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CBS News - January 2012


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Show your support for the U’s request for funds to rebuild Itasca

, which includes $4.06 million for Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Your letters and emails helped make it happen. While this is a critical first step, much work remains to secure funds for the new campus center at Itasca. President Kaler will present an overview of the University’s capital request at the annual legislative briefing, to be held at McNamara Alumni Center on Wednesday, February 1 at 6 p.m. The event is full, but you can still register for the webcast and view the briefing online.Earlier this week Governor Dayton released his bonding bill

Looking for more ways to support Itasca?

  • Learn more about the request at the Rebuild Itasca website.
  • “Like” the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories Facebook page to get regular updates throughout the session.

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EEB researchers replicate key step in evolutionary biology

PNAS | 1.16.12

Postdoctoral researcher Will Ratcliff and Associate Professor Michael Travisano (EEB) have replicated the evolution of singled-celled organisms into functioning multicellular clusters, a key step in evolutionary biology, using Brewer’s yeast and natural selection. The yeast  “evolved” into multicellular clusters that work together cooperatively, reproduce and adapt to their environment – in essence, precursors to life on Earth. 

They allowed the yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to grow for a day and used a centrifuge to stratify the mixture by weight. As it settled, cell clusters reached the bottom of the tubes faster because they are heavier. The researchers removed the clusters, transferred them to fresh media, and agitated them again. Sixty days later, the clusters – by then hundreds of cells – looked roughly like spherical snowflakes.

Analysis showed that the clusters were not just groups of random cells that adhered to each other, but related cells that remained attached following cell division. When the clusters reached a critical size, some cells died to allow offspring to separate. The offspring reproduced only after they attained the size of their parents.

Ford Dennison and Mark Borrello (EEB) are co-authors.


press release  |  UMN feature  |  extended interview with Will Ratcliff (video)  |  media coverage

Harris lab discovers new target for HIV drug therapy

Nature | 12.21.11

Professor Reuben Harris and doctoral student Judd Hultquist (BMBB), working with colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, have discovered a new target for HIV drug therapy that could make it possible for natural human antiviral proteins to destroy HIV. The team has learned that an HIV protein (called Vif) hijacks a human protein (called CBF-beta) and uses it to degrade the important antiviral protein, APOBEC3G.

“Our findings show that if HIV is unable to hijack CBF-beta, it is unable to launch a counter defense against our innate immune system and unable to replicate efficiently,” Hultquist said.

Harris's lab focuses on the APOBEC family of antiviral proteins, which are produced by human cells.

BMBB researchers discover how cilia that enable hearing are renewed

Nature | 1.15.12

Professor James Ervasti and Assistant Professor Benjamin Perrin (BMBB), along with collaborators at Harvard University, have discovered how stereocilia, which crown the tips of sensory hair cells in the inner ear, are renewed. The findings provide the foundation for new studies on progressive hearing loss and cellular aging.

Since hair cells within the ear are not replaced, our ability to hear depends on survival of hair cells and their stereocilia. However, stereocilia experience almost constant mechanical stress from the daily bombardment of sound. Scientists have long been interested in how hair cells maintain stereocilia because their loss is a leading cause of deafness associated with aging or noise exposure. Until now, they believed that the proteins that make stereocilia were replaced every few days by the addition of new protein to the stereocilia tip coupled with loss of old protein from the base.

But Ervasti, Perrin, and their Harvard collaborators have observed a very different process. Knowing that stereocilia are largely formed from two different types of the protein actin, Ervasti and Perrin used transgenic mice to knock out each type of actin and monitored protein turnover. Their results struck a chord with David Corey and Claude Lechene at Harvard, who developed a new type of microscopy to measure protein turnover in different parts of hair cells, including stereocilia. Each group independently concluded that rapid protein turnover is focused at stereocilia tips while the shafts are much more stable.

Ecological and social factors in chimpanzee encounter outcomes

Animal Behaviour | 1.12

Using long-term data from the Kanyawara community of chimpanzees in Uganda, Assistant Professor Michael Wilson (EEB), graduate student Mike Wells and fellow researchers found that the occurrence of intergroup encounters depends mainly on the distribution and abundance of key food resources. In particular, groves of synchronously fruiting Uvariopis trees atrracted chimpanzees, leading to frequent encounters. The response of the Kanyawara chimpanzees to these encounters depended on their numerical strength.

In another paper in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, Wilson and colleagues reports on causes of death of chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania between 2004-10. A team of researches, including Michael Wilson (EEB) and Elizabeth Lonsdorf, who earned her Ph.D. in EEB, along with Dominic Travis (Veterinary Medicine) and Claire Kirchhoff, a recent anthropology graduate who examined chimpanzee skeletons for evidence of trauma as part of her Ph.D. thesis, found that the most common cause of death was from wounds inflicted by other chimpanzees.


Associate Professor Melissa Gardner (GCD) has been named a 2012-14 McKnight Land-Grant Professor.  The goal of the program is to advance the careers of promising junior faculty. Gardner will receive $32,500 research grants in each of the two years.

Claudia Neuhauser, University of Minnesota, Rochester’s vice chancellor for academic affairs and former head of EEB, has been named one of six fellows of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A post by postdoctoral researcher Jeremy Yoder (PBIO) from his Denim and Tweed blog was selected for inclusion in the 2012 Open Lab anthology of online science writing. The anology was compiled by the Scientific American blog, “Cocktail Party Physics.”


February 23

Real pirates: The untold story of the Whydah, from slave ship to pirate ship

CBS students, alumni, staff and friends are invited to attend a special lecture, reception and tour of the Science Museum of Minnesota's Real Pirates exhibition. The Biological Sciences Alumni Society is hosting the event. More information

Science Museum of Minnesota | St. Paul | $30-$49


Change to international travel policy

The University Travel Policy now requires pre-travel registration of all faculty and staff traveling abroad for University purposes. The updated policy will make it easier and more efficient to provide travelers with helpful information prior to depature, and to provide travelers with prompt assistance overseas should circumstances require it.

  • Planning international travel? Register your travel.
  • Find answers to commonly asked questions.

Teaching assistant award nominations due January 27

Know an outstanding teaching assistant? Submit a nomination for a CBS Outstanding Performance Award for Teaching Assistants. All TAs in CBS courses who have demonstrated excellence in teaching or other instructional activities are eligible. Send nominations for CBS courses taught spring through fall 2011 to Bruce Fall ( or by campus mail to 3-104 MCB). Please include the name of the TA, the course, and a brief reason for your nomination.