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CBS News - January 2007

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Interest in biofuels continues to accelerate

Despite the fact that there’s a welcome drop in gas prices this month, interest in biofuels continues to rise.

In his inaugural speech earlier in January, Governor Pawlenty announced that renewable energy and education are his top two priorities. WCCO’s Don Shelby followed up on Pawlenty’s remarks with a commentary that the state couldn’t do better than to invest in the University’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), which touches both of those priorities.

The crew from WCCO’s Project Energy was on campus recently to interview David Tilman (EEB) about his promising research into mixed prairie grass-based ethanol and Roger Ruan (CFANS), David Kittelson and Jane Davidson (both IT) about renewable energy research at the University. And both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press have contacted CBS about developing commentaries on different aspects of biofuels research and production.

On January 11, Tilman was guest speaker for the University’s new Headliners program, which features public lectures on topics in the news. The title of his talk—“Is the Answer to Renewable Energy and Global Warming Beneath Our Feet?”—refers to his recent cover story in Science showing that biofuels made from mixed prairie plants could actually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because they store carbon in their roots.

And on February 1, Tilman and his associate Jason Hill will welcome biofuels experts from UC Berkeley, Princeton and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to discuss “Pathways Toward a Renewable Energy Future.” This lecture, to be held in the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus, will also be open to the public.

Meanwhile, Claudia Neuhauser is completing the University’s application for a $125-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a regional center for genomics research that supports development of the next generation of biofuels. Read more about this in the News section below.

It’s heartening to see so much interest and activity focused on biofuels and other forms of renewable energy, especially as the 2007 Legislature begins its work on the state’s biennial budget. It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by since the 2003 Legislature launched IREE with $20 million from utility set-aside funds for alternative energy development. We have accomplished so much in that time, but there are even more opportunities now to help Minnesota realize its potential to become a leader in the emerging biofuels industry.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences


U of M names Institute on the Environment founding fellows

David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology (EEB), and Lawrence Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor (BTI/BMBB), are among 15 faculty selected as founding fellows of the University of Minnesota’s new Institute on the Environment. The new institute will coordinate the university’s breadth and depth of environmental resources to make it easier for researchers to share knowledge with each other and the public. The institute will bring the university’s wide-ranging environmental experts closer together, helping to trigger even greater discoveries and further enhance the university’s reputation as an environmental leader.

Budget request includes $8 million for renewable energy, ag and environment

The University of Minnesota presented its 2008–09 biennial budget request at the start of the new state legislative session this month. The overall request: $192.3 million over the next two years including $123.4 million in new state funding. The request earmarks $11.5 million for science and engineering research and $8.4 million to fund research that addresses environmental challenges, fossil-based fuel dependence, food safety and animal and human health.

Alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members interested in helping to educate elected officials and the community about the importance of the University of Minnesota to the state can explore advocacy opportunities and stay up to date through the University’s Legislative Network.

University applies for $125M biofuels research grant

The University of Minnesota is applying for a $125 million federal grant—the second largest in University history—to create a center focused on research and development of biofuels. More than 100 participants from the University (including 22 from College of Biological Sciences), MnSCU, other universities around the country, and the private sector are involved in the application to create the Midwest Bioenergy Research Center. The center would serve as the basic science research arm of the planned National Center for Biofuels Research at the University of Minnesota. A successful bid for the funding could give Minnesota a significant leg up in its efforts to position itself as a leader in the growing bioenergy industry. CBS’ Dean Elde comments on the undertaking in a recent issue of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.


Science journal ends open review experiment

The weekly science journal, Nature, has ended its policy of allowing authors of manuscripts under conventional peer review the option of posting their papers online for open, signed reviews. The journal began the system of open peer review in June 2006. While many authors were willing to post their papers online while under review, the response from reviewers was lukewarm.

New medical schools could help fill growing M.D. gap

Even as first-year enrollment in M.D. programs continues to decline relative to the size of the U.S. population as a whole, the demand for doctors is going up at much faster rate than predicted. Unless schools start training and graduating more doctors, the Association of American Medical Colleges warns that the nation could face a 20-percent shortfall of physicians by 2020.


Researchers gain insight into organ development

A team of researchers, led by Stephen Ekker (GCD), has identified a group of novel genes that are critical in organ development. The international multi-institutional study includes scientists from the Max-Planck Institute of Immunology and the Carnegie Institute. The group studied the roles of genes in the zebrafish secretome that make proteins located on the surface or outside of cells in the body, and are responsible for directing “patterning” in the body, or ensuring that cells divide, differentiate and migrate to properly form vital organs in the correct places during development. “The different gene phenotypes found in the collection give us a new level of resolution for how these organs develop,” says Ekker. The research is published online at PLoS ONE.

