Frontiers - Spring 1999

From the dean

The College of Biological Sciences is doing extremely well in several areas. We are attracting highly talented and motivated undergraduates. Our student numbers are increasing more rapidly than those of any other college at the University. We taught proportionally more freshman seminars last fall than any other college. We are the University's fourth largest fiscal operation in terms of research funding. The biological sciences reorganization is official. And national searches for two department heads are underway.

In addition, I am pleased to report significant progress on the University's molecular and cellular biology initiative.

  • A team of internal and external scientists has reviewed proposals for new faculty hires to support the initiative. Proposals from 11 departments in 6 colleges were received in December for 48 positions; up to 24 could be filled at the assistant professor level. Searches will be authorized in late April.
  • Renovation of Snyder Hall and Gortner Lab began in February and will result in a "biotechnology mall" that offers research support facilities including the Mass Spectrometry Center, Imaging Center, and Biological Process Technology Institute.
  • I, along with Medical School dean Al Michael, heads of the affected departments, and user groups, have been working with architects Perkins & Will on design of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building. Construction will begin in the fall.
  • We have proposed that a Plant and Microbial Genomics Center be built on the St. Paul campus. The University administration supports this proposal and has requested funding for planning and design. Pre-design began in February.

The proposed building will help the initiative move forward with its focus: functional genomics. Functional genomics is a new research area that is predicted to revolutionize biology, medicine, and agriculture in the next century. It involves looking at the genome—the complete set of tens of thousands of genes—genescoen organism during its development and interactions with its environment to discern which genes do what. By studying the genes of simple organisms with simple genomes, scientists can extrapolate their findings to the same genes shared by other species. Possible applications include producing fruit that can be stored unrefrigerated for long periods; creating crops that are resistant to drought, insects, fungi, bacteria, and even herbicides; and preventing or correcting birth defects.

While the new Molecular and Cellular Biology Building in Minneapolis will focus primarily on basic research with applications in human health and medicine, the proposed Center for Plant and Microbial Genomics in St. Paul—the location of the University's plant biologists, horticulturists, agronomists, natural resources faculty, greenhouses, and experimental fields —will be the focal point for basic research with agricultural, plant and animal health, and environmental applications.

Supporting this building and the research it will house ensures not only the University's future on the cutting edge of biology, but also the success of Minnesota's agricultural economy in the next millennium. I hope that in the near future I will be able to report that we have funding for planning and design of the building and support for the continued success of the initiative.

Robert Elde
Dean, College of Biological Sciences

Gold from Gombe

U researchers mine new information on chimp behavior from 38 years' worth of data

By Deane Morrison

In 1972 Anne Pusey arrived at Tanzania's Gombe Stream Reserve to study its wild chimpanzees, with a focus on young chimps, under the direction of Jane Goodall. Newly graduated from Oxford University, Pusey quickly took to the rough terrain of Gombe, where three geographically separate groups of chimps lived. But as she followed the chimps, a particular behavior struck her more than any other. And it wasn't what the youngsters were doing.

"What grabbed me was that the females were moving around," says Pusey, now a professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University. "I saw females getting up and leaving. I saw them coming into new groups and being chased by other females."

Why a female would leave her birth group for another, especially when she faced such a hostile reception, intrigued Pusey. As she later showed, many female chimps migrate to new groups, while males stay put an unusual pattern among mammals. But what Pusey found even more unusual was the fact that some females broke the pattern and didn't leave. Why some and not others?

For more than 25 years, Pusey has been tackling difficult questions like that one. Studying chimps isn't only fascinating, she says, but of crucial importance because they are humanity's closest living relative.

"By understanding their behavior and comparing it to that of other apes and of humans, we can reconstruct what the common ancestor was probably like," she says. "We can then identify the changes that occurred during human evolution. We can also study the context and reasons for such phenomena as cooperation between males in territoriality, tool use, hunting, and meat sharing, which are already present in chimps but became elaborated during human evolution."

Among the Gombe chimps, Pusey observed a complex social structure.

"In chimps, males form stable groups based on kinship," she says. "But females are less social." Besides noting the tendency of young females to leave their home groups, she documented how, at puberty, males would leave their mothers to join the adult males in their group. The males would compete for females, but they regularly put their differences aside to patrol the boundaries of their range and chase off interlopers. But after many years these interactions took a new turn.

"I was there when two groups of male chimps made war," Pusey says. "These were chimps that had been friendly in the past, but that had gradually split into two groups. Each group would patrol the edge of its range, and if they encountered a single male from the other group, the chimps would cooperate to hold him down and bite him until he was mortally wounded."

Many male chimps also regularly beat up females in what appear to be unprovoked attacks. One hypothesis, says Pusey, is that the males try to intimidate females so they'll be receptive to their attackers when they next come into estrus. Unfortunately, because females are not very social, they take their lumps alone, with no protective male or band of fellow females to fight off the assailant.

"It's really quite awful," says Pusey. "I wouldn't want to be a female chimp."

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, PUSEY PERSUADED Jane Goodall to ship her records of the Gombe chimps all 38 years' worth -- to the University. The huge volume of records now resides in the Ecology Building, a decidedly less humid and more secure spot than Goodall's house in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where many of the records had been kept. The records are housed in the Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies, jointly founded by Pusey and Goodall. Twenty years of data have already been transferred to a computer database; transfer of the remainder will keep Pusey and her students occupied for several more years.

