News archive - 2010

Three MPGI Members granted NSF awards

(11/10/2010) Three University of Minnesota plant science researchers have won new research awards from the National Science Foundation. The recipients are: Assistant Professor Adrian Hegeman and Gordon and Margaret Bailey Professor Jerry Cohen, Department of Horticultural Science, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Associate Professor Nathan Springer, Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences. Hegeman also holds an appointment in the Department of Plant Biology. Hegeman and Cohen will receive more than $1.9 million over three years for their project, “Improving the Quantity and Quality of Plant Metabolomics Information.” Springer and co-principal investigator Matthew Vaughn, University of Texas at Austin, will receive more than $1.6 million over three years for their project, “Maize Epigenomic Variation.”

Ron Phillips honored with agronomy society award

(11/9/2010) Regents professor emeritus Ron Phillips was honored at the recent Crop Science Society of America annual conference with its Presidential Award. The award is given to "persons who have influenced the science or practice of crop production so greatly that the impact of their efforts will be enduring on future science." Phillips retired in 2010 after 42 years in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics and earned many other high honors during his career, including the Wolf Foundation Prize in Agriculture in 2007 and the Siehl Prize in 2010. - CFANS News

Daniel Voytas featured in New York Times

(11/2010) Daniel Voytas (GCD), director of the U of M’s Center for Genome Engineering Education, is featured in a New York Times article about emerging genome “editing” capabilities and how new techniques are reshaping the debate over the use of biotechnology in agriculture. In addition, Voytas was named chief scientific officer for Cellectis, a French biotech company that just opened a plant science division in University Enterprise Laboratories.

Tilman inducted into Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame

(11/2010) David Tilman (EEB) was among six new members inducted into the Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame. Tilman and the others were recognized by the Minnesota High Tech Association and Science Museum of Minnesota at a November 3 event.

Berman elected to the Genetics Society of America Board

(11/2010) Judith Berman (GCD) was recently elected to the Genetics Society of America Board of Directors. She will serve as a director from 2011-13. Berman also contributed a “News and Views,” titled “Evolutionary genomics: When abnormality is beneficial,” to the November 10 issue of Nature.

U of M and two Norwegian universities sign new research agreement

(11/2010) The University of Minnesota, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Oslo renewed and strengthened their shared commitment to research on bio-based, sustainable energy and products as well as food security with the signing of a tripartite agreement in Washington, D.C. last month. The University of Oslo pledged a total of $750,000 over four years, matching gifts made by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Minnesota in 2006 to create the Norwegian Centennial Chair and the Norwegian Centennial Graduate Fellowship. Funds support transatlantic research teams of scientists and students (undergraduate through post-doctoral fellows) from all three universities. The new, four-year agreement also marks a change in leadership. Claudia Schmidt-Dannert (BMBB/BTI) has been appointed to the Norwegian Centennial Chair, replacing Judson Sheridan, who retired this fall. - CBS News

Ni receives USDA Grant

(11/2010) Min Ni (PBIO) recently received a four-year $500,000 USDA grant to study regulation of SHB1 on canola seed development and seedling de-etiolation. Ni previously received two National Science Foundation grants totaling more than $1 million to study aspects of seed development. - CBS News

Martin Carson featured in Toronto Star

(10/05/2010) A form of stem rust, known as Ug99, is threatening the world’s wheat crop – with wheat in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iran and South Africa already affected… According to Martin Carson, research leader at the USDA Cereal Disease Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, 80 per cent of the world’s wheat is susceptible to Ug99, which was found first in Uganda. Link to Toronto Star Article. - CFANS News

Wackett and Sadowsky published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry

(10/01/2010) Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) and Michael Sadowsky (BTI/Water, Soil and Climate) co-authored a paper in a recent issue of Journal of Biological Chemistry on the X-ray structure and mutational analysis of the atrazine chlorohydrolase. Contibutors to the study include Jennifer Seffernick (BMBB), a postdoctoral researcher, and Erik Reynolds, a graduate student in the microbial engineering program, along with collaborators at Albert Einstein University.

A closer look at plant signaling networks

(09/2010) A study led by Fumiaki Katagiri and Jane Glazebrook (both PBIO) examines the negative regulatory relationships between signaling sectors in Arabidopsis immune signaling. Katagiri and his research team found that parts of the plant immune signaling network are highly interconnected and that negative regulations between signaling sectors are very common. The findings suggest that only some of the signaling sectors in the network get highly activated at a given time while the other sectors stand by to back up the primary sectors in case primary sectors are attacked by pathogens. This balances the robustness of the signaling network against pathogen attack and minimizes the negative impact of the immune response on plant fitness. Former postdoctoral student Masanao Sato and current postdoctoral student Kenichi Tsuda contributed to the study along with former CBS graduate student Lin Wang. Link to PLoS Pathogens article.

