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CBS News - September 2006


What’s in your upper right hand corner?

This summer my staff and I took a break from our routine to spend a few days thinking about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.

The retreat followed a year of the University’s Strategic Positioning Process and CBS’ own efforts to figure out how to seize new opportunities in biology while maintaining strong core disciplines. It was a good time to pause and reflect.

Before retreating we met with key stakeholders within CBS, IT, CFANS, the Medical School, University administration, and external groups. We gained some valuable insights from these conversations:

  • We are perceived as a small college with big ideas.
  • We have a vision.
  • We are persistent.
  • We have the right people in place.
  • We are poised to take advantage opportunities to use biology/biotechnology to address critical problems such as global warming, energy security, diminishing biodiversity, and life-threatening diseases.

In short, we have our work cut out for us. Yet, as a relatively new and small college, we have a small staff and limited resources for achieving our goals. That means we need to be disciplined and focus on top priorities.

Those priorities are spelled out in our compact – the annual agreement with the University that states our goals and resource needs and ensures our accountability to the State of Minnesota. [The CBS Compact is posted at] From that list, Provost Tom Sullivan identified the following as most important to achieving the University’s goals:

  • Position the University of Minnesota as a national center of excellence for biofuels and the environment.
  • Increase the impact of faculty research by producing more papers that are designated as “hot papers” by top-tier, peer-reviewed journals.
  • Provide the best undergraduate biology curriculum in the U.S.
  • Strengthen relationships with other units to achieve broader research and education goals.

At the retreat, we prioritized everything we do relative to these goals, using Post-it notes on a large sheet of paper. Tasks that advance the goals went on the upper right hand corner and other tasks fell below it, with the least essential in the lower left hand corner. We talked about how to spend more time on the work in the upper right hand corner and how to eliminate or at least spend less time on less essential work. There are lots of good ideas, but with limited resources, less is definitely more. We can accomplish much more with a short list than we can with a long one.

As we go about our work this year, each of us in the Dean’s Office will be checking what we do against this standard. I encourage you to do the same. By focusing on our priorities, we can use biology to address issues that threaten quality of life on our planet and we can help the University realize its potential value to Minnesota, the nation, and the world.

I encourage you to read this issue of CBS News, which is chockfull of good news about our college. And I hope to see you at the CBS Ice Cream Social, which is from 3-5 p.m. on Friday, September 29 on the lawn in front of the MCB building.

Bob Elde, Dean

College of Biological Sciences


State of the College Address planned for October

Dean Elde will report on the state of the college in October. All faculty, staff, and students will be invited. Watch your email for details.

Meet the CBS freshman class

With the beginning of the fall semester, 384 new CBS freshmen arrived on the Twin Cities campus. Here are some facts about the group:

  • 242 are female (63%);142 are male (37%)
  • Average high school class rank is 91.2%
  • Average ACT composite is 27.1
  • Average SAT composite is 1276.4
  • They represent 15 states (Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin) and two countries outside the U.S. (China and Canada)

U awards CBS $1 million for graduate education support 

Provost Tom Sullivan has awarded CBS an additional $920,000 in recurring funds to support CBS’ four graduate programs. The award follows the college’s 2006 Compact request for $1.5 million. Funds will be used to pay teaching assistant salaries; make stipends for some graduate programs more competitive; and provide fellowship funds for foreign students. Initial allocations will leave $165,000 uncommitted. Directors of Graduate Studies will be invited to suggest ways to use this money to improve the overall quality of CBS graduate education. Use of funds in FY 2007 will be reviewed at the end of the academic year to take advantage of new opportunities.