The Gombe data have already borne fruit. In August 1997 Pusey's graduate student Jennifer Williams, along with Pusey and Goodall, discovered from the data that female chimps have dominance hierarchies and that the higher rankers enjoy greater reproductive success.

"We're the first to show an effect of rank on anything in the lives of female chimps," says Pusey. Rank in females had been hard to detect, mainly because females aren't very social. But by analyzing all the recorded pant-grunts -- a chimp sound signaling submission -- between females from 1970 to 1992, the three researchers were able to assign each chimp to high, middle, or low rank. By every measure, the top chimps did better at producing and rearing offspring.

The work raises plenty more questions, among them, Why do females have rank hierarchies in the first place? Unlike other social primates, female chimps feed alone most of the time -- but perhaps they compete for the best ranges, says Pusey. Or, high-ranking females may get first access to the best food when the females do meet. Also, more work is needed to find out how females achieve their rank, especially when they leave their mothers' group for a new one, as half the Gombe females do.

In other parts of Africa, about 90 percent of females migrate, Pusey says, so she wants to understand why so many Gombe females stay in their home groups. One factor may be that because Gombe is small and isolated, there are few new groups females can reach. Therefore, they may fail to find males that suit them. Yet, because males stay put, females must migrate or risk inbreeding.

A complicating factor is the long life span of chimps, which may stretch for 50 years. That makes long-term studies the only way to gather enough data to see clear patterns. At this point, says Pusey, there are data on 20 females that have grown up in the Gombe study community, so researchers can begin to look for patterns.

"We can show that females that leave take longer to produce their first surviving baby," she says. "We also know that if females stay and their mothers are still alive, they share their range, so there might be some advantage to cooperating with their mothers to keep a good core area. Several females that stayed had very high-ranking mothers, but other females have left despite having high-ranking mothers that were still alive. Probably several factors are involved, and we need data on more females."

Female competition, says Pusey, may explain an especially fascinating behavior: the habit of some females of snatching and eating other chimps' infants. The behavior cropped up recently, when three females tried to get twins born to a chimp named Gremlin. They failed, but in the 1970s a mother-daughter team, Passion and Pom, succeeded several times.

"Jane Goodall looked in the records and saw there had been unexplained infant disappearances even before that," says Pusey. She says one hypothesis to explain infanticide is that the killers may improve their access to food by removing a rival's infant.

Protecting access to food may also play a part in the tendency of males patrolling the borders of their territory to attack not only intruding males, but intruding females -- provided the females aren't in breeding condition.

"At first people were puzzled, because these females could be thought of as potential mates," says Pusey. "Now we think the males are defending a long-term feeding territory for their resident females, thus improving their reproductive success. When the community's range is larger, resident females reproduce faster."

PUSEY AND HER GRADUATE STUDENTS are using the Gombe records, along with fresh field data and DNA analysis, to tackle some of the most intriguing questions about chimp behavior. Examining DNA from intestinal cells present in feces, Julie Constable is beginning to sort out paternity of chimps, a task that has always been difficult because of the promiscuity of females. If paternity lineages can be traced, researchers can begin to answer such questions as whether the highest ranking males actually father the most children. Amanda Vinson is doing a similar study with baboon DNA.

Another graduate student, Ian Gilby, asks why male chimps share meat with other chimps when they kill a monkey or other small animal. Such sharing may be a way of trading favors or buying affection from females -- or maybe just a way to get competitors to leave them alone so they can eat in peace.

Tool use fascinates Elizabeth Vinson, who is studying how infants learn to fish for termites with sticks. Termite fishing is unique to chimps, and its discovery at Gombe helped topple the idea that only humans use tools. Further, patterns of tool use vary between wild chimps in different areas. This, says Pusey, suggests protocultural behavior.

For Pusey, much of the joy of science comes from watching the next generation of students make their own discoveries and become excited about their work.

Above all, Pusey's work illustrates a primary characteristic of first-rate science: It raises more questions than it answers. But while she continues to search for answers to the big conundrums, she remains firmly grounded in -- and enthralled by -- daily life among chimps.

"It's one continuous soap opera," she says. "Chimps are intrinsically interesting."

Although Pusey now concentrates on chimps, she also spent 15 years studying the lions of the Serengeti in collaboration with Craig Packer, now a fellow professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University.

It's a jungle out there

Following wild animals in their natural habitat can bring the thrill of discovery, the pride of accomplishment, and the exhilaration of adventure. But nobody ever said it was easy. Here are two accounts of the vicissitudes of field work from graduate students in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.

KARYL WHITMAN studies lions, under the direction of Craig Packer, in the Maswa Game Reserve of northern Tanzania. Her nearest neighbors are three hours away by car; the nearest phone is six hours. In base camp, she lives in a large tent. Water comes from a local spring and must be boiled. She does laundry by packing a bucketful of clothes, water, and detergent in a vehicle and driving all day.

Speaking of vehicles, Whitman drives a Land Rover that breaks down frequently. A little duct tape and rubber tubing fixes most things, but often she must get help by radio from a mechanic who speaks only Swahili.

When in the field she sleeps in a pup tent, an object of curiosity for lions that come and sniff around at night. "You can lie in bed for four hours scared silly, or you can go back to sleep," she says.

Whitman has had a few close encounters with lions. Most memorable was one she had tranquilized in order to put on a radio collar. She was leaning across the lion, screwing down the collar, when the lion suddenly woke up. "I was airborne," says Whitman. The lion immediately fell back asleep.