Wackett and Sadowsky receive grant from NCFPD

(9/2010) Larry Wackett (BMBB/BTI) and Michael Sadowsky (Soil, Water and Climate/BTI) received a six-year $1,154,243 grant from the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the Department of Homeland Security to develop enzyme-based methods to detect toxins in foods. The research will lead to new enzyme discoveries and the development of commercial testing methods to protect the public. Wackett, Sadowsky and Mani Subramanian at the University of Iowa are co-PIs.

Wilmot and Wackett published in the Acta Crystallographica Section

(09/2010) Carrie Wilmot and Larry Wackett (both BMBB) co-authored a paper on cloning, purification and crystallization of the OleC protein from Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, which is involved in hydrocarbon biosynthesis. The biological mechanisms of hydrocarbon biosynthesis have recently attracted attention as a means of producing important commercial chemicals from renewable resources. The study appeared in the September edition of Acta Crystallographica Section. Graduate students Janice Frias and Brandon Goblirsch (both BMBB) crystallized the protein and analyzed the crystals.

Phillip Pardey featured in Bemidji Pioneer

(8/29/2010) Farming is a long-term business where decisions made today affect outcomes tomorrow. Farmers plant a crop in the spring and wait until fall to see how the crop turns out… Data from University of Minnesota agricultural economist Phil Pardey shows the rate of growth in U.S. agricultural productivity is slowing as investments designed to spur agricultural productivity decline.
Link to Bemidji Pioneer Article. - CFANS News

Mike Sadowsky and Lawrence Wackett featured in Water Tech Online

(8/16/2010) Two University of Minnesota scientists — biochemist Lawrence Wackett and microbiologist Michael Sadowsky — have developed a “biocatalyst-based” drinking water filtration technology specifically designed to reduce atrazine concentrations, the Star Tribune reported... Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson, both recent graduates of the college of science and engineering, were intrigued by Sadowsky and Wackett’s research and have been granted a license to commercialize the university-patented technology, the article stated. Link to Water Tech Online Article. - CFANS News

Schmidt-Dannert receives NIH grant

(8/2010) Claudia Schmidt Dannert, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, received $286,286 from the National Institutes of Health to identify and clone the biosynthetic enzyme responsible for the production of cytotoxic sesquiterpene natural products made by higher fungi.

Scott Fahrenkrug featured in New Scientist

(7/7/2010) The main reason is that the genetic engineering of animals - with the exception of mice - has been a slow, tedious process needing a lot of money and not a little luck. Behind the scenes, though, a quiet revolution has been taking place. Thanks to a set of new tricks and tools, modifying animals is becoming a lot easier and more precise. That is not only going to transform research, it could also transform the meat and eggs you eat and the milk you drink. The first transgenic animals were produced by injecting DNA into eggs, implanting the eggs in animals and then waiting weeks or months to see if any offspring had incorporated the extra DNA. Often fewer than 1 in 100 had, making this a long, expensive process. "That's just really inefficient," says Scott Fahrenkrug, a geneticist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. Link to New Scientist Article. - From CFANS News

Don Wyse featured in Wisconsin Ag Connection

(6/30/2010) While the U.S. job market remains in the doldrums in the wake of one of the recession, there is at least one profession bucking the trend. Job opportunities in the crop sciences are booming. Don Wyse, Ph.D., a professor of agronomy and plant genetics and director of the Center for Natural Resources and Agricultural Management at the University of Minnesota, says changing demographics also play a role. Link to Wisconsin Ag Connection Article. - From CFANS News

Les Szabo featured in Scientist Live

(6/7/2010) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists Yue Jin, Les Szabo and Marty Carson at the agency's Cereal Disease Laboratory at St. Paul, Minn., have solved a longstanding mystery as to why a pathogen that threatens the world's wheat supply can be so adaptable, diverse and virulent. It is because the fungus that causes the wheat disease called stripe rust may use sexual recombination to adapt to resistant varieties of wheat…The researchers began the study last year after finding infected leaves on barberry plants at two sites on the University of Minnesota campus. They initially thought the symptoms were a sign that the stem rust pathogen had overcome the resistance commonly found in U.S. varieties of barberry. Link to Scientist Live article. - From CFANS News

James Anderson featured in Star Tribune

(5/24/2010) The battlefields are 8,000 miles away in Africa and the Middle East. But from their bunkers of dew chambers and greenhouses in St. Paul, a strike force of University of Minnesota plant experts is devising strategies to win a high-stakes war that could prevent famine, starvation and political unrest… Eighty percent of the world's wheat and 95 percent of the Upper Midwest region's top bread-baking grain is vulnerable to the new pathogen, according to University of Minnesota wheat breeder Jim Anderson. Link to Star Tribune article. - From CFANS News

Chlamydomonas Resource Center receives NSF funds

(5/17/2010) Peter LeFebvre and Carolyn Silflow (both PBIO) will receive $400,000 over two years to fund the Chlamydomonas Resource Center, a collection of wild-type and mutant Chlamydomonas lines, plasmids and molecular libraries that support research in the popular model system. Chlamydomonas is a haploid, biflagellate green alga commonly used for bioenergy production and for basic research on cilia and flagella. More than 3,000 mutants are maintained by the collection, curated by Matt Laudon (PBIO), and distributed to laboratories throughout the world.