The four graduate programs are

  • Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics
  • Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
  • Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology, and Genetics
  • Plant Biological Sciences

For further information, contact Huber Warner, CBS Associate Dean for Research, at 612-625-1839 or

Workshop explores expansion of research at Cedar Creek field station

About 20 faculty from CBS, CFANS, and IT attended a workshop on August 31 to discuss opportunities to expand research at the Cedar Creek field station. The workshop was organized by the CBS Dean’s Office to take advantage of advances in field research technology which are creating multi-investigator research opportunities that span the physical, biological, and computational sciences and engineering. David Tilman began the program with a review of 25 years of Long-Term Ecological Research at Cedar Creek.
Faculty gave presentations on field research opportunities in climate change (Jennifer Powers, CBS); microbial biology (Linda Kinkel, CFANS); biofuels (Claudia Neuhauser, CBS); eco-informatics (Nihar Jindal, IT); environmental observatories (Efi Foufoula, et al., IT) and teaching and outreach opportunities (Jeff Corney, CBS).

Dean Elde speaks to European Union scientists about biofuels

Robert Elde presented the North American perspective on development of biofuels for a European Union conference on bioenergy in Norway on Wednesday, Sept. 13.  His presentation included details about biofuels research under way at the University of Minnesota. The conference “Bioenergy in a Cross-Europe Perspective” was sponsored by COST (Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research), which is affiliated with the European Union, an association of 25 European countries that cooperate to achieve shared social and economic goals. Elde and a delegation of University of Minnesota faculty and staff also met with scientists at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences to review joint research projects and explore new partnership opportunities. The U of M delegation included Roger Ruan, Dean Current, Scott Fahrenkrug, Judd Sheridan, Abel Ponce de Leon, Todd Reubold, Simo Sarkanen, Shri Ramaswamy, and Elizabeth Wilson.

General Biology reorganized to support faculty and promote innovation

The General Biology Program has been reorganized to strengthen support to tenure-track faculty who teach in introductory biology courses and to promote scholarship and innovation for all CBS courses. The new structure will give faculty and instructors more freedom to incorporate innovative teaching ideas, methods, and content into their introductory biology courses. The name has been changed to the Biology Program.

  • Sue Wick, professor of plant biology, is the director of the new program. Sue will also serve as Director of Undergraduate Studies for the biology major.
  • Mark Decker and Jane Phillips are associate directors. CBS Instructional Laboratories, which supports lab sessions of biology courses, has been incorporated into the Biology Program.

For more information, see the Biology Program’s new website.

Institute on the Environment update

The advisory committee for the Institute on the Environment held three pubic forums in early September to solicit input from faculty, staff, and students before submitting  recommendations to the Provost on September 14. Co-chairs Deb Swackhamer and Steve Polasky led the discussions. To read preliminary recommendations or view the forums via Breeze, go to

In summary, the committee recommends a system-wide Institute of the Environment dedicated to integrated, problem-solving research on major environmental problems.  The Institute will bring together multidisciplinary research teams to work on global environ- mental issues with regional significance. Institute fellows, to be appointed for up to five years, will lead the teams. There will be no permanent members.

The Institute will also create a community of environmental scholars that engages the larger University community and external constituencies.

The Institute’s mission will be to: Conduct world-class research to find solutions to major environmental problems; bridge the spectrum of basic science, translational science, social science, and public policy; focus on future challenges; engage the public and external community; and make measurable, long-term differences in our environment and our quality of life.

Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development completes external review

The Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development just completed an external review. Dan Kiehart (Duke University) Richard McIntosh (University of Colorado) and Barbara Wakimoto (University of Washington) reviewed a comprehensive self-study developed by GCD faculty and met with faculty, students, postdocs, and deans, associate deans, and various other heads and directors of centers. The reviewers' report confirmed the strengths of GCD and provided thoughtful and constructive recommendations to support the department's next level of growth and opportunity.

Finalists announced for dean of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences

The three finalists for dean of CFANS are Allen Levine; professor and head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota; Curtis Richardson, professor of resource ecology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and director of Duke’s Wetland Center; and Eric Triplett, professor and chair of the department of microbiology and cell science at the University of Florida-Gainesville. Interviews later this month will culminate in a public forum that will be broadcast live and archived online. Public comments on the finalists are due by October 4.

