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CBS News - September 2009

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

From the dean

Welcome back to good news

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, a lab or an office.

I am pleased to share good news on two fronts. Another outstanding class of freshmen has enrolled at the college. Our applicant pool has continued to grow—from 4,600 for the 2008 freshman class to 5,300 for this year. And this year’s class includes 400 students, the largest in CBS history.

We also have good news about Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, which has been restored to the University’s bonding request for the 2010 legislative session. Although the revised master plan (PDF) pares costs from $25 million to $8.5 million, it will enable us to keep Itasca open for the foreseeable future and make some much-needed improvements in education and research facilities.

The new approach consolidates functions assigned to several new buildings under the previous plan into a single campus center, which will house classroom-labs, faculty and staff offices, an auditorium, a library and a computer lab. More classroom-labs, and winterized housing for faculty and students will be part of a second phase of construction.

Meanwhile, we’ve already made some progress. Faculty cabin #4, which was condemned, and the Old Lakeside Lab, which had a deteriorating foundation, were completely rebuilt over the spring and summer thanks to individual contributions, state funding provided by last year’s legislature, and other funds.

This fall culminates our year-long celebration of Itasca’s centennial. Alumni and friends of the college are enjoying festivities at the field station this weekend. A special party for faculty, staff and students will be held November 9 in the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus. Mark your calendars and watch your email for details. I hope to see you there.


Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

M3P project expands with fresh funding

The Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project (M3P)—an effort to create a DNA database of all of the microorganisms in the headwaters of the Mississippi River—is set to expand after recently receiving $400,000 in federal stimulus funding. The new funds will provide the resources needed to train students in metagenomics and boost their knowledge of the river’s micro-ecosystem. The project will provide both students and faculty with interdisciplinary research opportunities relating to the river’s aquatic ecosystems.

Sadowsky tapped to lead BioTechnology Institute

Michael Sadowsky stepped into his new role as director of the University of Minnesota’s BioTechnology Institute (BTI) September 1. A professor in the University’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate and co-director of the Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute, Sadowsky joined the University in 1989 and has been a BTI faculty member since 1997. As director, Sadowsky plans to build on BTI’s success at developing environmentally friendly biochemical and microbial technologies.


Researchers pinpoint genes that produce psychoactive substance in Cannabis

In a first step toward engineering a drug-free Cannabis plant that can produce hemp fiber and oil, a team of researchers that includes Professor David Marks (PBIO) and Associate Professor George Weiblen (PBIO) has identified genes producing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are difficult to distinguish apart from differences in THC. With the genes identified, finding a way to silence them—and thus produce a drug-free plant—comes a step closer to reality. Studying the genes could also lead to new and better drugs for pain, nausea and other conditions. The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.

Walters lab publishes two new studies

Associate Professor Kylie Walters is lead author of two new studies: “Prokaryotic ubiquitin-like protein Pup is intrinsically disordered,” published in the September 11 issue of the Journal of Molecular Biology and “Structure of the S5a:K48 linked diubiquitin complex and its interactions with Rpn13,” published in the August 14 issue of Molecular Cell. The first study provides insights into prokaryotic ubiquitin-like protein’s functional role as a degradation signal. The second study demonstrates that S5a is highly adaptive and cooperative toward binding a specific type of regulatory protein chain.

New research grants

The National Science Foundation has awarded University of Minnesota researchers a three-year $998,121 grant to study biogeochemical cycling in urban ecosystems. Associate Professor Sarah Hobbie (EEB) is a co-investigator of the study led by Larry Baker (Water Resources Center). The researchers will examine the correlations between human behavior and biogeochemical cycles in the Twin Cities metro.

Associate Professor Fumiaki Katagiri (PBIO) and Assistant Professor Chad Myers (Computer Science and Engineering) received a three-year $755,159 NSF grant to study “Mathematical Modeling of the Arabidopsis Defense Signaling Network.” The project will involve building a computer model that simulates the signaling events in Arabidopsis during pathogen infection. The researchers hope to gain insights into better ways to optimize plant immune systems.


Top research universities show support for open-access journals

Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley recently signed a compact agreeing to establish a system for providing financial support to open-access journals in an effort to encourage alternatives to costly academic journals. The move will help lighten the financial burden for strapped university libraries since open-access journals provide content free of charge.


CBS People features quick snapshots of the personalities behind the positions at the College of Biological Sciences. Sarah Corrigan, assistant director of the CBS honors program, kicks off the series with insights into her work at the college, her favorite biology topic and where she likes to hang out on campus.

A poem co-authored by Professor Jim Cotner (EEB)—“Toast to a Lake Brew”—was published in the most recent issue of American Society of Limnology and Oceanography’s Bulletin. Read more poems by EEB’s “poet laureate.”

Mark Decker and Jane Phillips are the new co-directors of the Biology Program, taking the reins from outgoing director, Professor Sue Wick. Decker joined the Biology Program in 1998. Phillips has been with the program since 1990. Both served as co-associate directors of the Biology Program since 2006.

Igor Libourel joined the Department of Plant Biology as an assistant professor at the beginning of August. Libourel will use the primitive organism microalgae Ostreococcus as a model system to investigate the design principles of core metabolism.

CBS alum and pioneering paleobotanist David Dilcher will receive an honorary doctorate for his contributions to the biological sciences this month at a special ceremony at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Dilcher earned degrees in natural history (B.S., ’58) and botany, geology and zoology (M.S., ’60) at the University of Minnesota.

Assistant Professor Mark Borrello, a historian of science with a joint appointment in the Graduate School and the College of Biological Sciences, recently collaborated with Minneapolis-based architects on an art project that fuses evolution, history, architecture and graphic design. The project was displayed at Form+Content Gallery this summer as part of a group show about the housing crisis.


Transatlantic Science Week 2009

Science Week brings together leaders in government, higher education and industry from the United States, Canada and Norway to discuss research and trends in environmental and life sciences.

McNamara Alumni Center | University of Minnesota | September 27–30

Development and Cancer: Good Cells Gone Bad

This year’s U of M Developmental Biology Symposium will feature speakers from Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley and Columbia University along with a poster session and a reception at the Weisman Art Museum.

DETAILS: Coffman Memorial Union | East Bank campus | September 29

Migrant Birds in the Minnesota River Valley

Join ornithologist Bruce Fall (Biology Program) to see and identify migrant birds as they begin to pass through the metro.

DETAILS: Old Cedar Avenue Bridge Area, Bloomington | October 3 | 7:30 a.m.

TCF Bank Stadium Tours and University Open House

The public is invited to tour the new stadium and see demonstrations of research happening at the University.

DETAILS: TCF Bank Stadium | East Bank campus | October 4 | 1–4 p.m.


$100 for 100 years

Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories turned 100 this year. In an effort to raise money for much-needed renovations, the college has launched “$100 for 100 Years.” The campaign underscores the critical role the field station has played in biology education and research at the University over the last century, and offers alumni and friends the opportunity to help ensure that it continues to thrive.

Learn more about the field station’s history.

Give online. Specify the Itasca Centennial Fund (#5284).

Itasca centennial fleece

Show your Itasca pride. Order your Itasca centennial fleece today. The jackets, which feature a special Itasca centennial logo, are $35. Proceeds from the sale of the fleece will go toward funding renovations at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories.