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Genetically modified yeast organism

BioTech Institute Scientists Engineer Self-Destructing GMOs

January 29, 2018

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to help prevent the spread of diseases and increase both crop yields and nutritional value, but according to an article in Science Alert, "There's a big problem. . . . When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate?" Synthetic biologist Maciej Maselko of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member, is leading a team to solve this problem. Prof. Maselko's researchers have used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter yeast microbes so they're genetically incompatible and incapable of mating with their non-GMO counterparts. They call this approach "synthetic incompatability," and it's a technique that could be used in a multitude of ways, including to curb invasive carp or increase the production of medicines derived from plants. Read the entire article here

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Anu Ramaswami

Ramaswami-led NSF Report Outlines Research Agenda for Sustainable Cities

January 25, 2018

How can we harness the big social, technological, and infrastructural changes arising in cities for the greatest good? A new National Science Foundation (NSF) report led by Anu Ramaswami outlines a long-term research agenda that uses a much larger urban systems perspective than is currently in place. Among the paradigm changes it recommends are taking rural-urban trade into account; considering the impacts of the sharing economy, automation and renewable energy; and asking how massive new urbanization expected in Africa and Asia will influence global environments. Ramaswami is the Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, a Consortium member. Read more about the report here

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UMN Water Resources Center logo

Water Resources Center Receives National Sustainability Grant

November 28, 2017

The Water Resources Center (WRC), a Consortium member, has received a grant of more than $930,000 from the new Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) initiative. INFEWS is jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant will fund research on innovations for sustainable food, energy, and water supplies in intensively cultivated regions, which are necessary because of the need to keep pace with the demands of a growing global population. In this project, researchers from the biophysical, socioeconomic, and computational sciences will investigate two types of innovations using data from the northern US Corn Belt. The lead investigator is Jeffrey Peterson, director of the WRC. 

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Lakes seen from the air

New Assessment Tool Will Help Improve Water Quality in Lakes and Streams

November 27, 2017

A team led by Michael Sadowsky, PhD, has created a tool designed to help public health officials better understand sources of contamination in our waterways. Sadowsky, a microbiologist, is the director of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 40% of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are impaired, with fecal contamination becoming a growing concern. Improved DNA sequencing technology has made it possible for researchers to identify the source of contamination, which should allow for identification of the pollutant at its source. Sadowsky's group used SourceTracker, a software program developed by the UMN’s Knights Lab, to compare the various organisms found in water samples. To learn more, click here

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World Health Org logo

WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

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Pollution from factory

Ramaswami-led Research May Mean Cleaner Air for Cities

November 6, 2017

Air pollution in urban environments causes many premature deaths each year, and that number will grow as urban populations increase. Anu Ramaswami, PhD, led an international research team that recently published a study showing that using the heat generated from industrial processes for heating and cooling other buildings would result in fewer pollutants being generated by cities. The study used new models and data sets representing 637 Chinese cities to quantify, for the first time on this scale, the potential benefits of such energy and materials exchanges. Prof. Ramaswami is Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, a Consortium member. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change; an article about this research also appears on the Office of the Vice President for Research Inquiry blog.

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IonE 10 yrs logo

IonE Celebrates Ten Years

October 30, 2017

The Institute on the Environment (IonE), a Consortium member, is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a fundraiser scheduled for the evening of Thursday, Nov. 16. All proceeds support the ongoing work of IonE, a cross-disciplinary institute that focuses on solving major environmental challenges. IonE is a leader in the field of ecological economics — the science and practice of incorporating externalities and the value of nature into decision making. They foster research and engagement; entrepreneurship and leadership development; service to society; and innovative communications like their magazine Ensia

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IMAGE.klass.alexandra

Klass Weighs in on Proposed Pipeline Project

October 27, 2017

Plans for a replacement pipeline called Enbridge Line 3 is roiling conversations across Northern Minnesota. According to an article in the Duluth News Tribune, the state's "Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has to weigh the adequacy and reliability of energy supplies, decide which forecasts to trust and — if it is to approve the project — be convinced there's no better alternative." Prof. Alexandra Klass, a Consortium affiliate member, is quoted; she notes, "The position the state is taking is yes, having a new pipeline will be more efficient for Enbridge's business operations, but that's not saying it's needed for the state and citizens of Minnesota." Klass is a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who specializes in energy and the environment. Earlier this week, protests caused the cancellation of a St. Cloud public hearing on the pipeline; to learn more, click here.

