Frontiers - Fall 1998

From the dean

Cloned sheep and deformed frogs are headline news. The value of biodiversity to ecosystems is increasingly recognized worldwide. The public is looking to biological research to deliver cures for inherited diseases, more productive crops, better disease-fighting drugs, and new organisms that can destroy pollutants. All in all, these are exciting times for biology.

That is especially true at the University of Minnesota, where new developments have converged to place the biological sciences in the limelight.

Our most notable achievement: The reorganization of the biological sciences has moved from talk to action. In November 1995, the University's declining reputation in the biological sciences moved then-President Nils Hasselmo to charge a committee to examine the problem. Now, three years of effort by faculty and administrators in several colleges have paid off with the formation of four new departments. Some of these new departments are mergers, some are partnerships, but all will bring together faculty with related research interests faculty who until recently may not have even been aware of each other's research to team up to tackle problems from several angles. Read about the reorganization in depth in this issue.

Another major boost for biology at the University is President Yudof's choice and the Minnesota Legislature's support of molecular and cellular biology as a key investment area to advance the University into the nation's top 10 research institutions. As part of that initiative, renovations of Snyder Hall and Gortner Lab in St. Paul slated to begin next fall and to be completed in early 2000-will make critical research equipment and expertise more accessible to University researchers and the emerging biotech industry. On the Minneapolis campus, planning is well underway for the new Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, which will offer state-of-the-art research and instructional labs and a collaborative environment for researchers and students. Meanwhile, our departments are beginning the process of recruiting outstanding new faculty who will help boost the University's rankings in biology.

A September review of the molecular and cellular biology initiative by a team of well-respected external scientists concluded that the University's reorganization of biological sciences, plus our wide range of professional disciplines in biology, places us in a unique position to capitalize on the emerging "post-genomics era" in biology. With funding from the initiative, we plan to do just that.

Finally, I am pleased to report that this fall, in its second year as a freshman-admitting college, the College of Biological Sciences attracted the most highly qualified applicants of any college at the University. We have enrolled a class of 205 high-ability, well-prepared freshmen. At the same time, we welcome our first cohort of students to the new, multi-college master's program in biological sciences.

With so much happening in the college, and in biological sciences in general, we felt that a new vehicle was needed to keep you alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and friends apprised. This is it. I welcome you to the inaugural issue of Frontiers, the magazine of the College of Biological Sciences.

Robert Elde
Dean, College of Biological Sciences

After 15 million years, Sleeping Beauty awakes

U researchers have reconstructed a once-defunct fish gene that opens doors to better gene therapy and new methods of genetic research

by Deane Morrison

Most cells are like children: They won't swallow anything they don't like. Sugarcoating usually does the trick with children, but scientists trying to get genes into cells let alone into chromosomes must resort to subterfuges like hiding the gene in a virus that infects the target cells. Viral infections are risky, but without a transport vehicle for genetic material, scientists have little hope of replacing defective genes with good ones or modifying chromosomes in other ways that will reveal how the genetic machinery works.

Now, a new vehicle is coming off the assembly line, thanks to Perry Hackett, a professor in the Department of Genetics and Cell Biology, and his colleagues. It's called Sleeping Beauty because it represents a "reawakening" of a once defunct fish gene that had lain dormant for about 15 million years.

"We have to have a system to deliver genes to cells," says Hackett. "We believe we've developed a nonviral system to enhance integration of foreign genes into human chromosomes. It may be an alternative to using viruses." Hackett developed Sleeping Beauty with collaborators Zsuzsanna Izsvk and Zoltn Ivics.

In beginning the work, Hackett asked whether the chromosomes of fish possessed anything like certain DNA sequences found in simple animals like worms and flies. Known as transposable elements, or transposons, those elements can hop from one chromosome to another. They do it by directing cells to make a special enzyme that cuts the transposon free and moves it to a new chromosomal address. But studies of vertebrates had never yielded such functional DNA sequences only remnants of elements that were active many millions of years ago.

Examining the genetic makeup of many species of fish, Hackett's group found recurring patterns of DNA that looked enough like known transposons albeit heavily mutated and nonfunctional transposons that they felt confident they could make what they were looking for. The researchers used statistical methods to figure out which of those patterns were probably part of the ancient, functioning fish transposon and, through a process that essentially turned back the evolutionary clock, used them to construct a new one, which Izsvk named Sleeping Beauty.

To test the system, they stitched genes for antibiotic resistance into the transposon and treated cells of zebrafish (a common experimental animal for geneticists) and humans. Sure enough, the genes were transferred and cells acquired antibiotic resistance, a sign that Sleeping Beauty had delivered its cargo. The first known vertebrate transposon was born.

Sleeping Beauty has garnered Hackett a lot of attention in the year since he published an account of it. Yet he came to the study of fish genetics reluctantly about 13 years ago, when he was persuaded by Tony Faras, then head of the Medical School's Institute of Human Genetics, and Kevin Guise of the animal science department. Guise and Faras announced they were going to genetically engineer fish to grow bigger for sport fishing and aquaculture purposes and asked for Hackett's help.

"Kevin and Tony told me this would be my chance to explain to my parents just exactly what I was doing," Hackett says. He joined on, with Anne Kapuscinski of the fisheries and wildlife department as the project head. Working with walleye, northern pike, salmon, and trout, the team managed to produce some bigger fish. But the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board issued rules that effectively prevented the fish from being kept in outdoor facilities, and Hackett decided it was time to get out of the aquaculture business. By 1996 the last of the "superfish" were gone.

