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November 2013

college news | research news | people | events


Itasca matching gift challenge a success

In early October, the college launched the Itasca matching gift challenge asking for 10 new $5,000 gifts by December 31 to be matched by a generous Itasca supporter. The goal was met in early November, putting the total contribution toward the college’s part of the cost of construction of the new campus center at $100,000. The center is currently under construction. Follow the progress at the Under Construction @ Itasca blog. A ribbon cutting event is scheduled for May 3.

College sets new fund drive participation record

CBS achieved an all-time high in participation in the U of M Community Fund Drive. The average rate of participation for the past nine years has fallen under 20 percent. This year, it reached 26.5 percent. CBS faculty and staff made $24,520 in contributions. Lisa Murillo (PBIO) served as lead volunteer for the college.

Fall 2013 BIO is online

Read about an award from Science for Foundations of Biology’s hands-on approach to education, an ambitious plan to study biodiversity from above at Cedar Creek, and more in the latest edition of BIO.

Looking for updates about the potential new college? Go to the CBS-CFANS Provost’s Advisory Task Force website.

Also of interest…

The message in microbes

New faculty member Ran Blekhman’s research points to a correlation between the human genome and microbiomes that may shed light on chronic conditions.

New Itasca scholarship

Itasca supporter Max Quaas and his wife Linda established the Red-Shouldered Hawk Scholarship at Itasca with a $25,000 gift to the U of M Foundation.

2013 SEED winner

Amanuel Zewdie, a double major in Biochemistry and Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, has received a 2013 Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity Award.


Found: A key piece of the biological complexity puzzle

Nature Communications | 11.1.13

William Ratcliff and Michael Travisano (EEB) have advanced understanding of how biological complexity evolved by using experimental evolution to transform a single-celled algae into a multicellular one that reproduces by dispersing single cells. This has big implications for how multicellular complexity might arise in nature, because it shows that this key trait, which opens the door to evolving greater multicellular complexity, can evolve rapidly, the researchers said. Two years ago they made international news when they evolved multicellularity in yeast. This work takes those findings further by initiating multicellularity in an organism that has never had a multicellular ancestor and provides a new hypothesis for the evolutionary origins of the single-cell bottleneck in multicellular life cycles.

Research shows how mechanism helps tumor cells resist anti-cancer drugs

PLoS Genetics|10.3.13

Graduate student Katherine Furniss (MCDB&G graduate program) was lead author of a recent article in PLoS Genetics revealing how tumor cells protect themselves from certain anti-cancer drugs. Several major classes of anti-cancer drugs kill tumor cells by binding to the enzyme DNA topoisomerase II, but at the same time, cellular responses (checkpoints) are activated that protect the tumor cells. How checkpoint activation occurs under circumstances of topoisomerase II perturbation is not well understood. Furniss and colleagues show that a novel checkpoint mechanism directly monitors the enzyme reaction cycle of topoisomerase II. This is the first example of a checkpoint mechanism that directly monitors specific steps of the catalytic cycle of a single enzyme. Co-authors include Hung-Ji Tsai, Andrew Lane, Amit Vas and Wei-Shan Hsu and Professor Duncan Clarke (GCD).

How nature keeps prospective (blue jay) suitors honest

Proceedings of the Royal Society B | 11.13.13

Signaling is a behavioral term for the ways animals communicate. For example, a male bird might use loud song to indicate its fitness and attract a mate. Honest signaling presents a biological puzzle. Signalers often benefit from deception, so why should they be honest? The idea that signal costs maintain honesty (commonly called the handicap principle) has been a central focus in the study of animal signals for nearly 40 years. Many studies have shown that animal signals are costly (meaning they use energy or other resources). But scientists have lacked evidence showing a link between cost and honesty. If all male birds could produce the same signals, females would be unable to distinguish quality mates; however, only the best mates have the resources to do so. Using an experimental signaling game involving blue jays, Timothy Polnaszek and David Stephens (EEB) present the first direct experimental evidence showing that signal costs stabilize honesty. The results have important implications for the ways in which scientists study animal communication.

Analysis of imprinted genes in maize provides new insight on imprinting

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | 11.11.13

A new study reports the most comprehensive set of imprinted genes to date in flowering plants. Amanda Waters, a graduate student in the lab of Nathan Springer (PBIO), and colleagues identified 169 imprinted genes which allowed for an in-depth analysis of the features associated with imprinted genes, rate of conservation of imprinting within maize and orthologs in rice, and potential selection pressures on imprinted genes. Using data from multiple genotypes, researchers were able to assess the consistency of patterns discovered in previous studies across the comprehensive set of imprinted genes. Their findings suggest that some of the ideas scientists had about imprinting do not hold when imprinting is assessed across the entire genome.  