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Andres Perez

Leadership Change at Center for Animal Health and Food Safety

October 11, 2017

Prof. Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, is the new director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS), an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota. The Center is coordinated by the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is a Consortium member. Perez takes over for Dr. Scott Wells, who is stepping down after serving as director and co-director for the past six years. Prof. Perez joined the College in 2014 and is a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in the prevention and control of food animal diseases. He also holds the Global Animal Health and Food Safety endowed chair. Prof. Perez notes, “CAHFS has been an effective catalyst for lasting change in the animal health and food safety sectors, and I hope to continue that success. . . . The goal is to increase CAHFS’ portfolio in areas such as policy, online education and outreach, quantitative data analysis, aquatic health, and antimicrobial resistance.”

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Deborah Swackhamer

Swackhamer to Speak on Scientific Integrity and the EPA

October 10, 2017

This Friday, Oct. 13, Deborah Swackhamer, PhD (Professor Emerita, Humphrey School of Public Affairs and School of Public Health), will discuss the federal advisory committees mandated to oversee the quality and scope of the science used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Her talk is called "Scientific Integrity in the Balance: What's at Stake?" and will be held in 105 Cargill at 3 pm on the St. Paul campus; a remote webcast is also available here (registration required). Dr. Swackhamer is a past Chair of the EPA Science Advisory Board, and is the current Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors, and will share first-hand knowledge of how these committees have done their work, and how they are currently being used by the new Administration. This seminar is particularly timely in light of yesterday's announcement by EPA chief Scott Pruitt that his agency is taking formal steps to repeal a rule limiting greenhouse-gas admissions that was put in place under the Obama administration. From 2002-2014, Prof. Swackhamer was the director of the Water Resources Center, a Consortium member. 

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Viewfinder

Registration is Open for Mini Bioethics Academy

September 20, 2017

The Center for Bioethics, a Consortium member, is hosting a three-part Mini Bioethics Academy that will explore issues at the intersection of ethics, science and society. The series kicks off on Oct. 11 with a session on the effect of meaningless work on our health and lives, presented by affiliate faculty member Christopher Michaelson (Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas). On Oct. 18 the topic will be food justice and bioethics, with Michelle Horovitz and Princess Titus (Appetite For Change). The final seminar, on the ethics of environmentally responsible health care, will be held on Oct. 25; the speaker will be affiliate faculty member Andrew Jameton (emeritus, University of Nebraska Medical Center). The Academy is open to anyone interested in learning more about bioethics; attendees can choose to come to all three sessions or select those that are of interest. Learn more and register here

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M is for Microbe logo

BTI Launches M is for Microbe Lab Contest

September 18, 2017

The Biotechnology Institute (BTI), a Consortium member, has announced a competition in which participating labs will grow fungi, bacteria or algae in the shape of the U's block M. Any undergraduate student, graduate student, postdoc, or faculty member in a BTI lab is eligible to win "bragging rights and a $300 gift certificate" to buy lunch for the lab. The contest runs until Dec. 15, 2017 and requires contenders to share their results on Twitter. To learn more or enter, click here

Lecture

Lecture

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The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers

Gulf "Dead Zone" Highlights Downstream Effects of Polluted Water from the Upper Midwest

August 7, 2017

Improving water quality throughout Minnesota has been the focus of ongoing efforts by organizations like the Water Resources Center (WRC), a Consortium member. An article from Minnesota Public Radio lays out potential solutions, referring to a recent report by the WRC "that recommends strategies like better regulation of farm drainage systems and moving away from planting corn and soybeans to perennial crops." Fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus from Midwestern farm fields wash into the Mississippi River and other watersheds, causing contamination. Road salt and golf course runoff are also among the culprits. One dramatic outcome is this summer's largest-ever "dead zone" downstream in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey "where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive," according to NPR. Don Scavia, a researcher at the University of Michigan, "describes it as a kind of hidden environmental disaster. 'You know, it's 8,000 square miles of no oxygen. That can't be good!'" One example of an effective solution that Scavia points to is mandatory limits on nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay, which have helped the bay begin to recover since being put in place in 2010. 