One spinoff from the project remained: molecular genetics in zebrafish.

Although genetic engineering of commercial fish seemed out of the question, genetically engineered zebrafish weren't seen as an ecological threat, says Hackett. Therefore, zebrafish made an appealing organism for work aimed at improving the study of fish genetics. Zebrafish were brought into the aquaculture project because they spawn much more frequently than local sport fish and so more quickly display the results of genetic engineering. They proved valuable for all sorts of genetic research and so were chosen for the Sleeping Beauty work.

Sleeping Beauty may someday see a variety of uses. For example, it could help in determining what genes do. That would work as follows: If the transposon inserts itself into the DNA of an animal, it might land in the middle of a gene and inactivate the gene, causing a defect. By locating Sleeping Beauty in DNA from the animal, researchers could remove the inactivated gene for further study. Meanwhile, the nature of the defect would give a clue as to what function the disrupted gene normally performed. Sleeping Beauty may also one day be used for gene therapy, in which healthy genes are delivered to cells with genetic defects as a means to cure disease or birth defects.

Several other University researchers are collaborating with Hackett to further develop the Sleeping Beauty system. Steve Ekker, a developmental biologist in the biochemistry department, is working with Hackett to improve Sleeping Beauty and use it to discover the function of genes involved in embryonic development. David Largaespada, a 1986 CBS graduate and assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology, wants to use it to identify genes that suppress the development of cancerous tumors.

Scott McIvor, director of the University's Gene Therapy Program, is testing the system's ability to transfer genes to cells of bone marrow, lung, and liver. "It could be a way of efficiently introducing new therapeutic genes without viruses," he says. Clifford Steer and Mendel Tuchman in the Medical School are also collaborating in determining the efficacy of the transposon system for human gene therapy.

As the transposon undergoes more study and refinement, its potential uses are bound to multiply. Certainly Hackett has his work cut out for him. And there'll be no rest for Sleeping Beauty.

Ekker, Hackett, Largaespada, and McIvor will all be faculty of the new Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development effective July 1, 1999.

A change will do U good

Biological sciences at the University regroup to make collaboration easier and boost biology rankings

by Deane Morrison

For years College of Biological Sciences (CBS) professor Ross Johnson has taken the campus bus from St. Paul to Minneapolis, where he collaborates with colleagues in the Medical School. On many trips he has carried petri dishes full of fragile cells incurring risks not only of spillage and contamination, but of disrupting cells used to a constant warm incubation temperature and a 5 percent carbon dioxide atmosphere. And in winter, when footing is icy, the risks skyrocket.

"It would be so much easier to just walk down the hall," says Johnson.

Help is on the way. On October 9, 1998, the University's Board of Regents approved a sweeping reorganization of biological sciences aimed at removing barriers to cross-college collaborations like Johnson's. The move combines departments in CBS and the Medical School to eliminate duplication, creates a new department of neuroscience in the Medical School, and strengthens plant biology, which will remain a joint department of CBS and the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences (COAFES).

Three years in the making, the reorganization was spearheaded by CBS dean Robert Elde. It aims to increase the University's national standing in biology and allow it to take full advantage of predicted upswings in federal and state funding for biology. The reorganization also positions the University to make best use of the influx of resources brought about by University president Mark Yudof's initiative in cellular and molecular biology one of five areas he has targeted for strengthening.

The major elements of the restructuring:

  • Faculty from the CBS genetics and cell biology department and several Medical School departments, including cell biology and neuroanatomy, combined to form the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development (GCD). Also, the biochemistry departments of the two schools have merged into the new Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics (BMBB). Office and laboratory space remains for the most part unassigned, but many faculty in these joint departments will be housed in the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, which will be built on the site now occupied by Millard Hall, Owre Hall, and Lyon Laboratories in Minneapolis and is scheduled for completion in three years. Department heads of GCD and BMBB will report to both the CBS dean and the Medical School dean.

  • Faculty from a number of Medical School departments have come together to form a new Department of Neuroscience.

  • The Department of Plant Biology, administered jointly by CBS and COAFES, will receive the faculty and funding "to become a major player in plant genomics," according to its head, Steve Gantt.

The reorganization has come none too soon. Disciplines like molecular biology, genetics, and biotechnology have seen explosive advances and growth over the last few decades, and, while many universities changed with the times, "we spent the early '80s fighting instead of restructuring," Elde says. He cites the University's loss of former faculty member Paul Boyer, who recently won the Nobel Prize for his role in figuring out the workings of the enzyme ATP synthase, as a case in point.

"Boyer left here because the University wouldn't embrace his vision by hiring in the area of molecular biology," says Elde. Boyer went to UCLA and founded an institute devoted to molecular biology; in the 25 years since, that institute has seen 18 of its faculty members elected to the National Academy of Sciences and three awarded Nobel Prizes. Meanwhile, molecular biology at the University of Minnesota has slipped in the National Research Council rankings. In 1983, biochemistry ranked 28th, but in the 1995 rankings, biochemistry and molecular biology ranked 39th. And the University has yet to see a sitting faculty member win a Nobel.

But Elde is optimistic those rankings will go up, as is Medical School dean Alfred Michael, who along with former COAFES dean Michael Martin helped shaped the reorganization. Both Elde and Michael say the reorganization is on sound footing because the major push came from faculty. And a major driving force was the desire to be near colleagues.

