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October 2011

College news | Research news | People | Events | FYI



2012 capital request includes funds for Itasca

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved the 2012 Capital Request at their meeting last week. The request includes $6,090,000 for Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Itasca is one of six projects included in the request, which will be considered by the Minnesota Legislature during the 2012 session. Itasca was included in the University’s last request and funds were approved by the legislature, but the project was vetoed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty. Like Itasca on Facebook to get regular updates. 2012 U of M Capital Request

Dean’s Scholars wins student development innovation award

CBS Dean’s Scholars, a student leadership program launched in 2007, has won the Minnesota College Personnel Association’s Innovations in Student Development Award. The award goes to a program with a new or creative approach to a student development issue. Coordinated by Meaghan Stein, Dean's Scholars is designed to help CBS students learn to increase self awareness, become engaged citizens and create change.

"One of the ways that the Dean's Scholars is unique is that it identifies students with leadership potential – not always the most vocal, experienced leaders, but rather students who haven't thought of themselves as leaders – and gives them the skills and confidence to go out and make a difference in their communities,” says Nikki Letawsky Shultz, director of CBS Student Services.

One of the first college-based leadership programs at the University of Minnesota, Dean’s Scholars creates a strong sense of community among the participants who go through the program as a cohort. Currently, 190 students participate in the program (including 87 first-year students). The first cohort graduated last spring.

“Biology is at the heart of our world’s most pressing problems and it's critical that CBS prepare students in a way that not only gives them the knowledge and hands-on experience in the biological sciences, but also helps them cultivate the skills necessary to effectively lead change,” says Letawsky Shultz. “Dean’s Scholars provides a laboratory for students to engage in leadership and service commitments and, in the process, learn what does (and often what doesn’t) work when collaborating with others.”

View a short video featuring Dean's Scholars participants.

Siliciano receives recognition for improving accessibility

Professor Paul Siliciano (BMBB) has received a 2011-12 Access Achievement Award. The award acknowledges the efforts of faculty and staff who make significant contributions in improving access on campus for those with disabilities. Melissa Riley, a blind student majoring in nutrition, nominated Siliciano citing his willingness to make a challenging course accessible.

“Biochemistry is a very visual subject, with almost all material requiring the interpretation of molecular drawings as well as the ability to draw what you have learned,” says Riley. “[Professor Siliciano] put lots of time into finding ways to make the material accessible for me. For example, he created textual descriptions of all the chemical pathways. ... On top of the time and effort he put into the physical aspects of this course, he continually encouraged my progress. He wanted me to succeed, not just skate through to pass.”

BioCee, BTI spinoff, moves ahead with energy technology

BioCee, a start-up company commercializing a biocatalytic coating technology originally developed by Professor Michael Flickinger when he was in the BioTechnology Institute, has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Verenium Corporation to use microorganisms they developed as part of an environmentally friendly process for removing sulfur from petroleum. According to Marc von Keitz, president and co-founder of BioCee, BioCee will pair the organisms with the biocoating technology to create a biological filter for removing sulfur. The license agreement moves the effort a key step closer to commercialization. Compared to traditional methods for removing sulfur from petroleum, the BioCee technology is expected to release much less carbon into the atmosphere. Using microorganisms embedded in biocatalytic coatings is a platform technology that has numerous applications in renewable energy, bioremediation and other areas. Jimmy Gosse (Ph.D. BMBB '08) is head of research and development for BioCee. 

New online: Fall 2011 BiO

Read about research by Sharon Jansa (EEB), Craig Packer (EEB), Eric Hendrickson (BMBB) and David Zarkower (GCD). Find out how an EEB graduate student is bringing a social justice perspective to the sciences and what a 2011 Goldwater Scholarship winner wants to do outside the lab. Go to Fall 2011 BIO

Diversity news + events  Get the latest diversity news at the College of Biological Sciences along with a roundup of diversity events and workshops across the University.

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A plan for feeding the world while protecting the planet

Nature | 10.12.11

Can we feed the nine-billion-plus people anticipated to live on this planet in 2050 without destroying Earth’s life support systems? Writing in the online issue of Nature (and slated to appear as the cover story in the October 20 print issue), a team of researchers from the United States, Canada, Sweden and Germany concluded we can if we successfully pursue sustainable food production on five key fronts: halting farmland expansion in the tropics, closing yield gaps on underperforming lands, using agricultural inputs more strategically, shifting diets and reducing food waste.

“For the first time, we have shown that it is possible to both feed a hungry world and protect a threatened planet,” said lead author Jonathan Foley (EEB), head of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “It will take serious work. But we can do it.” Regents Professor David Tilman (EEB), Professor Steve Polasky (EEB/Applied Economics), Assistant Professor Jason Hill (CFANS), graduate student Christine O'Connell (EEB) and Christian Balzer (UCSB, formerly EEB) are co-authors.

Customizable proteins for DNA targeting gain momentum

Science | 9.29.11

In this review article, Dan Voytas (GCD) describes how quickly TAL effector nucleases, a technology he helped to create, are being adopted for applications ranging from understanding gene function to improving crop plants to treating genetic disorders in humans. TAL effectors are constructed by taking a DNA binding protein (TAL) and fusing it to a nuclease that breaks DNA. When the chromosome break is repaired, it allows the incorporation of DNA sequence changes at a precise location in the genome. Voytas and colleagues developed TAL effectors in collaboration with a group at Iowa State University.

In related news, Cellectis, a French biotech company, is expanding its plant sciences division at University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL). Cellectis has an exclusive license for the TAL effector nuclease platform, which will be a focus of the expansion. Voytas is chief scientific officer for Cellectis.