NSF awards CBS/CFANS team $1.5 million grant to study plant microbial communities

Elizabeth Borer, Eric Seabloom and Georgianna May (EEB) and Linda Kinkel (Plant Pathology) have been awarded $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study responses of plant microbial communities to global environmental changes and to determine the potential role of microbes in plant productivity, knowledge that is needed to feed the world’s growing human population. The award is one of 10 new macrosystems biology grants announced by the NSF. The goal of the program is to better detect, understand and predict the effects of climate and land-use change on organisms and ecosystems at regional to continental scales.

Ruth Shaw wins $700K NSF grant for the genetics of adaptation

A population’s genetic variance determines its ability to adapt to its environment. But differences in environmental conditions between generations can impede adaptation. And over time, natural selection can deplete genetic variation and prevent further adaptation. While these principles are widely accepted, they have never been fully implemented to predict the adaptation rate for any population. The National Science Foundation has awarded Ruth Shaw (EEB) $700,000 to test these assumptions in three populations of an annual plant (Chamaecrista fasciculata or the partridge pea) in each of three years. This research will establish a basis for predicting rates of ongoing adaptation. Beyond their fundamental importance, adaptation rates are important in the context of rapidly changing climate. This research will inform policy and efforts directed toward conservation of natural populations. Additionally, the project will help develop scientific capability for the future by engaging students and postdoctoral researchers.

Opportunity in ecological stoichiometry for post-docs, Ph.D. students

Postdoctoral and advanced Ph.D. students interested in ecological stoichiometry are invited to submit applications for Woodstoich 2014, a five-day workshop in Sydney, Australia. The goal of Woodstoich 2014 is to attract early-career scientists interested in synthesizing or exploring promising connections between ecological stoichiometry and nutritional geometry, or the connections between either of these and other major ecological or evolutionary theories. Application deadline is February 16, 2014.


Rachel Soble, a CBS undergraduate majoring in microbiology, has received an American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship. The highly competitive fellowship supports students who plan to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology. Soble is working in the Gralnick lab.

CBS undergraduates Emily Ellingson, Desmond Cariveau, Brittany Eich and Carly Dahl were chosen to participate in the highly selective Tom Burnett Advanced Leadership Program, an advanced leadership development program focused on identifying and nurturing future leaders. Only 15 University of Minnesota students are chosen each year.

Daniel Kretzschmar in the Gammill lab was awarded a National Institutes of Health Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship.

Nikki Letawsky Shultz and Meaghan Stein presented “Leadership Education as a Tool to Increase Retention and Graduation of Biological Sciences Students” at the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Transforming STEM Education conference in San Diego, CA earlier this month.

Chad Ellsworth (Student Services) presented “It's Time To Choose a Major, How Does That Make You Feel? Integrating Wellness into Major/Career Exploration” and “Capturing the Heroic Imagination: Embracing Pop Culture as a Student Development Tool” at the MCPA Fall Conference in Rochester, MN.

The following Student Services staff members presented at the NASPA IV-E conference in Skokie, IL in early November: Katie Russell and Kristin Economos - “Ready Set Launch! Preparing Students for the Post-College Transition”; Suzi Pyawasay and Katie Russell - "Have You Been Framed?: The White Racial Frame and Student Affairs”; Kristin Economos and Stefanie Wiesneski - “Think Fast: Engaging in Critical Reflection”; and Lisa Novack and Katie Russell - “Developing Leadership Through Reflection and Meaning-Making.”


November 19

Sex on Six Legs: Insect Behavior, Evolutionary Biology and Sexual Selection

Professor Marlene Zuk will talk about her research (and the topic of her latest book) at the next Cafe Scientifique hosted by the Bell Museum of Natural History. The evolutionary biologist will offer an account of the social behavior (and yes, the sex lives) of ants, crickets, bees, and other insects, illuminating the fact that many of the things we think of as setting humans apart - personality, learning, language - aren't so extraordinary after all.

7 p.m. | Bryant Lake Bowl | Tickets: $5-$12 | More information

December 2

College of Brewological Sciences

Now enrolling! Sign up for the College of Brewological Sciences for a hands-on lesson in “beerology” with fellow alums, faculty, grad students and friends December 2 at 612 Brew in Northeast Minneapolis. Space is limited.

5:30-8 p.m. | 612 Brew | register for the event
TICKETS:  $20 students | $25 UMAA members | $30 general public

BLINK: Life sciences seminars at the U of M