"So much easier"
Ross Johnson, who will be part of GCD, will see less of the campus bus and be nearer fellow developmental biologists in the Medical School when he moves to the new Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology. But he also looks forward to being near University neuroscientists, whom he sees as natural colleagues. Johnson studies membrane channels that connect embryonic cells and allow them to communicate with each other. Similarly, many neuroscientists study membrane channels in nerve cells that allow nerve-to-nerve communication. In both cases, cells that can "talk" to each other can coordinate their activities.

Another faculty member who'll be joining GCD is Ann Rougvie, who says she looks forward to moving to the institute, where she'll be closer to researchers who study human and other mammalian development. Rougvie studies the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which possesses many genes that share similar structure and common ancestry with human genes, especially those specifying the basic front-back, up-down, and left-right axes that define our bodies.

"The reorganization will bring people who work with mammalian and human systems together with people who work on invertebrate model organisms," she says. "In C. elegans, much of the work is in identifying important genes. Then human geneticists can look for similar genes. "Also, I teach an undergraduate course in developmental biology, so the more I learn about what my colleagues are doing, the broader a base I have for teaching my course."

CBS biochemistry professor Victor Bloomfield, an early proponent of reorganization, sees advantages to his impending move to Minneapolis, as well. A biophysicist, Bloomfield studies the forces that condense chromosomes, a necessary step in making virus particles or preparing for cell division. The condensation occurs with incredible speed and efficiency, akin to "two football fields of garden hose collapsing to the size of a small table."

"Moving will give me closer access to the supercomputer facilities in the Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering building," says Bloomfield. "Also, I'll be closer to people in chemistry and physics."

While all this may make it sound as though CBS is packing its bags for a wholesale migration to Minneapolis, reorganization will simply make the college a two-campus entity once again. The expanding plant biology department will remain firmly rooted in St. Paul, where both CBS and COAFES are based. And CBS' Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior largely unaffected by the reorganization because of its already high rankings and its collaborations with other St. Paul-based colleges will remain in its new digs on the St. Paul campus.

New challenges
Now that the new departments are in place, they face new challenges. Charles Louis, professor of veterinary pathobiology, will head BMBB. His department comes studded with stellar senior faculty but could use some more junior faculty.

"We have about 40 faculty, but only one tenure-track assistant professor," Louis says. "We need to very rapidly replenish our junior ranks." Happily, funds have been committed to do just that, plus hire several more outstanding senior faculty. All in all, Louis hopes to boost the junior ranks with 8 to 10 new hires over the next three years.

BMBB faculty also must find ways to maintain cohesion despite being housed in three buildings on two campuses. When the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology is completed, about half the faculty will be housed there. The rest will reside in Gortner Lab in St. Paul and the Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering building in Minneapolis. Louis says it will take a special commitment of faculty, staff, students, and administrators to build and maintain a departmental identity despite the geographical split, but he's optimistic the new structure will work.

New GCD department head Tony Faras, formerly head of the Institute of Human Genetics, faces a similar situation. He, too, heads a department with relatively few junior faculty and has similar commitments of funds to hire both junior and senior faculty. But he's confident that the reorganization, plus new faculty recruits, will allow GCD to get the job done.

"We should be able to take this ball and run with it," he says. "I hope we can be like Berkeley in 10 years."

Medical School faculty face a different challenge: many of them will soon be teaching undergraduates for the first time. This, says Elde, will be good for faculty who are used to teaching medical students and fielding mostly clinically oriented questions. In neuroscience, it's already happening; the faculty is entering its second year of teaching CBS undergraduates.

Timothy Ebner, a professor of physiology and neurosurgery, is leading the effort to form the new neuroscience department.

"Now that we're a department, we can make strategic decisions in faculty hires to strengthen neuroscience as a discipline," says Ebner. "It's hard to do if your discipline is scattered among several departments."

With reorganization official, Elde can look at the fragmented state of biological sciences as a thing of the past. "Before, the whole was less than the sum of its parts," he says. "But now, the whole will be greater."

A change did them good

Back in the early '90s, the biology faculty at UCLA realized they were working at cross purposes: Eleven Ph.D. programs five in the College of Letters and Science (CLS), five in the Medical School, and one interdepartmental program were competing for the same graduate students. So they talked things over and agreed to a joint recruitment mechanism. In the area of cellular and molecular biosciences, for example, the faculty created 12 or 13 areas of inquiry called affinity groups, none of whose names corresponded to the name of a department. This brought together about 160 faculty across departmental lines in such areas as "developmental biology" and "mechanisms of pathogenesis."

"That was the beginning of a different way of thinking," says Fred Eiserling, the life sciences dean in CLS. Eiserling credits UCLA faculty member David Meyer for bringing about the affinity group structure. Now new graduate students in cellular and molecular biology are treated to "affinity fairs," in which faculty members hold forth on what's hot in their areas of research. The students also go on retreats with faculty, where they hear more about who's doing what in preparation for choosing a faculty advisor. Perhaps best of all, though, the students form bonds with each other that seem to last over the years and across departmental boundaries.

UCLA also consolidated undergraduate biology programs, says Eiserling. Biology's seven major fields all had slightly different requirements in math, chemistry, and physics; Eiserling got the requirements standardized for all majors and also spearheaded a move to require the same four core biology courses in each major field. Now in its third year, the standard curriculum is bringing together faculty from different departments. An interdepartmental committee decides on teaching assignments in the core courses, further loosening the boundaries between departments.

