (BMBB) have a paper in the October issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell on the human replication factor Mcm10 (“Human Mcm10 Regulates the Catalytic Subunit of DNA Polymerase-{alpha} and Prevents DNA Damage during Replication.”) Depletion of Mcm10 in human tissue culture cells leads to massive DNA damage and induces apoptosis (cell death). Mcm10 has potential as a drug target for treating cancer. Since severe downregulation of Mcm10 induces apoptosis, Mcm10 depletion could be effective for cancer treatment. Bielinsky is assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics and director of graduate studies.

Gianluigi Veglia and David Thomas (BMBB) published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online version) on September 5. The study, “Spectroscopic validation of the pentameric structure of phospholamban” solves a long-standing controversy on the structure of a membrane protein (phospholamban) that regulates heart muscle contraction and relaxation.


Interdisciplinary NIH awards signal shift in approach

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded $210 million in grants designed to foster research across diverse disciplines from genomics and stem-cell biology to mechanical engineering, and behavioral research.

The grants will fund projects dealing with health challenges that scientists using traditional research methods have struggled to overcome. Funds went to nine consortia, each of which includes multiple research projects with multiple principal investigators and research facilities, with an overall principal investigator coordinating the efforts.

Part of an NIH program known as the Roadmap for Medical Research, the grants mark a shift away from the agency’s traditional model of supporting single-discipline research through its individual institutes and centers.


Antony Dean (BTI / EEB), Claudia Neuhauser (EEB) and Ben Kerr (University of Washington) received a three-year NSF grant to study “The evolution of pathogen virulence in experimental metapopulations.” The researchers have developed a novel experimental approach where microbial host-pathogen systems (bacteria and phage) are distributed into multi-well microtiter plates (a metapopulation). The proposed work aims to address how migration pattern influences the evolutionary ecology of the pathogen when the host can evolve resistance to the pathogen and the pathogen can evolve completely new life history strategies regarding host use.

Jacques Finlay (EEB) received a USDA grant for a study titled “Influence of riparian management on carbon and nitrogen flux through stream food webs.” Finlay will be doing research in collaboration with the Forest Service to examine how alteration to riparian zones through land management influences the flow of energy and nutrients though stream food webs.

Sandy Keene joined the CBS dean’s office as associate director of alumni relations and development last month. Sandy comes to the college from the Minnesota State Legislature where she worked in the Legislative Coordinating Commission as an assistant and foreign delegations liaison. Sandy’s priority at CBS is to strengthen the college’s alumni programs.

Georgiana May (EEB) and Corby Kistler (Plant Pathology) received a three-year NSF grant to study “Pathogen evolution in complex microbial communities.”

David Stephens (EEB) received a three-year NSF grant to develop and test models of animal signaling that combine established approaches that focus on the costs and benefits of signaling and the role of learning, memory and discrimination in signal processing. The goal of the study is to show how researchers can use ideas derived from psychological studies of discrimination to provide objective and measurable definitions for these basic concepts.


Leading Edge Technology Seminar: LI-COR Odyssey Infrared Imaging System

WHEN: October 22 | 1–3 p.m.
WHEN: 105 Cargill | St. Paul campus

Todd Holt, field application scientist for LI-COR Biosciences, will present a seminar and demonstrate the ODYSSEY Infrared Imaging System. The technology provides high-sensitivity and two-color direct detection without radioactivity or chemiluminescent reagents. The system includes the instrument, image analysis software and a full reagent line for protein and nucleic acid applications.

Bioenergy and Biofuels Colloquia

WHEN: various dates | noon
WHEN: 105 Cargill | St. Paul campus

The Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute (MPGI) is hosting research colloquia on the topic of biofuels and bioenergy. The informal colloquia will take place every other Wednesday at noon throughout the fall semester.

E3 2007 Conference

WHEN: November 27 | 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
WHERE: Coffman Memorial Union | East Bank campus

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment’s annual conference will focus on the intersection between innovative technologies, visionary policies, environmental benefits and emerging market opportunities as they relate to developments in the renewable energy sector. In addition to University faculty members, the E3 • 2007 conference will feature speakers from business and industry, government and the non-profit sector.