Whitman has had malaria more than once, and although sleeping sickness isn't endemic in her study area, the tsetse flies are "horrid." About the size of horseflies, they have a painful bite. "You can easily have 30 to 50 on you at once," she says.

The payoffs include not only an intellectually interesting project, but star-studded nights punctuated by the roars of lions, the whooping of hyenas and the calling of leopards. And last but not least, "It'll be hard to give up the sunsets on the savannah."

DAWN KITCHEN has studied howler monkeys, under the direction of Anne Pusey, in the rainforest of Belize. She recorded the howls and played them back to monkeys in the treetops to observe their reactions. That meant keeping track of the mobile monkeys while hauling 20-pound speakers, a 40-pound amp, poles to mount the speakers, a 20-pound battery, and other equipment totaling 150 to 200 pounds. Her digital recorder tended to get damaged by humidity, and in a rainforest with monkeys that urinate without warning, there's plenty of it.

Another feature of the rainforest: treacherous footing comes from more than the terrain.

"Once I almost stepped on some mating fer-de-lances," says Kitchen. But she noticed them just in time. "I got a good picture. It's the only picture of mating pit vipers, at least this kind, that I've ever seen."

Bathing was done in the local river, but in the rainy season the river is swollen and dirty. And though the swimming area was safe, downriver belonged to some pretty dangerous crocodiles.

Sleeping in a thatched hut or tent, Kitchen became used to the parade of tarantulas, scorpions, snakes and sundry night crawlers. One morning, however, she forgot to shake out her boot before putting it on. Inside was a scorpion, which was squashed by her foot without doing any damage. "Scorpions won't kill you unless you're allergic," she says. "Only the roaches bother me."

As for Belize, Kitchen calls it a beautiful country.

"The Creole language sounds like music," she says. "I have built some of my most treasured friendships there."

by Deane Morrison

A fresh approach to freshmen

For the first time, the U offers small-group, faculty-led freshman seminars

By Geoff Gorvin

As summer was winding down in her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, Laura Brunner was gearing up to immerse herself in the genetics and cell biology program at the College of Biological Sciences (CBS).

She scheduled a quick, two-day trip to the University's Twin Cities campus in late August to register for classes, check out the campus, go through orientation, and start chipping away at the laundry list of details that incoming freshmen need to take care of before they plunge into their college education.

While poring over the class schedules and bulletins, Brunner zeroed in on a 15-credit load for fall quarter, starting with some dandies: chemistry, calculus, and freshman composition.

"That was 13 credits and I had a colloquium that was worth another credit, but I still needed one credit," Brunner recalls.

While going over some ideas with a CBS advisor, Brunner's eyes settled on a brochure called "Exploring Biology," a list of one-credit freshman seminars. In particular, she was interested in one of the genetics seminars, partly because of the subject matter, but also because the seminars involved small-group discussions with a professor.

"My other classes were really big," Brunner says, referring to the 300 students in chemistry and 150 in calculus. "I thought it would be nice to have a small class with a professor."

Brunner's not alone in that regard. In fact, University President Mark Yudof is in her corner when it comes to class sizes and faculty accessibility as they relate to the whole freshmen experience.

"I want the University to offer the highest-quality, most hands-on, most humane undergraduate education of any comparably sized public research university in America," Yudof wrote in a letter to the University community that was published in the University's student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, last fall. He went on to say, "The heart of the plan is seminars for every entering student. These small classes of up to 20 students, taught by faculty, emphasize classroom discussion and analytical writing."

Although the concept isn't a new one for CBS -- it has offered an "academic success" course for the last four years, targeted mainly at high-ability students from under-represented groups -- college administrators wasted no time setting up the seminars and organizing the faculty to teach them. Even the administrators got in the act: CBS dean Robert Elde helped teach one, as did assistant dean Kathryn Hanna.

"We wanted to set an example," says Hanna, who was instrumental in forming the CBS freshman seminar program. "I was really curious about how this would work, and unless you're doing it, it's hard to get a handle on it."

Hanna cites research results showing that freshmen have a better chance of success in college if they have contact with faculty -- preferably one-on-one contact -- early in their college careers. That, the research says, improves freshmen retention, makes the university experience more personal, and helps reduce a widely held perception that freshman-faculty contact is unheard of at large universities.

Hanna teamed up with Pete Snustad, professor of genetics and cell biology, to teach a seminar called "Genetics circa 1998: Dolly, DNA Chips, Gene Patents, Etceteras." Following a recommendation of CBS's curriculum committee, they chose to incorporate some student development instruction in with the biology material. That meant the first half of each two-hour class was led by Hanna, who talked about how-to issues such as note-taking, studying, using the library, test-taking, voting, and money management. Snustad led the second hour and focused on specific genetics topics.

"The highlight of the seminar for me was interacting with some bright, highly motivated students and watching them discuss complex and controversial biological topics," Snustad says. "Another highlight was bringing in [two experts]. It's always fun to watch students interact with experts in their fields of interest."

Snustad's students, he says, excelled in the science materials but also enjoyed the student-development issues discussed by Hanna, who gave the class a list of topics early in the quarter and let them pick the ones they wanted to pursue.

"A lot of these students, in high school, were getting A's and B's," Hanna says. "Now, they're competing with other students for those A's and B's; sometimes it's a rude awakening. Sometimes, students in high school had it easy -- but they get to college and they have trouble, especially with the sciences.

"That's why we did a lot with study skills. One of the major adjustments -- with their peers -- is that the bar's been raised. That's in addition to the social encounters, like roommates you may not get along with, or peer pressure to study or not."