Kate VandenBosch, head of plant biology, is serving as interim CFANS dean. Pete Snustad, professor of plant biology, is filling in for VandenBosch and Iris Charvat is interim associate department head.

Office of Student Services restructured

  • Jean Underwood has been promoted from Director of Student Services to Assistant Dean for Curriculum Development. In this newly created position, Jean will support departments as they develop new curriculum to meet CBS Curriculum Task Force recommendations and University Strategic Positioning goals. Jean will also develop a career curriculum to help undergraduates meet professional goals. Jean is now located in the Dean’s Office suite, 124 Snyder Hall. Her phone number remains 612-624-4964
  • Nikki Letawsky Shultz has been promoted to Director of Student Services. She will assume Jean’s responsibilities for CBS undergraduate advising and continue to oversee Student Life and Transitions functions, which include admissions, first-year programs (eg the Nature of Life program), multicultural affairs, summer research programs, and co-curricular activities such as the honors program. 

Imaging Center offers new equipment and workshop

The CBS Imaging Center has acquired a Leica automated tissue processor and a BioWave Pro automated microwave tissue processor. A new laser scanning confocal microscope will arrive soon. The new microscope will scan a much wider variety of fluorochromes than the current system.

The center will offer a workshop titled  “Techniques in Microwave Specimen Processing for Light and Electron Microscopy” October 25-27, 2006. 

For more information visit the Imaging Center or contact Mark Sanders 612- 624-3454,

News from the U of M Postdoc Association

2006-2007 will be a year of firsts for the UMN PDA, including the first annual postdoc survey, the initiation of regular postdoc orientations for new hires, the first edition of a comprehensive postdoc handbook, strengthened ties with Human Resources, and a new and improved social calendar. Continuing activities include brown bag lunches, town hall meetings, professional development workshops, and our newsletter. Questions?  Want to get involved? Visit our website at or email us at


James Ervasti, professor of genetics, cell biology, and development, studies the molecular basis of muscular dystrophies. Ervasti recently helped to identify a gene that plays an important role in normal muscle function. The discovery led to a new mouse model for a human muscle disease. The research was published in the September issue of Developmental Cell. He comes to the University of Minnesota from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1989.

David Greenstein, professor genetics, cell biology, and development, came to CBS from the Department of Cell Biology at Vanderbilt University. His research program uses molecular genetics in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study the control of oocyte development and fertilization.  His lab is ferreting out conserved aspects of oocyte development to better understand why the frequency of trisomy and miscarriage rise precipitously as a woman ages. He received his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 1989 for studies on the control of DNA replication in bacteria and their viruses. His postdoctoral training in C. elegans genetics was at Harvard University.

Jennifer Powers has a joint appointment as assistant professor in three departments – Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; Plant Biology; and Soil, Water, and Climate. Her research interests are terrestrial biogeochemistry, ecosystem processes, microbial ecology, tropical ecology, and landscape ecology. Powers uses experimental and observational approaches to investigate biogeochemical and ecosystem processes across local, regional, and global scales. She earned her Ph.D. at Duke University in 2001.

Mark Travisano will join the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior in the spring. Travisano is an associate professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston. His research focuses on understanding the causes of biological diversity and complexity. Toward that end he studies speciation of yeast and evolutionary ecology of interactions. He earned his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1993.


David Biesboer, professor of plant biology, has been elected to represent the College of Biological Sciences in the University Senate. Biesboer joins continuing senators, David Fan, James Fuchs, Sue Gibson, and Rick Peifer. 

Meggan Craft, holder of the Carol and Wayne Pletcher Fellowship, and a graduate student of Craig Packer’s, met the Pletchers this summer in Tanzania, where she is doing field research on lion behavior. The meeting will be featured in the fall issue of Legacy, which is published by the University of Minnesota Foundation.

Sarah Ihrig joined the Office of Student Services as an advisor this summer. There are now four professional staff in the office who are named Sara(h). Others are Sara Georgeson and Sara Johnson, both of whom are advisors, and Sarah Corrigan, who was promoted to assistant director of the CBS Honors Program, which created the advisor position filled by Sarah Ihrig.