Once the various departments had come together for the sake of students, they started looking at coming together administratively. CLS and the Medical School each had a microbiology department; their faculty voted to combine graduate programs. A complete merger is still in the works, and the faculty are running the show.

The merger has meant that some medical faculty are teaching undergraduates for the first time-an experience they often, but not always, find refreshing, says Eiserling.

"Medical school instruction must follow defined pathways, with the medical board exams in mind," he says. "But undergraduate teaching can be much freer ranging. The chair of our combined microbiology department teaches immunology to undergraduates, and she finds it very stimulating."

The two units have also begun sharing faculty positions, and some departments notably psychology (in CLS) and neurobiology (in the Medical School) have jointly recruited.

Because these changes were instigated by the faculty with enthusiastic support from Eiserling and Gerald Levey, the provost of medical sciences and dean of the Medical School, Eiserling is optimistic that the new structure will last. He says the restructuring was done to help recruit the best biology graduate students, to strengthen the basic science programs, and to save money by streamlining the administrative structure. Raising the National Research Council rankings was not a driving force (all UCLA biology programs rank in the top 20), but Eiserling hopes they will rise in the 2003 report. The Medical School and CLS are also building new basic science facilities that will house faculty from different departments.

One failure was the attempt to merge the physiological science and neurobiology departments, but both departments are now working to set up an interdepartmental Ph.D. program in physiology. Also, the three biochemistry programs/departments at UCLA have yet to merge. But who knows maybe as the new buildings come into service, new faculty alliances will make it happen.

by Deane Morrison

A feast for the senses

Making it easier to learn and teach the basics of biology, multimedia has become an agent of mass instruction

by Geoff Gorvin

Erica Brown sat down for her first day of General Biology 1009 last spring and quickly realized that something wasn't quite right. Surrounded by about 400 other students in a Willey Hall lecture auditorium, she wondered how the professor could teach biology to that many students with nothing more than a computer and a huge screen hanging behind him. No chalkboard. No overhead projector. No plastic models. Nothing she would describe as typical teaching aids.

"I was pretty skeptical to begin with," says Brown, now a sophomore studying genetics and cell biology. "I wasn't sure how well the course would go."

But her skepticism faded fast as the teacher started lecturing with support from a dazzling array of animations, graphics, text, video clips, and photographs projected on the screen behind him. While his students watched, he even jumped in and out of the World Wide Web to bolster the lesson.

The turning point for Brown, though, was during a discussion on active transport, she recalls. "He was showing how carrier molecules on a cell membrane wall bring molecules from outside the membrane wall in. It was animated and showed every step and part of the process. And he could freeze it at any point to talk about that step. It was great.

"I loved it. I loved the fact that it was a projector and the Internet and a computer, and that I didn't have to figure out someone's handwriting," she says. "It's 100 percent better than using overheads and chalkboards. It made it a lot easier for me to understand the concepts."

That's the kind of feedback her teacher, Rick Peifer, likes to hear. Peifer and Bruce Fall, assistants to the director of the College of Biological Sciences' General Biology Program, have spent over 15 years developing the ultimate learning experience for some 3,500 students each year who take General Biology 1009 or 1201 to satisfy either a core or major requirement.

But they also had faculty in mind when they designed the program. The dozen or so faculty members who teach General Biology have access to a library of more than 8,000 digitized images that can be added to, shuffled in, or deleted from a lecture sequence with easy drag-and-click computer software.

Now, instead of fumbling with dozens of overhead transparencies showing one-dimensional drawings, General Biology teachers can quickly drag and click the computer mouse to display a three-dimensional, rotating image. Instead of scratching notes on a chalkboard, they can zip through a series of pull-down menus to project short blocks of text on the screen that can be read and copied easily by the whole class. Instead of demonstrating with hand-held plastic models that only students in the front rows can see, faculty can click to show an animated chemical reaction, for example.

"It's been proven many times that students grasp concepts better with the help of visual images," Peifer says. "They remember more, and it helps you to actually convince people about biology."

The multimedia equipment isn't just reserved for lectures. It's also installed in labs, where students can revisit material covered in class and view new material presented by the teaching assistants. And some lecture outlines and study guides are available on the Web, so students can review them before or after class. Also on the General Biology website is the Biology Library, a long list of sites with related information.

But General Biology hasn't always been such a technological marvel and feast for the senses. Back when Peifer was hired in 1977, the class was nicknamed "TV Biology." It was held in the same huge lecture halls, but instead of a being led by a professor using multimedia, the lectures were merely videos of professors lecturing.

"I kind of enjoyed them," says Jeff Tate, who took the course in 1976 and eventually earned a doctorate in plant physiology. He is now associate director of CBS' Biological Process Technology Institute. "You could do things with film and props and location that you can't do in a lecture hall. I remember [Professor] Norman Kerr did a lecture from a boat in the middle of a lake. He did another one using Play-Doh."

From a student's standpoint, Tate says, the video lectures were nice because they were shown several times a week, so students could fit one into their schedules and could even watch one more than once. And from a teaching assistant standpoint (Tate was a T.A. from 1980 to '85), he knew exactly what had been discussed during the lectures; there was consistency from one lecture to the next.

"It was extremely predictable, and the films were pretty good; they weren't home movies," he says.

Claire Kari was less enthusiastic about the video lectures. "It was a nightmare," she says. Kari took the course in 1968 and remembers quite vividly how awkward the professors looked on screen and how distracting that was.

