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CBS News - September 2008

From the Dean | College news | Research | Trendwatch | People | Events | FYI

From the dean

What’s happening at CBS this year?

Greetings and welcome back to the College of Biological Sciences. I hope you are comfortably settled into your fall routine, whether that’s in the classroom, lab or office, and enjoying the great weather.

In the coming year, the focus at CBS will be on raising funds to upgrade our field stations and doing some careful analysis as we look at “rightsizing” our student body and replacing faculty who are retiring.

You will be hearing a lot about Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. That’s because Itasca has a lot to celebrate … and a lot to accomplish. The University has developed a plan to replace deteriorating buildings and obsolete research and education facilities. They plan to ask the Legislature for $13 million of the estimated $25 million cost as part of the 2010 legislative request. This will cover phase one of construction. The college will have to raise one third of the funds, either through private donations or a loan. Coincidentally, 2009 is the field station’s centennial, which makes it a great time to look back at its past and consider its future.

We will also forge ahead with fundraising and planning to expand Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. As you know, we dedicated the Raymond Lindeman Research and Discovery Center at Cedar Creek in June. The modest facility provides much-needed meeting space, classrooms and labs. But it’s only a start. The potential is enormous for expanding research on critical environmental issues. I’m pleased to report that Cedar Creek has dramatically increased outreach to K-12 teachers and students. Associate Director Jeff Corney is leading that effort with new education coordinator Mary Spivey.

Along with Associate Dean Robin Wright and others, I will be looking at growing the CBS student body. It makes a lot of sense because we had 4,000 applicants for 350 spots this year and accepting more students would increase our revenue. But we want to do it very carefully to maintain the quality of the undergraduate program. I am proposing that we admit more freshmen and raise the standards for transfer students.

I don’t have to tell you it will be a tough year financially, especially at the Legislature. But our goals for improving facilities, raising funds for scholarships and fellowships, and increasing programmatic support are very much in synch with the University’s new capital campaign. So I am optimistic that we can achieve our goals through a combination of private and public support.

You can learn more about these and other plans vital to CBS’ success at the all-college meeting, which will be held October 27. Watch your email for details.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

Lanyon tapped to head EEB

Scott Lanyon (EEB) has been named head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Lanyon served as the director of the Bell Museum of Natural History for more than a decade. Prior to joining the University of Minnesota, Lanyon held positions as a scientist and curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

As Bell director, Lanyon improved collections and bolstered research and outreach programs. He led the museum through planning for a new building and increased private support. In addition to his administrative duties, Lanyon taught courses in evolution, ornithology and systematic biology. He is currently studying the evolutionary history of New World blackbirds. Lanyon is also participating in Tree of Life, an international effort to better understand evolutionary relationships among the Earth’s species.


Welcome Week wows

“If I had to choose one word for CBS’ College Day during Welcome Week earlier this month,” says Assistant Dean Jean Underwood, “I would say ‘engagement.’ Our program was purposely developed to have students interact with each other and with our speakers, and get to move about. It’s a great complement to Nature of Life.”

One of the highlights: a GPS-guided “scavenger hunt” in which groups of CBS students visited offices, labs and landmarks, met faculty and staff, and learned about services by following geographic coordinates. Prizes were given to groups who identified the most study sites on campus.

Students were also tasked with finding emeriti faculty member John S. Anderson on the Mall and singing the “Minnesota Rouser.” The day ended with a CBS student panel on picking a major and navigating campus life.

New graduate program in bioinformatics

The U of M Board of Regents has approved interdisciplinary master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in biomedical informatics and computational biology. The start of the fall semester marked the launch of the new degree programs, which focus on bioinformatics, computational biology and health informatics. The programs, offered at the U’s Twin Cities and Rochester campuses, train scientists to use sophisticated computational methods to analyze large amounts of research data. Former EEB head Claudia Neuhauser put together the original proposal.

Norwegian delegation visits Cedar Creek

Top government officials and representatives from Norway visited the University of Minnesota September 21–23 to gather information for a white paper on climate policy to be submitted to the Norwegian parliament.

“The delegates will use the expertise from the University of Minnesota to develop an integrated carbon, nitrogen and energy approach for their agriculture sector,” says Judson Sheridan, the Norwegian Centennial Interdisciplinary Chair.

The delegates met with leading scientists from across the University and toured research facilities including the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve—the site of pioneering research on biodiversity and alternative biofuels approaches.

A look back at Lindeman

The current issue of Minnesota, the magazine of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, features an in-depth article about Raymond Lindeman’s life and legacy. Lindeman launched modern ecosystem science with the posthumous publication of a paper based on research conducted at Cedar Creek, which outlines the way energy moves through an ecosystem.

Bruininks unveils biennial budget request

President Bob Bruininks presented the biennial budget to the Board of Regents on September 12. The president’s proposed 2010–11 budget includes three primary areas of state investment:

  • A general salary increase of three percent to help university employees meet rising costs for fuel, food and other staples ($95.2 million);
  • The creation of the Middle Income Scholarship Program to help address the unmet financial needs of thousands of students, providing savings of as much as 40 percent for those at the lower end of the scale – $50,000 – and five percent for those at the higher end – $100,000 ($16 million);
  • Investment in research infrastructure to build necessary capacity in targeted areas ($30 million).

The Galápagos up close and personal

Listen to the Biology Program’s Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore, and student Anne Kellerman talk about their trip to the Galápagos last spring. See photos of the islands’ unique flora and fauna via an audio slideshow. Sign-ups for Biology of the Galápagos 2009 are underway.