One of Hanna's vocal opponents to getting instruction on how to use the library was Brunner. "I complained about it at the time because I thought I could just go to the library and learn how to use it by myself. But when I look back, I'm glad we did it. We learned how to use the library, access the Internet, and find books. It was great."

Brunner also was one of the students who accompanied Hanna for an optional class trip to the Mixed Blood Theater for a production called The Gene Pool.

"I enjoyed the play," Hanna says. "It covered a LOT of social issues, but I tried to show that the arts are important to science. About half the class went, and seemed to enjoy it, too."

Although the seminars received a host of kudos from students, they weren't perfect. The main complaint was that they required too much work for one credit, a point that Hanna finds difficult to argue against. The classes met once a week for two hours, and the class led by Hanna and Snustad required a weekly writing assignment, a term paper at the end of the quarter, and a presentation. "That was the only thing I didn't like," Brunner says.

But for Brunner, the positives far outweighed the negatives. One of the things she appreciated was that her term paper was corrected by a professor (Snustad) instead of a teaching assistant. "I really liked the fact that I got a professor's feedback on my term paper, that a genetics professor read it and critiqued it," she says.

Hanna is quick to point out that the seminars varied greatly. Not all of them had such a strong student development component, for example. That's because CBS let the faculty decide what the course focus would be. "We'll tally up the student evaluations but we'll still leave it up to the faculty to determine exactly what they're going to teach next year," Hanna says.

About 10 percent of the CBS faculty participated in this first year of freshman seminars, Hanna says. "We had a handful who stepped forward and thought this was a really good idea," she says. "It was a self-selecting process."

Snustad, however, was one of the faculty members who taught a course not because he wanted to, but because he was expected to.

"I was serving as a partial interim department head of genetics and cell biology and was attending a department head meeting when the issue of freshman seminars first surfaced. Yudof, Elde, and other administrators decided to lead by example and offer seminars themselves. So I felt some pressure to participate."

That feeling of pressure soon gave way to enthusiasm. "Student participation was phenomenal, exceeding my expectations by a wide margin," Snustad says. "They did an excellent job; sometimes we had trouble preventing two or three people from speaking at the same time. They had some great ideas and they shared them freely with the class. In that respect, the class was a lot of fun."

Hanna agrees, from both sides of the classroom. "I think the word is out there that it was enjoyable," she says.

In fact, one class -- the one taught by Dean Elde and biochemistry professor Norma Allewell -- found it enjoyable enough that they voted to keep meeting once a quarter for as long as possible.

CBS offered six freshman seminars in the fall and one each in winter and spring quarters. Next year, Hanna expects to offer 15 freshman seminars and possibly 30 the following year.

"Next year's goal is to have a seminar for every freshman who wants one," she says, adding that 150 CBS freshmen took freshman seminars this year. "The target is 225 freshmen next fall."

And whether those freshmen are from Fairbanks, Alaska, or Fairmont, Minn., they'll stand a better chance of succeeding at the University of Minnesota because of the small-group seminars that give them an opportunity to get to know professors -- and each other.

Animal (and plant) house

College of Biological Sciences (CBS) administrators know what incoming freshmen are up against. One day they're living in the comfort of a family setting and the next they're plopped down in the middle of the Twin Cities with thousands of other students and an army of faculty members who, at times, can seem larger than life. It can be overwhelming for your average high school graduate.

In an effort to make life a little easier for them and, along the way, improve their chances of success at the University, CBS created Biology House, a haven for CBS freshmen who live, study, socialize, and, hopefully, succeed together.

First, a clarification: Biology House isn't really a house. It's a block of 20 two-person rooms in Frontier Hall, part of the "superblock" of residence halls on the Minneapolis campus, where the vast majority of freshman classes are taught.

Now in its second year, Biology House offers a few structured activities for the students, but its primary role is to help build a sense of community for them, says program coordinator Melissa Weber. "We hope to develop the sense of a small school and the sense of attention to the residents."

To do that, Biology House offered a weekend retreat last fall at the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station at Itasca State Park for bonding and general goofing off. About half the students went, but it was such a hit that a fund-raising effort is underway for a return trip in the spring.

The other activities aren't nearly as involved as the Itasca trip, but they're just as important, according to the Biology House residents. Among the most popular activities are the faculty dinners. Twice a quarter, the students select a faculty member to invite for dinner in Frontier Hall's lounge. "Sometimes, students think a professor is someone we can't talk to, so for them to come here and eat dorm food with us is amazing," says Jenny Jeske, who lived in Biology House last year and returned this year as the resident mentor. "I know now that I can talk to a bioscience professor, and I can say hi and be on a first-name basis. That's important."

Other activities on this year's Biology House docket are a CBS alumni dinner and field trips to the University's Raptor Center, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the University's Bell Museum of Natural History.

But structured activities are just a small part of the Biology House experience, says Will Marean, a microbiology freshman from Wisconsin. The heart and soul of Biology House, he says, are the relationships formed between students and the opportunities they have to help each other academically.

"It's everything I expected it to be," Marean says. "It's helped equally with both the social aspect and academics. A lot of us socialize together, and about 10 of us guys have a separate clique. It seems like we do everything together."

Study groups are a familiar sight around the Biology House, says Marnie Taylor, a pre-med freshman from Pine River who serves as Biology House president. "We're basically all taking the same classes, so we can help each other instead of having to rely on TAs."