Productivity doesn’t predict number of plant species

Science | 9.23.11

Using data gathered through the Nutrient Network – created by Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom (EEB) – Peter Adler (Utah State University) has overturned a long-held assumption that the number of species in a habitat is directly linked to its productivity, and that biodiversity rises and then declines with increasing productivity. The theory was proposed by British ecologist J. Philip Grime in the early 1970s, but has been the subject of debate.

Formed five years ago, the Nutrient Network (NutNet) is a cooperative effort to investigate biodiversity and ecosystem processes in grasslands around the world. Based at the University of Minnesota, the network is funded by a National Science Foundation grant to organizers Borer and Seabloom.

“Our work not only sheds light on this classic question, it also demonstrates the power of our network approach,” Borer says. “NutNet data are poised to inform many pressing ecological questions. Similar global, grassroots collaborations could help settle other longstanding scientific debates.”

Study reveals genomic diversity of model legume

PNAS | 9.26.11

Patterns of diversity reveal selection acting against most mutations that alter protein sequences, high diversity in genes involved in biotic interactions, and low levels of recombination relative to mutation. The article, “Whole-genome nucleotide diversity, recombination, and linkage-disequilibrium in the model legume Medicago truncatula," should provide a basis for further work on gene discovery and understanding evolution within this species. Authors Peter Tiffin (PBIO) Mike Sadowsky (BTI) Nevin Young (Plant Pathology) and colleagues collaborated with researchers from institutions in Santa Fe, Denmark, France and Germany.

Research grant news

David D. Thomas (William F. Dietrich Professor, BMBB), received a MERIT (Method to Extend Research In Time) award from the National Institute of Aging for his proposal, “Site-Directed Oxidative Modification of Muscle Protein Structural Dynamics.” Instead of the standard five-year award, this grant will be renewed for 10 years. This is the highest award an investigator can receive based on a R01 research grant. Thomas received a previous NIH MERIT award from 1993-2003 for “Molecular Dynamics of Muscle Contraction.”

Fumiaki Katagiri (PBIO) received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the NSF to study “Signaling interactions between pattern- and effector-triggered immunity in plants.” Pattern-triggered immunity (PTI) and effector-triggered immunity (ETI) are two well-defined modes of plant immunity. PTI and ETI are initiated by recognition of different types of pathogen molecules by different types of receptors, the pattern-recognition receptors and the resistance proteins. During actual pathogen infections in the field, often both PTI and ETI are in play, so understanding how PTI and ETI interact with each other is important in improving disease resistance in crops. The goal of this grant is to study PTI and ETI interactions, with emphasis on their signaling interactions in the receptor complexes."



Ben Kerr (former EEB postdoc) and Elena Litchman (former EEB Ph.D. student) were among 94 young men and women honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on October 14 with Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. This is the U.S. government's highest award for young scientists and engineers. Kerr is now at the University of Washington and Litchman is at Michigan State University.

Laura Burrack, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Judith Berman (GCD), was recently awarded an Outstanding Post-doctoral Scholar Award. The award recognizes extraordinary performance and achievement of postdoctoral scholars at the University of Minnesota and comes with a $1,000 honorarium. Burrack is one of only two post-doctoral fellows to receive the award.

Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) presented a lecture on “Converting Carbon Dioxide to Hydrocarbons Using Bacteria” at the International Conference on Catalysis in Bertinoro, Italy in late September.

A two-volume work by research associate Charles Argue (PBIO) titled The Pollination Biology of North American Orchids will be released later this month by Springer press.

Robert Zink (EEB) was a guest of the Taiwan National Normal University (Taipei) in August. While in Taiwan, he gave lectures at the university, the Natural Science Museum (Taichung) and the Endangered Species Institute (Jiji).

Nikki Letawsky Shultz, Stefanie Wiesneski, Katie Russell, Lisa Novack and Sasanehsaeh Pyawasay (CBS Student Services) gave a series of presentations at the National Academic Advising Association’s annual conference earlier this  month. Letawsky Shultz gave a talk about shaping organizational culture through advisor training and development. Wiesneski gave a presentation on creating cohesive communications plans. Russell and Novak addressed the topic of how advisors can support student cognitive development through teaching. Pyawasay and Russell gave a presentation on using audience response systems as part of an interactive orientation program design. Novack and Letawsky Shultz gave a presentation on incorporating assessment into academic probation appointments.


October 18

The ethnopharmacology of energy drinks

The special ingredients in “energy” drinks are molecules derived from plants that affect our senses. What are they and where did they come from? Who discovered their effects? How much is too much? George Weiblen (PBIO) will explore the ethnobotany behind many popular beverages. More information

Bryant-Lake Bowl | Minneapolis | 7 p.m. | $5-$12

November 10

Water and the challenges facing U.S. and world agriculture in the 21st century

Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver a lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and CBS. Kirschenmann wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press and was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.” More information

St. Paul Student Center | 7 p.m. | RSVP

December 6

For Love of Lakes lecture and book signing

CBS alumnus Darby Nelson shares his passion for and knowledge of lakes in his new book For Love of Lakes. The book weaves together history, science and poetry in an affectionate account documenting our species’ long relationship with lakes and addresses the shortfall in stewardship over America’s 130,000 lakes. Attend a special lecture and book-signing event with the author at the St. Paul Student Center.

St. Paul Student Center | 7 p.m. | RSVP 



2011 Community Fund Drive

The annual U of M Community Fund Drive is in full swing. Information about how to make one-time or ongoing contributions to the tax-exempt organization of your choice is available on the CBS website. More information

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Lunch Group

Bring your lunch and join the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally (GLBTA) Lunch Group Wednesdays in 125 Coffey Hall.  The group meets informally between noon-1 p.m. for lunch and conversation. All are welcome to attend.