Robert McKinnell, professor emeritus of GCD, has published the second edition of his book, The Biological Basis of Cancer, through Cambridge University Press. The book is listed as a reference on the National Cancer Institute’s website. McKinnell will lead a session at the 14th International Conference of the International Society of Differentiation in Innsbruck, Austria in October. Title of the conference is “Order and Disorder in Differentiation and Cancer.”

Janet Schottel, professor of BMBB, is the first recipient of the John Anderson Leadership Award. The award was established by BMBB upon Anderson’s retirement last spring and announced at the department’s awards dinner.

Charles Willis, B.S. ecology, 2006, headed for Harvard University this fall to begin a Ph.D. program in ecology. Willis led a study examining long-term patterns of community assembly in oak savannas at Cedar Creek Natural History Area last year. EEB Associate Professor Jeannine Cavendar-Bares, who earned her Ph.D. from the same program at Harvard, was his advisor. Willis presented the results at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Memphis, Tennessee this summer. Willis also worked with Clarence Lehman (EEB), Peter Reich (CFANS), and Cynthia Weinig (PBio).

Robin Wright, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, has been named a National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences. Wright was honored for serving as a mentor to other participants at the 2005 National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology, which was held last summer in Madison, Wisconsin.


Several faculty published important discoveries in leading journals over the summer. If you missed these stories, see the links below.

More plants = more bugs in tropical rain forests

George Weiblen, assistant professor of plant biology
Science, August 25
Go to UMNews Article

Now playing in 3D: molecular structure of the flagellum

Mary Porter, professor of genetics, cell biology, and development
Science, August 18

Yeast alters a chromosome to resist antifungal drugs

Judith Berman, professor of genetics, cell biology, and development
Science, July 21
Go to UNews Article

Soybean biodiesel beats corn grain ethanol, but prairie grasses could make the best biofuel

Jason Hill (EEB), David Tilman (EEB), Stephen Polasky (EEB & Applied Economics), Douglas Tiffany (CFANS)
PNAS, July 25
Go to UNews article

Phylogenetic structure of Floridian plant communities depends on taxonomic and spatial scal

Jeannine Cavender-Bares associate professor of ecology, evolution and behavior
Ecology, July issue

Local migration promotes competitive restraint in a host-pathogen ‘tragedy of the commons’

Claudia Neuhauser, professor and head of EEB; and Antony Dean, associate professor, EEB, Biotechnology Institute
Nature, July 6

Longterm study confirms that biodiversity strengthens ecosystems

David Tilman, Peter Reich
Nature, June 1
Go to UNews article


CBS Ice Cream Social
Friday, September 29, 3-5 p.m.
Lawn in front of the MCB building
Free ice cream sundaes served by deans, department heads, and faculty. All CBS students, parents, faculty, and staff are invited. Music by Radio K.Science Education Sunday: Teaching Evolutionary Biology in K-12 Schools

Science Education Sunday: Teaching Evolutionary Biology in K-12 Schools
Sunday, November 11, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Bell Museum of Natural History
Presented by Minnesota Citizens for Science Education
Speakers on the cultural, historical, and educational aspects of evolutionary biology will include Mark Borrello (EEB), Randy Moore (UM Education), PZ Myers (Biology, UM Morris), Greg Laden (UM Anthropology), and a panel of K-12 teachers and administrators.  Minnesota Citizens for Science Education (MnCSE) is a non-profit organization founded by Jim Curtsinger (EEB), Ed Hessler (Hamline University) and Judy Budreau (parent). Its purpose is to promote sound K-12 science education, especially in the area of evolutionary biology.

Annual IREE Research Symposium
Tuesday, November 28
8:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
McNamara Alumni Center
Overview of the year’s achievements, presentations by faculty research and guest speakers, poster session. Free, but registration is required. Details will be available soon on the IREE website,