"The TV would really magnify their idiosyncrasies," says Kari, an assistant scientist in the Department of Genetics and Cell Biology. "And you never got used to the professor because you had a different one each lecture. It was flat and very two dimensional."

Peifer, obviously, agrees with Kari. He was hired to help redesign the General Biology lab program but he also saw some big problems with the lectures. "I felt that the students deserved better," Peifer says. "They deserved a physical body that they could interact with."

Using a computer, a laserdisc player, and a projector, Peifer developed software to tie the hardware together and run some simple programs to display graphics and animation on a screen. "My dream was to lecture and pull up animation and graphics to explain concepts so students could grasp them easily and quickly. I knew technology was heading in that direction, and I wanted to get ahead of it."

While he was working on the software, he was also recruiting faculty members to buy into the new approach. Eventually, enough were sold on the idea that the new program was unveiled on a trial basis for one quarter in 1979. "It just took one quarter for everyone to realize that TV should be replaced with lectures," Peifer says.

Selling the faculty on the new program was critical to its success, he says. To accomplish that, the program offers them unparalleled support. That comes not only from General Biology Program staff but also from graduate students who help faculty with the software, image library, and lecture format in what Peifer calls "reverse mentoring."

It didn't take long for the faculty to hop on board. "There was trepidation on the faculty's part at first because some of us went at it vigorously," Peifer says. "But they saw the value in the program and how they can personalize their lectures easily. The bottom line is that all faculty now use it for lectures." With 35 sections of General Biology 1009 and 26 sections of General Biology 1201 this fall, the lectures are taught by faculty from all four departments of CBS and from related areas like horticulture and agriculture.

Eventually with more grant money and more equipment; with much help and collaboration from faculty, staff, students, and the General Biology Advisory Board; and with the introduction of the World Wide Web the program developed into what it is today: An easy and effective way of teaching to the masses.

General Biology software goes public

Rick Peifer is taking the General Biology multimedia show on the road.

It's out there on the Web: by visiting the General Biology software download site, Minnesota educational institutions can download the software free. The cost is $15 for everyone else.

The multimedia package has two components. UGather is database management software that allows users to collect, store, preview, and organize any number of digitized images (text, photos, graphics, video, audio, etc.) using simple drag-and-drop technology. They can then load that information into UPresent, easy-to-use presentation management software that helps users script a presentation or even run several, moving seamlessly among them. Both applications were designed by Peifer and Kyle Hammond, a programmer in the General Biology Program.

With legislative funding, Peifer and his colleagues also have been sharing this and other multimedia technology in workshops for K-12 educators throughout Minnesota. At the end of the workshops, educators return to their schools with images from General Biology's image library and $11,000 worth of equipment. In return, the schools must commit to providing Internet access and faculty time to use this technology.

UGather and UPresent have already been used throughout the world and soon can be found on 13 "Newton's Apple" CD-ROMs published by Twin Cities Public Television. Available January 1, the CD-ROMs will be targeted at middle school teachers and students. Teachers can use UGather and UPresent to create classroom presentations, while students can use them for activities and to produce reports. The CD-ROMs will cover topics like rockets and gravity, electricity, domed stadiums, sports, physics, and health.

by Geoff Gorvin

Scholar profile

This Brownian motion is far from random

Staying busy seems to be the key to success for Erica Brown, a sophomore majoring in genetics and cell biology.

To graduate in four years and prepare for next fall's switch to the semester system, Brown is taking full class loads each quarter and trying to finish her sequence classes like organic chemistry. This quarter she is studying organic chemistry and its accompanying lab, statistics, American government, and tennis for a total of 17 credits.

Tennis will be a break from Brown's rigorous academic schedule. "It will be a change and it's a good way to stay active," she says.

Staying active doesn't seem to be a problem for Brown, who finds time to work in the University's plant disease clinic; tutor students in math, chemistry, and biology; and serve as a Health Advocate in Bailey Hall, the St. Paul residence hall where she lives.

As a Health Advocate, trained through the University's Boynton Health Service, Brown is able to offer basic medical advice. Students have come to her with everything from the common cold to a broken bone. Health Advocacy is also a window into the medical world, which she hopes to enter someday by attending medical school, possibly at the University. If she gets her M.D., she wants to use her knowledge in genetics to become an oncologist.

But her future plans are not set in stone. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," she says.

Brown is a second-time recipient of the Biological Sciences Alumni Society (BSAS) Merit Scholarship, a one-year, $1,000 award that recognizes academic achievement.

"It's a sizable award," Brown says, adding, "Every little bit helps."

by Amy Olson

College News


John Beatty, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (EEB), was named one of five recipients of the University's 1998 Morse-Alumni Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.

Regents Professor Margaret Davis of EEB received the Botanical Society of America's 1998 Merit Award for outstanding contributions to the botanical sciences. Davis was honored for her fundamental contribution in quantifying modern and fossil pollen abundances and relating them to present and past vegetation types.

Robert McKinnell, professor in the Department of Genetics and Cell Biology, received the Prince Hitachi Prize for Comparative Oncology in Tokyo, Japan, on May 27. The prize, conferred by Japan's Prince Hitachi, recognizes influential figures in cancer research. McKinnell, who had shown that herpes viruses can be linked to certain types of cancer, gave his acceptance speech in Japanese.