David Andow featured in Nature News

(5/13/2010) Growing cotton that has been genetically modified to poison its main pest can lead to a boom in the numbers of other insects, a ten-year study in northern China has found…The conclusion was controversial, with critics of the study focusing on the relatively small sample size and use of economic modelling. Wu's findings back up the earlier study, says David Andow, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. Link to Nature News article.- From CFANS News

Tilman wins prestigious science prize

(4/21/2010) Regents’ Professor David Tilman (EEB) received the 2010 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this month. Tilman was selected for his seminal findings, published in Science and Nature during the 1980s and 1990s, which showed that biodiversity is essential for stable and productive ecosystems. Tilman’s grassland experiments at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve are among the longest running in the world, providing a rich resource for ecology research. His work at the field station is the subject of an article and a collection of short video clips recently published online by the University of Minnesota Foundation.

Study will examine sources of variation within species

(4/21/2010) Tapping into a growing interest in understanding how epigenetic variation might contribute to phenotypic variation, Nathan Springer (PBIO) is leading a study that will look at the prevalence, heritability and potential consequences of epigenetic variation in maize. The National Science Foundation is providing more than $500,000 in support of the effort. The research project will compare the DNA methylation patterns in the genome of nearly 30 different inbred lines (or breeds) of maize. DNA methylation can act as a “tag” to add additional information to DNA sequences and is one of several epigenetic marks. Epigenetics studies heritable variation that is not caused by DNA sequence changes. By adding information about the epigenome to a wealth of existing data on genetic and phenotypic information it will be possible to understand how epigenetic variation contributes to phenotypic variation within a species. The project will also study how epigenetic differences are inherited in hybrids and in recombinant inbred lines in order to assess the stability of epigenetic variation over multiple generations. The primary goal of this project is to document the role of epigenetic variation in heritable phenotypic variation within a species. Undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota and Hamline University will participate in the primary research. All data produced by this project will be made public and available to researchers studying breeding and evolution across a wide range of disciplines.

David Andow featured in MinnPost

(4/13/2010) The global uproar over fiddling with genes in food crops has quieted as millions of people ate products made from genetically engineered corn, soybeans and other plants with no apparent ill effects…David Andow is not convinced, though, that the threat is inconsequential. A University of Minnesota professor of insect ecology, Andow was one of several experts who were asked to provide “candid and critical comments” during the report’s preparation. Link to MinnPost article, "Altering food-crop genes: Old issue with new concerns" - From CFANS News

Judith Berman receives grant to study antifungal resistance

(3/22/2010) Distinguished McKnight University Professor Judith Berman (GCD) was awarded $422,792 from the National Institutes of Health to study the mechanisms that Candida albicans uses to generate genetic and genomic diversity, and to survive antifungal assault. Candida albicans is the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans and a serious problem in immunocompromised patients. Resistance to antifungal drugs is of particular concern given the limited number of clinically useful antifungals. The proposed work will address basic questions about how resistance arises in response to a range of antifungal drugs with the goal of identifying potential targets for companion drugs that would extend the lifespan of the limited arsenal of available antifungals.

2010 Siehl Prize Laureates Announced - Ronald Phillips is a recipient

(3/22/2010) The annual award by CFANS honors recipients in three categories: knowledge (teaching, research and outreach); production agriculture and agribusiness. Ronald Phillips (knowledge), one of the University of Minnesota’s most distinguished faculty who is known for his groundbreaking discoveries in plant genetics and genomics. His was the first laboratory to regenerate corn plants from cells in tissue culture, a contribution that allowed for development of genetic engineering in cereal crops. - From CFANS News

Nevin Young featured in US News Science Report

(1/13/2010) The soybean’s sequence will boost biologists’ understanding of relatives in the legume family as well, says Nevin Young of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, a researcher working to unravel the genetic code of the legume Medicago truncatula… "Scientists on Wednesday unveiled the genome of the soybean, saying it was an achievement that should deepen understanding of one of the world's most important crops, help to boost yields and defend the plant against pests," Agence France-Presse reports. Link to the US News Science Report "Soysoybeanbean? Scientists Decode the Soybean Genome" - From CFANS News