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CBS News - October 2010

Direct from the Dean | College news | Research | People | Events

Direct from the Dean

Dean Elde reflects on what increasing polarized views of higher education might mean for the University and the college, and recommends two books on the subjec.

College news

Plan charts path to zero-energy, carbon-neutral future at Itasca

The Itasca Sustainable Campus Plan represents a first-step toward a zero-energy, carbon-neutral future at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Building on the 2009 Itasca Master Plan, the report provides a framework for making Itasca more efficient and sustainable, and supports the University’s sustainability policies and goals. The plan considers a broad range of ideas, and makes specific, prioritized recommendations with an emphasis on responsible use of energy and water.

National Research Council releases doctoral program rankings

The National Research Council (NRC) released the results of its latest doctoral program assessment in late September. The NRC last released rankings in 1995. More than 60 percent of the 69 University programs included in the assessment made the top 25 percent on at least one of the two NRC rating systems. The Ecology, Evolution and Ecology graduate program was among the top-tier programs identified in the report.

Researchers receive $3 million to develop antifungal drug

Researchers from the BioTechnology Institute (BTI) and the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development have been awarded a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and study the use of the small molecule nikkomycin Z (NikZ) as a potential therapy for Valley Fever. BTI’s Marc von Keitz is principal investigator for the grant. Valley Fever is a fungal infection endemic to the southwestern United States that can cause fever, chest pain and coughing. The researchers will pursue the project in partnership with the Arizona-based company Valley Fever Solutions, Inc. and the University of Arizona.

Give to the Community Fund Drive - and win!

The October Community Fund Drive is under way, and CBS is challenging departments to double their participation this year. The CBS department that can meet the University's goal for doubling the percentage of people who give will receive a prize. Contact Jean Marie Lindquist ( / 625-7705) or Juli Pelletier ( / 624-8728) with questions.

Wackett lecture on "biochemical bloodhounds" available online

Didn’t make it to Professor Larry Wackett’s "Frontiers on the Environment" lecture about ways enzymes can be used to detect toxins? Watch it online. Learn about how Wackett’s research led to a melamine test kit as well as valuable insights into the mechanism of melamine toxicity.

Research News

Large fish fall prey to shrinking food webs

Science | 10.15.10

Jacques Finlay (EEB) was co-author of a study showing that land use and climate variations are significantly altering the network of rivers and streams in the United States., which is reducing the number of large-bodied fish, including salmon, among other consequences. The impacts are varied and complex, but in essence human diversion of rivers and streams as well as droughts and floods are shrinking food webs that support fish species. While droughts eliminate top predators, floods eliminate species in the middle of the food chain, which forces large fish to eat lower on the chain. The study, “The Role of Discharge Variation in Scaling of Drainage Area and Food Chain Length In Rivers,” was a joint effort of researchers from Arizona State University, the University of Minnesota, the U.S. Geological Survey and Yale University. The results suggest that water use should be more carefully managed to support these fish, which are important as a food and source of income.  

Researchers describe novel bacterium bet-hedging behavior


Current Biology | 9.23.10

Will Ratcliff, a postdoctoral researcher, and R. Ford Denison (both EEB), authored a paper describing a novel ‘bet-hedging’ behavior in the bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti. Ratcliff and Denison show that, when starved, dividing S. meliloti form two daughter cells with different phenotypes – one cell gets the majority of the parent’s stored resources, while the other cell has minimal energy reserves. The heavily provisioned cell is much better at surviving starvation than its poorly-provisioned sibling, but is slower to respond to resources when they become available. This allows S. meliloti to produce offspring well-suited to their environment, even when the duration of starvation fluctuates unpredictably. This is the first bet-hedging behavior described in a bacterium in which individual cells, not populations of cells, express a diversification strategy.

More research highlights

Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) and Michael Sadowsky (BTI/Water, Soil and Climate) co-authored a paper in a recent issue of Journal of Biological Chemistry on the X-ray structure and mutational analysis of the atrazine chlorohydrolase. Contibutors to the study include Jennifer Seffernick (BMBB), a postdoctoral researcher, and Erik Reynolds, a graduate student in the microbial engineering program, along with collaborators at Albert Einstein University.

Carrie Wilmot and Larry Wackett (both BMBB) co-authored a paper on cloning, purification and crystallization of the OleC protein from Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, which is involved in hydrocarbon biosynthesis. The biological mechanisms of hydrocarbon biosynthesis have recently attracted attention as a means of producing important commercial chemicals from renewable resources. The study appeared in the September edition of Acta Crystallographica Section F. Graduate students Janice Frias and Brandon Goblirsch (both BMBB) crystallized the protein and analyzed the crystals.

Daniel J. Ballhorn, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Imke Schmitt (both PBIO), co-authored a paper published in PLoS One testing the hypothesis that herbivores are able to adapt to plant phenotypes induced by soil biota. Plant phenotypes, in turn, have a strong impact on herbivore performance. The study demonstrates that underground biota, by triggering strong physiological responses in plants that induce distinct phenotypes, may impose selection on the above-ground insect herbivores.

Ballhorn also co-authored a paper in the January 2010 issue

of the Journal of Ecology on the direct trade-off between cyanogenesis, or the production of cyanide in plants, and resistance to a fungal pathogen in lima beans, and a paper in the March 2010 edition of Entomologia Experimentalis et


Applicata comparing responses of generalist and specialist herbivores to various cyanogenic plant features.


Distinguished McKnight University Professor Larry Wackett (BTI/BMBB) was the keynote lecturer at the American Society for Microbiology’s North Central Branch meeting earlier this month. His lecture was titled: “Petroleum-like fuels from carbon dioxide by bacteria.”

Brandon Goblirsch and Peder Cedervall, graduate students in Carrie Wilmot ‘s lab (BMBB), won the International Union of Crystallography Poster Prize and the Pauling Poster, Prize, respectively, at the Annual Meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in late July. Their posters were among more than 300 competiting for only 12 prizes. Both posters are on display outside the Kahlert Structural Biology Lab (1-272) in Hasselmo Hall.

Ethan Johnson, a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, was killed in a hit-and-run car collision on September 21. Johnson studied the biochemistry of photosynthesis. He also played trumpet in a local band, the Brass Messengers, and was an active member of the Minneapolis puppet community.


November 15
Reflections Abroad: CBS Poster Symposium

CBS Students will share their experiencesstuding, working and volenteering abroad with the University community through poster presentations and conversation.

DETAILS: President's Room | Coffman Memorial Union | 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.