Study groups were commonplace last year, too, and Jeske says she still sees a lot of her fellow Biology House alums studying, eating, and hanging out together on campus. "I still study with the same people. I see them in classes and around campus. I'll see them all four years, which is great."

Jeske cherishes her memories from last year, as part of the first Biology House class, but she admits that this year's Biology House has benefited greatly from the trials and tribulations of last year.

"Last year was the stepping stone," Jeske says. "There were people living in Frontier Hall who didn't even know that there was a Biology House. But involvement is much higher this year, and the input from students helped a lot."

Weber agrees. "I coordinated and planned most of the events last year, but it helps to have the students plan the events. I can guess, but it's better if it comes from them.

"There's a stronger sense of community all the way around."

by Geoff Gorvin


The magic of mushrooms

U plant biologists unearth mysteries of fungi in forests

For some people, mushrooms are evocative of fairies and other mythological creatures. "They're almost magical," says David McLaughlin, a plant biology professor and curator of fungi for the University's herbarium. "They can suddenly appear almost overnight." But for McLaughlin, the lure of mushrooms is their importance to the real world. "They're mysterious mostly because they haven't been well studied," he says, "yet they are a critical environmental indicator of a forest's health."

Mushrooms can be classified into three categories based on their relationship to other plants. There are decay-causing mushrooms, which are essential to forest ecosystems because they recycle dead matter into nutrients for new growth; parasitic mushrooms, which threaten and sometimes destroy the life of the host plant; and mycorrhizal mushrooms, which bond with a plant's root system, extracting nutrients from the plant while helping its host absorb nutrients from the soil.

"Mycorrhizal mushrooms form a distinctive structure around the root of the tree, which acts as a protective, absorptive, and sometimes disease-repelling agent," says McLaughlin. "They can actually serve as a bridge between the root systems of different types of trees, bringing nutrients to smaller, shaded trees that might not otherwise stand a chance of developing." In fact, the relationship can be so interdependent that trees thrive only in the presence of a particular species of mycorrhizal mushroom.

The importance of mycorrhizal mushrooms to the survival of trees makes them a key indicator of forest health, says McLaughlin. He points out that dramatic declines in these mushrooms throughout Europe over the last 20 years have been attributed to air pollution and agricultural runoff. And just as the number and diversity of Europe's mycorrhizal mushrooms have declined, so have its forests.

That led McLaughlin to look at Minnesota forests. For the past 10 years, he has worked to establish baseline data on mycorrhizal mushroom diversity in the old-growth and mature (100 years old) red pine forests and hardwood conifer forests of northern Minnesota. Armed with knives, collecting baskets, and paper bags, McLaughlin and his students sometimes travel miles into a forest in search of samples. Closer to the Twin Cities, at CBS's Cedar Creek Natural History Area in Bethel, McLaughlin has begun to look at mycorrhizal mushroom activity both above and beneath the forest floor. Because mycorrhizal mushrooms don't always fruit -- or produce a mushroom -- above ground, tracking them gets tricky. McLaughlin and his students must drill deep underground, into a tree's root system, to extract specimens -- which can vary in color from brilliant yellow to bright, electric blue.

Despite the difficulties, McLaughlin and his students have found a startlingly high level of diversity of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the red pine and northern hardwood-conifer forests they studied -- more than 300 species when the expectation had been 25 to 50 per forest type, based on reports from the eastern U.S. and Europe. About half these species have never before been recorded in Minnesota. But more importantly, the researchers noticed that some species are restricted to old-growth forests and some to mature forests -- suggesting the importance of maintaining forests of different ages in order to maintain biodiversity.

While Minnesota's mushroom population appears healthy, McLaughlin sees the disappearance of Europe's mushrooms as a warning. "We don't understand fully what these fungi do, nor do we know all the mushrooms that are here yet. If we wipe them out, or allow them to die off, we may lose our forests forever."

by Nina Shepherd

Renaissance woman

For College of Biological Sciences (CBS) senior Katherine Himes, variety is more than the spice of life: it seems to be a key ingredient to her success.

When Himes came to the University in 1995, she had two goals: studying German and going to medical school. Himes says she earned a minor in German and even contemplated majoring in engineering before she discovered the CBS neuroscience program. She will graduate -- after only four years -- in the second class of neuroscience students this June.

"I can't believe it's almost done," she says.

Academic work is important to Himes, a winner of the Biological Sciences Alumni Society (BSAS) Merit Scholarship. Yet it has only been one part of her college career. She has volunteered at Fairview-University and Fairview-Riverside hospitals, played violin in musicals and with the campus orchestra, and cross-country skied for four years with the University's team.

Himes says she's always led a busy life, but she's learned to manage her time well -- studying during van rides to ski practice and orchestra rehearsal breaks.

In addition to taking four courses this quarter, she is teaching a lab section of the undergraduate animal biology course. Although preparing for class can be time-consuming, Himes enjoys her job.

"It doesn't feel like work," she says. "I like doing it."

Himes is also tackling her own research project to fulfill the college's graduation requirement. She designed and conducted her own experiment to learn how human vision works because she thinks current theories are incomplete. Many students assist professors with small parts of bigger research projects, but Himes chose to be the primary investigator to gain hands-on experience, which she says is more enjoyable even if it means doing more work.

In April, she will present her findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Rochester in upstate New York.

"I'm excited to see Niagara Falls," Himes says.

Her travels have not been limited to her research. Last summer, Himes bicycled in the AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago, and she has run in Grandma's Marathon from Duluth to Two Harbors, Minnesota -- and intends to run it again in the future.