EEB has reason to be proud: The September/October issue of Science Watch, a journal published by the Institute for Scientific Information, reported that the University of Minnesota ranks first in the country in scholarly impact in the category ecology/environment for the five-year period 1993 to 1997.

University of Minnesota plant scientists were extraordinarily successful in the competition for research grants from the National Science Foundation's recently launched Plant Genome Initiative. CBS grant winners include John Doebley, professor in the Department of Plant Biology (evolutionary genomics of maize, $5.8 million), along with Steve Gantt, interim head of the Department of Plant Biology; Nevin Young, director of the Plant Molecular Genetics Institute; and others (genomics of the model legume,Medicago truncatula, $3.4 million; a functional genomics program for soybeans, $4.4 million).


John Anderson, professor in the Department of Biochemistry, is the new director of the General Biology Program, replacing John Beatty of EEB.

Tony Faras, formerly director of the Institute for Human Genetics, became head of the newly forming Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, effective July 1, 1998. The department is official as of November 1, 1998.

CBS celebrated Regents Professor Eville Gorham's 36 years at the University with a symposium in his honor in November. Gorham (EEB) retires at the end of 1998.

Charles Louis, formerly assistant vice president for research and associate dean of the Graduate School, became head of the newly forming Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, effective July 1, 1998. The department is official as of November 1, 1998.

Patrice Morrow stepped down as head of EEB September 30. Robert Sterner is serving as interim head. The college launched national searches for new department heads of both EEB and Plant Biology (Steve Gantt is interim head) in October.

Several new faculty have joined CBS in the past year. They are James Cotner (EEB), Antony Dean (Biological Process Technology Institute and EEB), Sarah Hobbie (EEB), Michael O'Connor (Genetics and Cell Biology), and David Stephens (EEB).


The 808 freshmen applicants to CBS in fall 1998 had the highest qualifications of applicants to any college at the U. CBS started off this school year with 205 registered freshmen.

The first class of Master of Biological Sciences students is enrolled. Nineteen students are in the degree program, which is aimed at working professionals.


1998 CBS summer programs were resounding successes. A few examples:

  • The college's first hosting of the YouthALIVE! Institute on Microbiology received rave reviews. High school students and adult leaders representing science museums from all over the country devoted four days to exploring the wonders of microbes.

  • The High School Summer Science Research Program hosted 12 high-ability juniors from Twin Cities-area high schools, who completed their projects by presenting research posters.
  • More than 100 students from 65 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico including 38 students from under-represented minority groups spent an intensive 10 weeks in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs, including an orientation session at the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station.
  • The 1998 Itasca Field Biology Enrichment Program sent 12 high-ability high school students from across the state to a two-week residential field research program at the Itasca station.
  • With the Science Museum of Minnesota, CBS hosted two zoology camps targeted at children aged 8 to 12 from economically disadvantaged families.
  • Plant biology workshops taught elementary school teachers about plant biology, showed them teaching activities and resources, and helped them plan investigations for their students to conduct.
  • The General Biology Program offered multimedia workshops to Minnesota high school biology teachers to teach them how to use digital content and software as effective instructional tools, a goal of the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
  • Alison Boutin of Burnsville High School presented a poster on her research at the Second International Meeting on Phytolith Research in Aix-en-Provence, France, in August. She had been working with Robert Thompson of Plant Biology on maize phytoliths and genetics as part of REAP -- the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program, administered by the Minnesota Academy of Sciences.

News Briefs

With NSF and U of M funding, two new, state-of-the-art mass spectrometers will be added to Gortner Labs. These additions mean the Gortner facility -- slated for renovation beginning next fall -- will offer the most advanced mass spectrometry instrumentation available.

University president Mark Yudof visited the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station in July as part of his tours of Minnesota to learn more about the University and the state. After touring the station, Yudof is supportive of including improvements to the station in future capital requests to the legislature.

Dean Robert Elde traveled to Norway and Finland in August with a delegation that included Minnesota governor Arne Carlson, University president Mark Yudof, and Institute of Technology dean Ted Davis. The goal of the trip was to expand the University's leadership role in helping Minnesota develop an international strategy to support its economy. Joint research projects and student exchange programs are likely results.

Little things mean a lot

For high school junior Kirinda Anderson, microbes have a special significance.

"I never really thought about them before," she says. "I used to share drinks and lip gloss. Now when somebody asks, I tell them, 'No! There could be microbes!' and my friends say, 'There she goes with the microbes again.'"

Anderson, a student at Arlington Senior High School in St. Paul, was one of 51 teens from 13 science museums around the country to attend the week-long YouthALIVE! Institute on Microbiology at the University in August.

The conference was sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers' YouthALIVE! program, which encourages students from low-income families to study science.

Hosted by the College of Biological Sciences and the Science Museum of Minnesota, the conference was designed to prepare participants to explain microbial activities such as composting to visitors at their hometown science museums. University microbiologists spent two days of the conference teaching participants the basics of microbiology so they would understand why the activities work. Anderson and the other students examined various effects of microbes, including how bread rises and how cows are able to digest cellulose.

Anderson, who plans to become a high school science teacher or a psychiatrist, has worked at the Science Museum of Minnesota since she was 12 years old. Until last year, she volunteered in the museum's science center; at age 16, she became a field partner, working with full-time museum staff to do research and teach youth.

She enjoys making presentations to elementary school students through the museum's outreach programs. "It's fun to run into the kids on the street," she says. "I feel good when they remember me and the experiments we did. It makes me think, 'Hey, I taught somebody something! It sunk in!'"