Study to measure tropical forests’ role in global carbon budget

George Weiblen, associate professor of plant biology, has received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a study in Papua New Guinea that will be part of a global network to determine how these forests maintain their biodiversity over time and to estimate much carbon they remove from the atmosphere.

Weiblen and colleagues will survey a 125-acre plot located in Wanang. Every tree will be mapped, tagged, identified and measured every five years. Insects such as termites, moths, butterflies, ants and bees will also be inventoried. A lot of the work will be carried out by local scientists and villagers. The plot will be part of a global network representing 18 forests worldwide established by the Center for Tropical Forest Science, which is part of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

See a slideshow of Weiblen at work in Papua New Guinea.

Study sheds light on molecular basis of muscle and non-muscle movement

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 8.5.08]

David Thomas (BMBB) and Margaret Titus (GCD) published a study last month that opens up a new area of contractile biophysics. The Thomas lab, focused on muscle contraction, and the Titus lab, focused on movement of non-muscle cells, created a chimeric myosin—part rabbit, part slime mold—to investigate the molecular connection between muscle and non-muscle movement. They engineered a mutant of Dictyostelium discoideum myosin with the same reactive cysteine in the force-generating region that is found in muscle myosin. They then attached magnetic probes and performed electron paramagnetic resonance experiments on both myosins to compare the structures of these two proteins. They found that the structural states of the two proteins are identical, but they are affected differently by ATP. The result shows that the building blocks of molecular motors are conserved across vast regions of the evolutionary tree and that Dictyostelium myosin can easily be grown in cell culture, while muscle myosin cannot.

Basic research yields gene for Lou Gehrig’s disease

[Current Biology | 5.08]

David Greenstein (GCD) and colleagues have discovered that a homolog of a gene involved in signaling oocyte (egg) maturation is also involved in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Greenstein studied the protein in C. elegans, a worm used as a model organism. When the protein is absent in worms, eggs don’t mature. When protein is mutated in humans, ALS develops. Greenstein, who joined the CBS faculty two years ago, had been studying C. elegans at Vanderbilt and Rockefeller universities for a decade before coming to the University of Minnesota. His finding is an example of how basic science in a genetic model system provides unexpected insights into human health.

Aggression among female chimpanzees common

[International Journal of Primatology | 8.08]

Aggression among male chimpanzees is much more common than among females because it determines access to fertile females. But intense female fighting can occur when it has the potential to permanently change the females’ access to food resources and safety.

This new study by Anne Pusey (EEB) and colleagues documents five cases of severe female aggression related to competition for space in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, where the quality of the core area occupied by a female is directly related to her reproductive success. Pusey and colleagues also published articles in the May and June issues of the American Journal of Primatology. The first reported that illness (58%) and aggression (20%) were top causes of chimpanzee deaths. The second showed that the presence of researchers and tourists in Gombe exposes chimpanzees to human diseases, but protects them from hunters and loss of habitat. Michael L. Wilson was a co-author on all three papers, and Jane Goodall a co-author on two.


Mixing science and politics

Where do the Barack Obama and John McCain stand on issues ranging from climate change to genetic research? Science Debate 2008, an initiative cosponsored by the AAAS, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, compiled answers to 14 questions on science policy posed to both candidates. Find out what the presidential candidates think about critical science policy.


Regents’ Professor David Tilman (EEB) has been awarded the International Prize for Biology. The prize is awarded each year to commemorate the 60-year reign of Japan’s Emperor Showa as well as his longtime devotion to biological research. Tilman was chosen for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of basic research in a field of biology.

James Koerner, BMBB professor emeritus, died May 31. He was 78. Koerner was one of the founders of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. He was an active participant in the summer research program in neuroscience at the university’s field station in Itasca State Park from 1995–98. The James F. Koerner Itasca Neuroscience Fund is being established in his honor.

Finance group leaders Jane Albeck (Minneapolis) and Juli Pelletier (St. Paul) have been promoted to Fiscal Officers. Jane and Juli are responsible for managing the college’s finance clusters on their respective campuses.

Randy Moore (Biology Program) received the 2008 Evolution Education Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. The award is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

In Student Services, Sara Georgeson was promoted to associate academic advisor. Sara Johnson resigned her position as academic advisor to become director of student services for the School of Dentistry. Mary-Ann Em has been named transfer admissions counselor. Mary-Ann is a 2008 CBS graduate.

Dana Davis (Microbiology) helped draft new science guidelines for the state as a member of the committee responsible for establishing standards for the Minnesota Department of Education.


Teaching Enrichment series

“Making the New Student Ratings of Teaching (SRTs) Work for You” is the theme for this fall’s teaching enrichment seminar series. Faculty and instructors are invited to examine the impact of regularly gathering and analyzing student feedback to improve learning and document teaching effectiveness.

For more information or to register, visit the Center for Teaching and Learning.

E3 2008

This 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.

DETAILS: Saint Paul River Centre | November 18

The Hidden World of Bears

CBS alum Lynn Rogers’ photographs provide an intimate look at the lives of bears and a new understanding of their foraging habits, maternal care and social behavior.

DETAILS: Bell Museum of Natural History | Through January 1, 2009


Mentors needed

CBS students need you for two to four hours a month! Remember all the questions you had when you were a student? Remember deciding your major(s)/minor(s)? Remember worrying about getting into graduate school or finding a job? Or maybe you didn’t even consider certain careers because you just didn’t know about them. Volunteer as a mentor and help students who face those same questions and concerns.

For more information: Check out the mentoring page on the CBS website or contact Sandy Massel, associate director of alumni relations and development, 612-626-3956 or