Himes will travel to Canada with the cross-country ski team for a 24-hour relay race later this spring, and she hopes to qualify for the national collegiate competition in Mammoth Mountain, California. She would also like to do a winter triathlon.

After she graduates, Himes plans to go to medical school to become a pediatrician or a rural physician. She has applied to the University's Twin Cities and Duluth medical schools, as well as Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and Chicago Medical School.

by Amy Olson

CBS News


Four CBS faculty members were inducted into the University's Academy of Distinguished Teachers January 19. Members of the Academy will serve as mentors for new faculty; as consultants on teaching improvement; as spokespersons for teaching at the University; or as advisors to the chancellors, provost, and president. The University initiated the Academy this year with a cohort of teachers drawn from previous winners of the Morse-Alumni Award. CBS members are: John S. Anderson of the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics; David D. Biesboer of the Department of Plant Biology; William P. Cunningham of the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development (GCD); and Willard L. Koukkari of the Department of Plant Biology.

Regents Professor Margaret Davis of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (EEB) is one of the first recipients of the University's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Post-Baccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education. As part of the award, Davis will be inducted into the new Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Richard Phillips, EEB professor, was chosen one of five University recipients of the first annual Mortar Board Outstanding Professor Award by the University chapter of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society.

Anne Pusey, EEB professor, is a recipient of the 1999 Distinguished McKnight University Professorship, which recognizes and rewards the University's most outstanding mid-career faculty.


Norma Allewell, vice provost for research and graduate/professional education and professor of biochemistry, was named associate vice president for sponsored programs and technology licensing at Harvard University, starting in January 1999. Allewell helped establish the new molecular and cellular biology initiative and played a major role in the University's recent reorganization of the biological sciences. She headed CBS's biochemistry department from 1991 to 1995.

Regents Professor Eville Gorham of EEB retired December 31, 1998. At a symposium in his honor November 7, Gorham received a declaration signed by Governor Arne Carlson in appreciation for his service to the University and the state.

Award-winning milk researcher Robert Jenness died October 29, 1998, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at age 81. He was a faculty member in biochemistry from 1940 to 1984, when he retired and moved to New Mexico. Jenness received the Borden Award for Chemistry of Milk in 1953 and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Dairy Science Association in 1986. He coauthored the textbook Principles of Dairy Chemistry and helped develop powdered milk for the military during World War II. He is survived by his wife, Katherine, and three sons: Douglas, Ian, and David.

Field ornithologist David Freeland Parmelee died in Las Vegas, Nevada, December 16, 1998, of cancer at age 76. He was a faculty member in EEB and director of the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station from 1970 until 1986, then was a professor and curator of ornithology in the Bell Museum of Natural History until his retirement from the University in 1992. He went on to become the research curator of ornithology at the Barrick Museum of Natural History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was active in the field and in his writing and art until a month before his death. He is survived by his wife, Jean, and daughter, Helen.

Doris Rubenstein is now working full time on projects related to the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station. She can be reached at 612-624-3279. Until a new development officer is appointed, please contact Julie Ulrich, CBS Dean's Office, at 612-624-4770 for information on gifts and pledges. In the interim, for matters pertaining to alumni, please contact Jean Marie Lindquist, CBS Dean's Office, at 612-624-1763.

Judd Sheridan returned to CBS in January. He worked at the University from 1961 to 1987 in numerous roles, including associate professor of zoology, professor of genetics and cell biology, professor of cell biology and neuroanatomy, and associate dean for research in the Graduate School. Most recently, he was executive director of the Graduate Record Examinations Program of the Educational Testing Service. He splits his time between research with Ross Johnson of GCD and working on special projects as an assistant to the dean.


CBS's General Biology Program is now offering its multimedia software package free to everyone in the world. Previously, it was available free only to Minnesota educational institutions. The software has two components. UGather is a database manager that allows users to collect, store, preview, and organize digitized images. Users can then load that information into UPresent, a presentation manager. Both applications are available on the Web at

Surgery strikes a chord

Professional guitarist José Morales was intrigued when a family friend offered to let him watch routine surgery on a woman with a peptic ulcer. But when the surgery revealed that the patient had stomach cancer -- and the procedure turned into a lifesaving, 14-hour struggle -- Morales was inspired.

"It was quite impressive," he says. "I was thinking, man, this is really amazing, all this stuff you can do."

That experience led Morales to return to college in hopes of becoming a doctor. He moved closer to that goal when, as a sophomore at the University of Puerto Rico, he was chosen to participate in the 1997 Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs (LSSURP).

LSSURP is a competitive 10-week program that pairs up about 100 undergraduates from colleges around the U.S. with University of Minnesota life sciences faculty mentors who have similar research interests. Run by the College of Biological Sciences (CBS), it aims to prepare students for graduate school and help them learn what university research is like.

Morales worked with biochemistry professor Norma Allewell, researching genetic mutations in a liver enzyme that can cause excess ammonia in the blood -- leading to brain damage, coma, or even death.

"It was awesome how much I learned by doing biomedical research," he says. "It has given me the opportunity to envision a future as a physician."

Morales returned to LSSURP the following summer to continue working with Allewell and her postdoc, Hiroki Morizono, both of whom he credits with motivating and inspiring him to transfer to the University -- which he did last fall. He adds that they made him realize he should follow his instincts and expand both culturally and scholastically.