Anderson and the Science Museum staff plan to incorporate some of the YouthALIVE! experiments into their workshops later this year.

by Amy Olson


From the president

Welcome to the alumni pages of Frontiers. This magazine, which replaces the CBS Alumni News, isn't the only thing that's new at the College of Biological Sciences this fall.

The school year has started with great promise. The more than 800 applicants for this year's class of incoming freshmen had the best credentials of any class applying to any college at the University. And, with the biological sciences reorganization taking place, opportunities to advance the role of CBS abound. I invite you to participate in this challenging environment as a member of the CBS alumni.

The college was a rich source of intellectual stimulation for us all as students. As alumni, we can continue to participate in the CBS community: providing professional contacts and sharing our experience with students as mentors, enjoying the wealth of social activity at the annual Biological Sciences Itasca Weekend and at Homecoming, networking with college friends, and interacting with new generations of students.

If you are not already a member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association and the Biological Sciences Alumni Society (BSAS), please consider joining. If you are a BSAS member, think about becoming more involved. BSAS committees offer several rewarding opportunities-such as planning the Itasca weekend, awarding scholarships, and working on the mentoring program. If you're interested in helping out, please call me (651-770-8295) or alumni relations director Paul Germscheid (612-624-3752). Your ideas on ways to participate in the college community are always welcome additions to the alumni program.

CBS has committed to a strong alumni program, in keeping with its new and exciting plans. Your involvement as an active alum is the key to continuing the success of the college we all enjoy.

Tom Skalbeck
President, Biological Sciences Alumni Society

A weekend at the lake

by Carol Gross (B.S. '69)

Friday afternoon as my daughter, Kara, and I headed for the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, the sky was gray and possible rain was predicted for Saturday and Sunday. In the hope that he could ensure good weather, MPR weatherman and U professor Mark Seeley had been invited to give the Saturday night talk. It worked: Saturday turned out bright and sunny.

Saturday morning, Kara and I squeezed in a canoe ride between breakfast and our first program. The water was still and the mist was rising as we paddled along the shore watching the sun come up over the trees.

We went straight from the canoe to "The Birds of Bear Paw Point," where Robert Zink from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior showed us study sites set up to monitor bird territories. We also did some bird-watching and set up a predator experiment where we set out nests containing a chicken egg and a clay egg. (Hypothesis: All chicken eggs would be gone by Sunday morning. Results: No chicken eggs were gone, but squirrels had attacked some of the clay eggs. Conclusion: A new hypothesis is needed!)

That afternoon I went to "Insect Mysteries," led by Susan Weller from the entomology department. As we explored the woods around the station looking for evidence of insects, we could hear the hammering and sawing of bluebird-house building from another program. Other activities were pontoon boat rides and the Dean's Reception with fireside socializing.

After dinner, Bell Museum of Natural History staff led kids on a dark walk through the woods while adults heard about "Distinguishing El Nino from El Nonsense." Then came marshmallows and songs around the campfire under a spectacular full moon.

Working my way down the evolutionary tree, I choose "Algae of the Lake Itasca Area," led by diatom expert David Czarnecki of Loras College for my last program on Sunday morning.

The weekend ended with door prizes, a raffle, the ever-popular kids' name tag contest, and an "antique" dining-hall chair sale. Then we all piled into our cars and headed for home and into the rain.

The 17th annual Biological Sciences Itasca Weekend was held October 2-4, 1998. As usual, it was full. Also as usual, it was fun for both adults and kids.

Collaring the telemetry market

Two grads build a successful business tracking birds, fish, animals -- even rocks and trees

by Geoff Gorvin

You'll never catch Dick Huempfner and Larry Kuechle complaining that their careers are boring. Every time the phone rings at Advanced Telemetry Systems (ATS), there's a good chance they'll have to dig deep into their creative and technical bag of tricks to develop new telemetry gadgetry.

ATS produces battery-operated transmitters that are either strapped onto or implanted into a critter to monitor its movements, habits, and habitat. The transmitters beam information to a satellite, which relays it to an ATS-manufactured receiver. The transmitters also measure things like air and water temperature, altitude, activity, and mortality-just about any information a researcher might need.

Founded 17 years ago by Huempfner and Kuechle (both University of Minnesota alums) and two others, ATS isn't just a manufacturing company-it's also a problem-solver.

"Twenty-five percent of the time callers don't know what they need, but they know what they want to accomplish," Huempfner says. "We go back and forth with the researchers to find just the right combination of materials."

Huempfner strolls into ATS' "museum," where he starts pulling transmitter-equipped collars out of plastic drawers. "Here's one we made for alligators in South America," he says. There are many more, for various creatures: porcupines, endangered foxes, Komodo dragons, cranes, wallabies. ATS has even made collars that measure 8.5 feet in circumference for elephants.

The smallest collar ATS makes weighs about 1 gram and can be fitted on a smolt (a five-inch salmon in transition from freshwater fish to saltwater fish). The transmitter's smaller than a pencil eraser and is strapped to the fish's back with a tiny piece of plastic tubing.

Fitting freshwater fish with transmitters makes up about half of ATS' business. Animals and birds make up the other half. But there's also a small percentage of miscellaneous uses, including rocks and trees. Companies track rocks around bridge footings to study the effects of flooding. And foresters use transmitters to help them find tree samples in parts of a forest that could be miles off the road and difficult to find.