Genomes of two frog herpesviruses sequenced

Following on an earlier study that identified herpesviruses as a cause of cancer in frogs (the first study to make the connection between the virus and cancer) and a study led by Robert McKinnell (GCD) that revealed patterns of viral replication, the genomes of two frog herpesviruses have been successfully sequenced. The information about the genomic sequences permits comparison between the pair of frog herpesviruses, one of which is known to cause cancer, and many other herpesviruses, a number of which are also cancer-causing. The study—“Genome sequences of two frog herpesviruses”—appears in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of General Virology.

Study sheds light on poorly understood source of cell cohesion

A study, led by Duncan Clarke (GCD), published in the inaugural issue of PLoS One offers insight into how DNA catenations (one of two forms of cohesion that keeps cells together until mitosis) are regulated in human cells. Clarke and his team have identified a role for a protein called PIAS-gamma (PIASy) in chromosome segregation in humans. PIASy is a sumo ligase, which covalently attaches the small ubiquitin-like protein, sumo, onto substrate proteins. In yeast and frogs, PIASy adds sumo onto Topoisomerase II, which is the enzyme in eukaryotes that resolves DNA catenations. Without the PIASy-regulated targeting of Topoisomerase II errors in chromosome segregation result. The study determined that the mechanism is crucial for accurate cell division and is expected to be an important factor in preserving the integrity of the genome during development and in dividing adult cells.


The Botanical Society of America gave its Centennial Award to Margaret B. Davis, Regents Professor of Ecology Emeritus, in honor of her exemplary service to the plant sciences.

Susan Jones (EEB) has been named a fall 2007 residential fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study.

Claudia Neuhauser (EEB) joins the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a member-at-large of the Section Committee on Mathematics. Her term starts in February and runs through 2011.

Naoko Shima (GCD) was lead author of a study published in the January 2007 issue of Nature Genetics. Her research team included graduate students Tavanna Buske and Catherine Andrews and researchers from several other universities. The study focuses on DNA replication of a gene called Mcm4 and suggests that hypomorphic alleles of MCM2-7 genes can increase breast cancer risk.

Michael Sadowsky, Lawrence Wackett and Nir Shapir (all BTI) contributed to a paper published in PLoS One titled “Secrets of soil survival revealed by the genome sequence of Arthrobacter aurescens TC1.”

The Biology Colloquium Program selected CBS student Dawn Qiu as “Student Leader of the Semester” for Fall 2006. Dawn is a junior majoring in neuroscience and physiology.


Human hearing and the frog chorus

WHEN: Tuesday, January 16 | 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Bryant-Lake Bowl , Minneapolis

Humans with hearing loss often cannot pick out an individual voice amid background noises, but frogs in a chorus excel at this. What can we learn from their abilities? Could the encroaching sounds of traffic and other human noises be threatening animals’ important ability to recognize acoustic signals? Mark Bee answers these questions and more.

Will it be corn ethanol or prairie biofuels?

WHEN: Wednesday, January 24 | 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: 402 Walter Library | East Bank campus

David Tilman leads a seminar on the future of biofuels as part of the Institute of Technology’s Energy Seminar Series.

2007 legislative briefing and reception

WHEN: Wednesday, January 24 | 5:30-8 p.m.
WHERE: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank campus

University of Minnesota alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends are invited to join President Robert Bruininks for an insider’s look at the University’s 2007 legislative requests. Learn what you can do to advocate for University funding.

Risk and response to global warming and environmental change

WHEN: Thursday, January 25 | 7-9 p.m. | Friday, January 26 | 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
WHERE: Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Institute | East Bank campus

Social scientists from around the world will convene at the University of Minnesota to explore why some nations’ governments take action on global warming while others do not at this conference hosted by the Institute for Global Studies.

Bell Museum travelogue series: Across Africa

WHEN: Sundays | 2 p.m.
WHERE: Bell Museum | East Bank campus
TICKETS: $6-$8

January 28: Tony Gamble | “Exploring Southern Africa for reptiles”
February 4: Meggan Craft | “Four years with lions in Africa”
February 25: Anna Mosser | “Unpredictable lions”

Join three University of Minnesota researchers for richly illustrated slide presentations describing their travels in Africa in pursuit of their research.

Biofuels symposium: Pathways toward a renewable-energy future

WHEN: February 1 | 1:30-4:30 p.m.
WHERE: University of Minnesota | Cargill Building | St. Paul campus

Hear experts from the University of Minnesota, Princeton University, the University of California, Berkeley and the Department of Energy discuss how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by producing sustainable, environmentally friendly and abundant biofuels.


Send your published citations to the CBS Imaging Center

Do you have abstracts, publications or graduate theses from the past calendar year that cite CBS Imaging Center facilities and/or staff? If yes, submit details online for inclusion in the center’s annual report to the director of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, which provides annual funding to both the Imaging Center and the College of Biological Sciences. Submit information online or send a copy via campus mail to Mark Sanders, 123 Snyder Hall, CBS Imaging Center, St. Paul campus, by January 12.


From the Dean | News | Trendwatch | Research | People | Events | FYI