And he is doing just that. Now a CBS honors student majoring in neuroscience, he plans to work toward an M.D./Ph.D., specializing in general surgery. He is already at home in a hospital -- he volunteers at the Hennepin County Level 1 Trauma Center, doing everything from carrying patients, to changing linens, to interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients.

"I had this really weird experience last week," he says, "Taking a patient to the bathroom!"

Even though he plans on becoming a doctor, Morales hasn't given up his love for music. He still teaches guitar, and his guitar playing -- which took first place in the LSSURP talent show -- can be heard in venues around the Twin Cities.

by April Bartosh


From the president

I'm pleased to announce that BSAS, with help from the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, was able to bring together 25 pairs of CBS undergraduate students and alumni volunteers for a new mentoring program that kicked off in early January. This program will wrap up in May; we plan to begin next year's program in September and run it throughout the 1999-2000 academic year.

Read more about the revamped BSAS Alumni Mentor Program on the back cover; it may encourage you to think about volunteering your time to help a CBS student learn about careers in biology. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Paul Germscheid, CBS alumni relations coordinator, at 612-624-3752 or

As mentoring committee chair Mary Jo Lockbaum says, "Our program is based on the strength of our mentors." With your help, we can make this revitalized program even stronger.

Tom Skalbeck
President, Biological Sciences Alumni Society

Parmelee memorial

As a memorial for David Freeland Parmelee, retired Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior faculty member who died in December, CBS has set up an endowed summer scholarship at the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, with special consideration for students who have been active in the Biology Colloquium. If you wish to make a tax-deductible contribution to the David Freeland Parmelee Memorial Scholarship Fund, please write a check payable to the University of Minnesota Foundation. Note on the memo line that it is for the David Parmelee Fund and send to Development Office, College of Biological Sciences, 123 Snyder Hall, 1475 Gortner Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.

The way you were

If you've participated in the Itasca Field Sessions, please send us your memories of the experiences you had there. Itasca memories will be compiled in a book that CBS plans to publish in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station. Please send a paragraph or two to Doris Rubenstein, 123 Snyder Hall, 1475 Gortner Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.

Save these dates

"Itasca at 90: Field Stations at the Crossroads," a symposium in honor of the founding of the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, will be held Thursday, September 30, at the Earle Brown Center on the St. Paul campus. Speakers will include Dick Calabrese of the NSF and Emory University on the magic of field stations and Dave Tilman of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior on the importance of field stations in long-term ecological studies. The symposium kicks off the Itasca 90th Anniversary Weekend, October 1-3 at the Itasca station. For more information, contact Doris Rubenstein at 612-624-3279.

BSAS kicks off new alumni mentoring program

Nearly 30 undergraduates, alumni, and friends of CBS braved bad weather and worse traffic January 12 to attend a kickoff dinner for the new Biological Sciences Alumni Society (BSAS) mentoring program-and to meet their mentorship partners.

BSAS, working with the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA), adopted a new matchmaking technique this year: First they emailed students to get a list of those interested in having an alumni mentor. For each student, BSAS contacted alumni or friends of the college working in fields of interest to the student and asked if they would be willing to volunteer their time as mentors. With 25 student/mentor pairs, the program is off to a successful start.

Each pair is expected to meet at least once a month until the program wraps up in May. Aside from the meetings, "the mentoring relationship can be anything you want it to be," BSAS Mentoring Committee chair Mary Jo Lockbaum told the participants.

Though benefits to student participants are obvious, mentors have plenty to gain too, said Judy Anderson of UMAA. That includes introducing someone to a new area of knowledge; sharing your professional experiences and resources; giving back to students the mentoring experience you had; hearing about what's being taught now, since biology has changed so much in the past 20 years; reconnecting with your college; enhancing a student's experience; supporting the development of someone in your field; expanding your network of colleagues; and increasing your visibility in your field.

While mentors stand to gain from their experience, their willingness to help and commitment of time are laudable. "Thank you for taking the extra time to be a mentor," Lockbaum told the volunteers. "It means a lot to us and certainly to the students."

Carved in stone

A CBS grad is called in to verify a fossilized find

by Jennifer Amie

David Dilcher began his career in paleobotany as a University of Minnesota undergraduate cutting coal balls (petrified plant specimens) for 90 cents an hour. Forty years later, he's still slicing up fossils -- and has unearthed a remarkable treasure. Last fall Dilcher, now a professor at the University of Florida and paleobotanist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, teamed up with Chinese scientists to investigate a peculiar plant fossil discovered in northeast China's Liaoning Province. The area's sedimentary rock is a wellspring of fossils, which provides a cottage industry for locals who mine the fossil beds and sell specimens to researchers.

This rich lode was the source of a single, unusual plant fossil that caught the eye of Ge Sun and Shaoling Zheng of Nanjing's Institute of Geology and Paleontology last year. The fossil's slender twigs support a series of tiny pods -- suggesting it might be an angiosperm, or flowering plant. The specimen was dated at 142 million years old; if it proved to be a flowering plant, it would pre-date the oldest known angiosperm by 27 million years.

Sun contacted Dilcher for his opinion of the find, sending faxes and photos and eventually bringing the fossil itself to Dilcher's Florida lab. At first, Dilcher was both hopeful and skeptical. "I was worried," he says. "I thought it might not be a flowering plant. We had to demonstrate that it was." The proof came in the form of a second incredible discovery. When the researchers cracked open the pods, out popped a mummified seed. About twice the size of the head of a pin, the tiny seeds had not turned to stone. "I could see that the seeds were preserved inside these fruits," says Dilcher. "That was the key. Only flowering plants have seeds enclosed in fruit." Not only had the researchers found the oldest known flowering plant, they had the oldest organic seeds. Dilcher is quick to point out, however, that they cannot grow the seeds or extract DNA from them. "That may be for the next version of Jurassic Park," he jokes. Hollywood hasn't called Dilcher yet, but he and his colleagues have made the pages of Newsweek, The New York Times, Science, and the Guinness Book of World Records following their discovery.

