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CBS News - March 2010

Direct from the Dean | College news | Research | Research grants | People | Events | FYI

Direct from the Dean

This month, Dean Elde talks about forward-looking trends in biology and how the college’s curriculum and priorities match up.

Read the report online and watch a video featuring three of the report’s authors.

College news

CBS annual compact meeting recap

Dean Elde and Dean’s Office staff members met with Provost Tom Sullivan on Tuesday, February 23, for the annual compact meeting to evaluate progress on college goals and prepare for the coming year. This year, the meeting focused on recommendations from the Dean’s Advisory Council on Priorities and the National Research Council report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century.” The key message was that biology is going through an unprecedented expansion fueled by genomics, bioinformatics and computation. Solutions for the global challenges that we face (food, energy, ecosystem services and health) will be delivered by “use-inspired” basic research within this “New Biology.” Thus, and in spite of our dire economic circumstances, now is the time for prudent investments in our fields.

Dean Elde would like to thank all of the department heads, faculty, staff, students and alums who served on the advisory council. The group’s recommendations will be essential to charting the college’s course over the next few years.

Governor vetoes funding for Itasca construction, leaves money for field station upgrades

Governor Tim Pawlenty used a line item veto to cut funding for Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories from the $1 billion bonding bill submitted by the state legislature last week. The $3.8 million request would have provided funds for a new campus center and needed renovations at the field station. Supporters had already committed $1.3 million in private funds to the project. The University of Minnesota remains committed to the college’s vision for Itasca. Look for more information in coming months as a “plan B” takes shape for securing the funds for needed updates to the field station.

Although Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed funding for the new campus center at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, both the Itasca and Cedar Creek field stations will get some help from the U’s allocation for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR). Itasca will get $155,000 to replace the sewer and meet other needs; Cedar Creek will get $109,900 for infrastructure upgrades at Lawrence Laboratory.

The University’s request for funds to build an American Indian Center on the Duluth campus was also cut from the final bonding bill. The governor cut more than $300 million from the bill for a total of $686 million in state spending on public works projects.

Biology-themed online talks available to faculty, students

U faculty, staff and students can now access more than 1,000 seminar-style biology-themed talks online via the Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection. The talks, given by experts across the biological sciences, cover a wide range of topics from recent discoveries to biology fundamentals.

New Lion Research Center site launches

A new website for Craig Packer’s (EEB) Lion Research Center, based at the University of Minnesota, launched earlier this month. The site provides a trove of lion facts, findings and ongoing research about lion populations in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania.


Image shows how electricity moves through cells

[Science | 3.4.10]

Carrie Wilmot (BMBB) has created a molecular image of a system that moves electrons between proteins in cells. The achievement is a breakthrough for biology and could provide insights to minimize energy loss in other systems, from nanoscale devices to moving electricity around the country.

“Evolution has been fine-tuning electricity in organisms for a lot longer than humans have been using it,” Wilmot says. “We can learn a lot from nature about how to use it more efficiently.” This new glimpse at how the body uses electricity could lead to nanotechnology to shrink electronic circuitry even further or design a more efficient grid to provide power to homes and businesses. Wilmot used x-ray crystallography to obtain the image.

Knowing the Earth’s age helps students understand and accept evolution

[Evolution | 3.10]

High school and college students who understand the geological age of the Earth (4.5 billion years) are much more likely to understand and accept human evolution, according to a University of Minnesota study. The finding could give educators a new strategy for teaching evolution, since the Earth’s age is typically covered in physical rather than biological science classes.

Results of a survey conducted by Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore (Biology Program), and D. Christopher Brooks (OIT) showed that when a student’s religious and political views are liberal, they are more likely to believe that the Earth is billions, rather than thousands, of years old and to know more about evolution. Conversely, students with conservative religious and political views are more inclined to think the Earth is much younger (20,000 years or less) and to know less about evolution.

“The role of the Earth’s age is a key variable that we can use to improve education about evolution, which is important because it is the unifying principle of biology,” says Cotner, who was lead author.