Orders come from all over the world, which usually means research for ATS. "We once got an order for some collars to track squirrels in the Himalayan mountains," Huempfner recalls. "We found out those squirrels get to be four feet long."

Tracking technology has come a long way since 1968, when, as a graduate student assistant at the U, Huempfner worked on a project that involved tracking waterfowl using leg bands.

That same year, he met Kuechle, a 1964 electrical engineering grad who was directing radio tracking studies at CBS' Cedar Creek Natural History Area. Kuechle had immersed himself in developing the technology for radio tracking devices. "Radio tracking was moving along at a rate then like computers are now," says Huempfner.

During the '70s, Huempfner earned his master's degree in wildlife ecology and worked for several years on a mining study in Ely. He returned to the U in 1978 and for the next three years worked at Cedar Creek with Kuechle on telemetry research.

"We could see down the road that the research component would diminish. We didn't want to be 50 or 60 years old and be dead in the water, so to speak," Kuechle says. "So we split off. The timing was good from our point of view and from the University's."

Thus was born ATS, a venture between Kuechle, Huempfner, Ralph Schuster, and Richard Reichle, all of whom still actively run the Isanti-based company.

Huempfner and Kuechle relied on their contacts at the U to build their client base, and within five years they were able to move out of their 100-year-old farmhouse and into their current building, which measures 12,000 square feet and houses 37 employees.

ATS is one of the biggest employers in Isanti, and it's also one of the few telemetry companies in the world. In fact, there are only nine companies worldwide-six in the United States. "There are only two companies that we really compete with," Kuechle says.

"If it was easy, I guess everyone would do it."

Class notes

Robert C. Hodson (B.S. '59) is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Delaware.

Bryce Cunningham (Ph.D. '63) is president of Bio-Research Products, Inc., the principal U.S. supplier of enzymes for diagnostic kits of all kinds.

Robert Kaul (Ph.D. '64) is a professor of botany at the University of Nebraska.

David Swenson (B.S. '70) is H.H. Dow Professor of Chemistry at Saginaw Valley State College in Midland, Mich.

Marshall Howe (Ph.D. '72) is chief of the Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md.

Patricia Swain (M.S. '72, Ph.D. '79) is plant community ecologist for the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program in Westborough, Mass.

Judith McIntyre (Ph.D. '75) is a professor of biology at Utica College of Syracuse University. She recently was honored with Utica College's Distinguished Teaching Award. She also recently coauthored the Birds of North America account for red-throated loons.

Jimmy Winter (M.S. '70, Ph.D. '76) is director for science education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Peter Sadowski (Ph.D. '77) is vice president for product development at Medi-Ject Corp. in Plymouth, Minn.

Katherine M. Walstrom (B.S. '86) is an assistant professor of biology at New College of the University of South Florida in Sarasota.

Amy Birney (B.S. '87) has completed a master's in public health at Johns Hopkins University and currently is consulting on public health policy and health education in the Washington, D.C., area.

Eric Drier (B.S. '87) has completed a Ph.D. in molecular biology at Princeton University and is currently at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory studying learning and memory in Drosophila and mice.

Ruth Kern (B.S. '88) is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. She received her Ph.D. at Duke University.

Jeff Strohm (B.S. '88) left Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., after nine and a half years as a research scientist in the Microbial Process Development Department to enter Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., for an M.B.A. degree specializing in management consulting for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

Sara Guth Heggland (B.S. '90) is a professor of biology at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisc.

Andrew Hudak (B.S. '90) is a graduate student in ecology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. His research takes him to South Africa.

Jeffrey Carpenter (Ph.D. '91) is a licensing associate with the University of Minnesota Office of Research and Technology Transfer. He is charged with moving inventions developed on the St. Paul campus into the commercial sector.

Linda Daghestani (B.S. '92) has accepted a medical residency in ear, nose, and throat with Albert Einstein Medical School in New York City. Linda gave the class president's address at her U of M Medical School graduation, and celebrated later that day by marrying Darcy Dahl.

Beau (B.S. '92) and Judy (B.S. '92) Liddell recently moved to Redwood Falls, Minn., after Beau was appointed assistant area wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Judy is a laboratory clerk with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, Minn.

David Einzig (B.S. '93) is in Salt Lake City for a combined medical residency in pediatrics and psychiatry.

Virginia Card (Ph.D. '94) has accepted a professorial position in the Biology Department of Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn.

Robert Peck (B.S. '94) has completed his M.S. in zoology at the University of Hawaii and has accepted a position as ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore.

Mazen Abbas (B.S. '96) has accepted a fellowship at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mika Aoyagi (B.S. '97) has been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Elena Litchman (Ph.D. '97) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution working on the effects of ultraviolet light on microplankton.

Nathan Moerke (B.S. '97) has been accepted at Harvard University Medical School.

Max McLaughlin (B.S. '98) is working on developing vaccines for animals currently for E. coli, FIPV, and B.S.E., at Fort Dodge Animal Health in Fort Dodge, Iowa.


Edward M. Scott (Ph.D. '41) died on May 12, 1998, in Anchorage, Alaska. He was a research biochemist for the Arctic Health Research Center and the Centers for Disease Control in Anchorage from 1949 to 1983, when he retired.


Flowery language \
Read about David Dilcher (B.S. '58, M.S. '60), graduate research professor at the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, on his Web site at

Have a cow!
Biochemistry grad John Pukite (B.S. '87) has published A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America's 52 Breeds. Read more about this paperback at