Microscopic examination revealed that the rudimentary angiosperm, though it was decidedly a flowering plant, had no flowers. "When petals fall off [a plant] they leave a scar, so we looked to see whether there were any scars where these organs had been attached. We found none, which means that this was a flowering plant before there were petals," says Dilcher. "What it shows is that the structures of flowers began in a very simple way and some of the parts that make them beautiful and attractive today were add-ons to the basic structure of the enclosed seeds."

Although Dilcher's specimen is the oldest angiosperm scientists have found, that doesn't mean it's the first. "I think it's an ongoing search," he says. "I've been looking for the first flower in the world for 15 years. If I were actually to find it, then what would I do? We find one, but we are always asking ourselves -- are there others?"

Dilcher's inquisitive spirit has roots at the University, where he earned a B.S. in natural history in 1958 and an M.S. in botany, geology, and zoology in 1960 before going on to earn his Ph.D. from Yale in 1964. At Minnesota, Dilcher was an active member of the Biology Club and led the snare drum section of the football marching band for two years. He credits a dedicated botany professor, John Hall, with encouraging him pursue graduate studies.

Class notes

David Brink (Ph.D. '54) is a professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley.

Robert E. Holtz (M.S. '65) retired in October 1998 after 36 years in the biology department at Concordia University in St. Paul -- although he is still involved on a part-time basis. Holtz helped develop Concordia's biology program; he also organized its first Earth Day celebration, in 1970. During his retirement, he plans to go on bird-watching expeditions to Africa and South America and travel with his wife, Lois.

Jon Sanger (B.S. '61, M.S. '64, Ph.D. '68) is chair of the Department of Botany-Microbiology at Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio.

Thomas Brunelle (Ph.D. '68) has left retirement to become president and CEO of the Sota Tec Fund, a technology fund sponsored by the Blandin Foundation.

George Bolton (B.S. '72, M.S. '76, Ph.D. '79) is a partner in Zabolotny Laboratories, a biotechnology firm in Welches, Ore.

Andrew Klemer (Ph.D. '73) is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

Patrick Frenchick (B.S. '75) is director of immunology and delivery systems for Endorex Corp. in Lake Forest, Ill. Pat holds three U.S. patents.

Karen Hansen (B.S. '76) is a records administrator for American Express Financial Advisors in Minneapolis.

Peggy Wheelock (B.S. '77, Ph.D. '83) is a professor in the biology department at the University of Toledo, Ohio.

Gordon MacFarlane (B.S. '79, Ph.D. '94) is a scientist at DiaSorin Inc. in Stillwater, Minn.

Keith Johnson (Ph.D. '83) is a professor in the biology department at the University of Toledo, Ohio.

Richard Fuerstenberg (B.S. '84) is a scientist at DiaSorin Inc. in Stillwater, Minn.

Pamela Pietz (Ph.D. '84) is a scientist with the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, N.D.

Gregory Ferguson (B.S. '88) is completing a Ph.D. program in biochemistry at UCLA.

Will Schroeder (B.S. '88) is a senior research scientist at Cargill.

Larry Fontaine (B.S. '89) is marketing manager for Medtronic, Inc.

Pam Schultz (B.S. '90) is an assistant scientist in the plant biology department at the University of Minnesota.

Connie Stechmann Lebakken (B.S. '91) is a postdoc in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. Connie and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

Bina Vachhani (B.S. '91) is a scientist in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Minnesota.

Joanna Miller (B.S. '92, M.S. '96) is a middle school teacher in Bokeelia, Fla.

Gary Voelker (B.S. '92) is curator of ornithology at the Barrick Museum of Natural History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Steven Jacobsen (Ph.D. '93) is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at UCLA.

Christopher Jameson (B.S. '93) has completed his Peace Corps service in Niger and is enrolled in the M.S. program in biology at the University of Michigan.

Martha Phillips (Ph.D. '93) is a professor of biology at the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn.

Susann Remington (Ph.D. '93) is conducting research in ophthalmology at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.

Robert Agate (B.S. '95) is in the Ph.D. program in neuroscience at UCLA.

Nanette Pazdernik (Ph.D. '96) is a postdoc at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Ind.

Joshua Rhein (B.S. '97) is a technical specialist in assay development at DiaSorin Inc. in Stillwater, Minn.

Mervyn de Souza (Ph.D. '98) is a senior research scientist at Cargill.

J.J. Hahn (Ph.D. '98) is a senior research scientist at Cargill.

Todd Ladwig (B.S. '98) was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is going through flight training; upon completion, he will be designated a Naval Flight Officer.

Kelly Peterburs (B.S. '98) is part of the exam department staff at the Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis.

Thomas Teelin (B.S. '98) is an R&D science specialist at DiaSorin Inc. in Stillwater, Minn.

Otto J. Hill (Ph.D. '33) died on January 19 in Seattle, Wash. He was manager of the Feed Department of the Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association for more than 20 years and was a member of the University of Minnesota Presidents Club. He had been the oldest living alumnus of the College of Biological Sciences.