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CBS News - November 2008

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College news

Freshman class best prepared in college’s history

This year, CBS received 4,259 applications (up from 3,800 in 2007) for 337 spots. According to a profile of the college’s 2008 freshman class, CBS students lead the University with an average ACT score of 29.2 (up from 28.6 last year) and an average high school ranking of 94.2. Eighty-three percent of CBS freshman ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class and 98 percent ranked in the top 25 percent.

CBS students place in MIT genetic engineering competition

Students from the College of Biological Sciences and the Institute of Technology teamed up with faculty advisors Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB) and Yiannis Kaznessis (Chemical Engineering) to develop projects for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGem) competition held annually at MIT. The U of M team received second place for one of its “BioBrick” designs. BioBricks are standardized parts participants use to design and build genetic machines.

The iGEM competition asks participants to explore the potential for building simple biological systems from standard, interchangeable parts. They can create their own BioBricks and draw from a library of BioBricks contributed by others. The U team included four students from CBS and six students from IT divided into two groups: Team Comparator and Team Time Bomb. Team Time Bomb worked on engineering a bacterial time bomb, based on which bacterial cells “commit suicide” after a predetermined number of divisions. Team Comparator engineered a bacterial comparator, which is one element of a feedback controller (a device that measures a controlled variable and adjusts output). Watch the teams present their findings at the iGem Jamboree.

University implements pause in hiring

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks announced a system-wide “hiring pause,” requiring that all open positions are reviewed and deemed essential before being filled. In essence, the University’s hiring pause is a “stop and think” rule for new hires that requires managers to explore options for reorganization or reassigning duties. If the position is essential, University approval is required before filling it. All position requests need to be reviewed by Dean Elde and specific criteria and instructions are being sent to departmental leadership. The hiring pause is effective immediately, but does not affect part-time student workers.

U of M launches public iTunes U site

Download audio and video features from the College of Biological Sciences and other colleges around the University directly from iTunes via the U’s newly launched iTunes U site. Select “Public U of M iTunes U” from the Quick Links menu. Find CBS features in the “Science and Technology” section. Faculty can also extend their classroom content online using the restricted-access area of the site.

Fiction with a biological bent

The Biology Program’s Deena Wassenberg explains her picks for her literature-based freshman biology seminar, “A Novel Environment: Environmental Topics Explored Through Literature,” in a new CBS online audio feature. Hear Wassenberg talk about Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver and The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols.

Fall 2008 BIO online now

Itasca turns 100 in 2009, but can it remain a hub for ecology research and education for another 100 years? Read about Itasca’s centennial. Get the lowdown on faculty research, check out alumni profiles and read a Q&A with students who volunteered in Tanzania this summer in this issue of BIO.

Community Fund Drive and auction results

This year, nearly 22 percent of CBS faculty and staff participated in the U’s Community Fund Drive. The Dean’s Office posted the highest participation rate at 50 percent. The college also raised $790 through a special auction of items donated by faculty and staff.


Tilman’s research at the center of biofuels debate

The November 14 issue of Science features an article about Regents Professor David Tilman’s efforts to promote mixed native prairie grasses as a superior source of biomass. The feature places Tilman’s research with prairie grass in the context of the larger debate over the direction of biofuels. It also touches on new experiments at a variety of sites designed to further test his findings.

New procedure could boost biosynthesis research

David Marks (PBIO) published a study in the November issue of Plant Journal describing a new procedure for isolating wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis trichomes. The article was a collaborative effort with contributions from North Carolina State University, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the Carnegie Institution. The findings open the door to using the Arabidopsis trichome cell wall as an excellent model to probe various questions concerning plant cell wall biosynthesis.


Longtime CBS faculty member Douglas Pratt (PBIO) died November 6. He was 77. A CBS scholarship and lectureship have been established in Pratt’s honor. Read an obituary in the Pioneer Press.

Pratt, who spent 30 years as a member of the college’s faculty, pioneered groundbreaking research on the use of wetland vegetation as a renewable biomass crop. He was also an award-winning teacher admired by his students. He played a leading role in the development of the university's environmental sciences curricula.

“What I think is so remarkable about Doug, looking back now, is that he understood this incredible relationship between biology, land use, food and energy—the intersection of those four things,” said Bob Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. “He was a plant biologist with a great sense of the environment.”

John Haarstad (EEB) died November 17 after a long struggle with lung cancer. He was 62. John had been affiliated with the University since 1975. Most recently he had served as Cedar Creek’s resident naturalist. A nature trail at Cedar Creek was recently named the “Dr. John A. Haarstad Interpretive Trail” in John’s honor. This 2.5-mile trail around Fish Lake was one of his favorite hikes. The trail will become a focal point of the field station’s expanding education and outreach program. John’s family and close friends will hold a private memorial at Cedar Creek.

Three CBS students received 2008 Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) Awards, which honor outstanding diverse undergraduate students. The students were among only eleven recipients from across the Twin Cities campus. Congratulations to Desiree Abu-Odeh (Neuroscience), Daniel Martig (Biochemistry) and Anh Tran (Neuroscience).

Laura Burrack (GCD), a post-doctoral student in Judy Berman’s lab, was recently awarded the Bernard N. Fields Prize in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in recognition of her dissertation work at Harvard Medical School.

Susan Weller, professor of entomology and interim director of the Bell Museum of Natural History, has been named the museum’s director. Weller, the first female director in the museum’s 136-year history, is internationally recognized for her research on the evolution of butterflies and moths, and will be one of only three women researchers leading U.S. university-based natural history museums.

The November issue of Dutch popular science and technology magazine Quest Braintainment features a photomicrograph image by Tracy Anderson (Imaging Center) alongside an article on how structures in nature inspire inventions such as Velcro.


CBS senior reception

Graduating CBS students are invited to a special reception sponsored by the CBS Dean’s Office. Students will receive their senior gift and have a chance to meet with a CBS advisor and staff from the Career Center for Science and the Health Careers Center.

DETAILS: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank campus | November 21 | 3 p.m.


Itasca centennial calendar

Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories turns 100 in 2009. Help support a legacy of ecological research and education by purchasing a centennial calendar. Each month features an image of Itasca’s unique flora and fauna, from orchids to water lilies to woodcocks. Photos were taken by Don Rubbelke, long-time Itasca photography instructor. The calendar is available to order online or in U bookstores.

College news | Research | People | Events | FYI