Hidden habits and movements of insect pests revealed by DNA barcoding

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 3.1.10]

University of Minnesota researcher George Weiblen and colleagues have found a faster way to study the spread and diet of insects. Using a technique called DNA barcoding, which involves the identification of species from a short DNA sequence, Weiblen and an international team of researchers studied populations of moth and butterfly species across Papua New Guinea. DNA barcodes showed that migratory patterns and caterpillar diets are very dynamic. And in one case, a tiny moth that is distributed from Taiwan to Australia, had recently crossed thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. The technique has implications for understanding biodiversity in Papua New Guinea, where Weiblen conducts his research. It can also be used to study the movement of invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer, which was recently introduced from Asia.

Research grants

Berman receives grant to study antifungal resistance

Distinguished McKnight University Professor Judith Berman (GCD) was awarded $422,792 from the National Institutes of Health to study the mechanisms that Candida albicans uses to generate genetic and genomic diversity, and to survive antifungal assault. Candida albicans is the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans and a serious problem in immunocompromised patients. Resistance to antifungal drugs is of particular concern given the limited number of clinically useful antifungals. The proposed work will address basic questions about how resistance arises in response to a range of antifungal drugs with the goal of identifying potential targets for companion drugs that would extend the lifespan of the limited arsenal of available antifungals.

Institute on the Environment accepting Discovery Grant proposals

The Institute on the Environment (IonE) is accepting proposals for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research projects that address environmental challenges of global significance. Approximately three proposals will be selected to receive between $200,000 and $600,000 over two to four years. IonE will also provide space, staff and other support. Initial concept papers are due May 7. More information.


Professor Paul Siliciano (BMBB) received a 2010 Morse Alumni Award, which goes to faculty members who reflect the University’s emphasis on high-quality undergraduate education. Siliciano recently led efforts to negotiate with publishers to lower textbook prices for CBS biochemistry students.

Professor Robert Sorenson (GCD) was recently awarded an Outstanding Contributions to Post-baccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education Award. This distinction goes to faculty who demonstrate excellence in instruction; involvement in students’ research, scholarship, and professional development; development of instructional programs; and advising and mentoring of students.

A review of The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, written by Professor Randy Moore (Biology Program) was highlighted in Discover magazine’s The Loom blog. The review originally appeared in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education.

Professor Judith Berman (GCD) was invited to become a member of the inaugural board of editor of mBio, a new flagship journal from the American Society of Microbiology.

Meet Electronic Instrument Services manager Gary Newstrom in the latest edition of CBS People, an ongoing feature highlighting the personalities behind the positions at the College of Biological Sciences.


CBS Annual Plant Sale

A large selection of blooming annuals, tropical plants, herbs, carnivorous plants, succulents and orchids will be available at the CBS Greenhouses’ annual sale. The staff from the greenhouses will also be on hand to answer.

DETAILS: St. Paul Student Center | April 21–22 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

CBS Year-End Picnic

College of Biological Sciences faculty, students and staff are invited to come celebrate the close of another academic year at the annual year-end picnic.

DETAILS: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank | May 7 | 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Red-Headed Woodpecker Day

Come spend an afternoon observing Red-Headed Woodpeckers. Members of the Redhead Recovery Organization will guide you on a walk into Cedar Creek’s interior to view the birds as they feed and prepare for nesting.

DETAILS: Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve | East Bethel | May 8 | 1–3 p.m.


Minnesota Academy of Science Meeting

Looking for a professional venue for undergraduate students to present research without traveling out of state? The Minnesota Academy of Science (MAS) Annual Meeting and Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted by the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul on April 23–24, is the perfect opportunity. The Winchell Symposium offers undergraduates a chance to share their research with student colleagues and scientists from across the state. Students may present their research as either a poster (April 23) or oral presentation (April 24) in a professional environment without incurring expensive travel costs. Abstracts are due March 26. Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and Chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, will give the keynote talk.

To register or submit an abstract go to the MAS website. For further information, contact Thomas Marsh at or Megan Buchanan at

Direct from the Dean | College news | Research | Research grants | People | Events | FYI