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Zebra mussels on clam shell

Fight Against Zebra Mussels Drives Innovative Scientific Research

July 31, 2017

The Star Tribune has published a major, in-depth analysis of what the zebra mussel invasion means for Minnesota's waterways and what scientists are doing to combat it. Researchers from the University of Minnesota are leading the charge: Consortium member the Genomics Center "expects to release later this summer the first ever sequence of the entire genome of the highly invasive mollusk. . . . Scientists at the U’s BioTechnology Institute [also a Consortium member] . . . are awaiting the DNA profile to speed their hunt for a naturally occurring bacterium or parasite that will kill zebra mussels." The U of MN's Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are also key players in this complicated, high-stakes fight.

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Jessica Hellmann

Should We Geoengineer the Atmosphere to Fix Climate Change?

June 29, 2017

Jessica J. Hellmann, PhD, Director of Consortium member Institute on the Environment (IonE) took part in a Minnesota Public Radio roundtable discussion last Friday. Moderated by Kerri Miller and featuring Roopali Phadke of Macalester College and Michael Noble of Fresh Energy, the discussion focused on the logistical, ethical and geopolitical questions related to human efforts to deliberately alter global climate. Prof. Hellmann has led an important paradigm shift in ecology and natural resource management by showing that adaptation — living with climate change — is just as crucial to the future of humanity and Earth’s ecosystems as slowing and stopping greenhouse gas emissions. Listen to the entire program here

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Underwater research drone

Consortium Scholar Reveals Potential, Pitfalls of New Ocean Research Technology

June 21, 2017

New observational technologies are greatly complicating oceanographic research, even as they present tantalizing opportunities. Because they are less expensive and more networked than ship-based measurements, remotely operated vehicles like undersea drones and satellites can provide an unprecedented amount of data while democratizing the research process. However, these new tools also challenge existing maritime codes such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. During the 2015-2016 academic year, Geography, Environment and Society PhD candidate Jessica Lehman was awarded a Consortium Research Grant to explore how these new technologies have become entangled in questions of territory, information-sharing, and politics. Lehman notes, “Concerns about global environmental crises such as climate change push scientists to collect more data and make it freely available online, but nations are concerned that these data may compromise their sovereignty, from military operations to fisheries development. To address these concerns, we can’t make assumptions about relationships between security and new technologies; we have to follow them into the world and see what they are actually doing.” Her Consortium-funded research informed her dissertation, which evaluated the interfaces between geopolitics and international oceanographic science. Lehman is currently an AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; to learn more about her research, click here.  

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Woolly mammoth

Can Mammoths Save the World from Climate Change?

May 3, 2017

Over the past 20 years, a preserve known as Pleistocene Park has been created in Siberia with the goal of restoring grasslands once home to megafauna like mammoths. The theory behind the park, as described in The Atlantic, is that restoring the wildlife inhabiting it more than 12,000 years ago will create an ecosystem that will slow the thawing of Arctic permafrost, which has more carbon locked in it "than there is in all the planet’s forests and the rest of the atmosphere combined." Two scientists, a father and son named Sergey Zimov and Nikita Zimov, have dedicated their lives to clearing the forests that now cover the Mammoth Steppe by reintroducing species such as musk oxen, wild horses and other large herbivores. However, they need mammoths, "a keystone species on account of their prodigious grazing, their well-digging, and the singular joy they seemed to derive from knocking down trees." The project has inspired geneticist George Church to accelerate his research, which uses the CRISPR genome-editing technology to attempt the creation of a close relative of the mammoth. The article notes, "Nikita and Sergey seemed entirely unbothered by ethical considerations regarding mammoth cloning or geoengineering. They saw no contradiction between their veneration of 'the wild' and their willingness to intervene, radically, in nature." According to Nikita Zimov, “Playing God doesn’t bother me in the least. We are already doing it. Why not do it better?” Read the entire article here

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Kid holding pro-science sign

600 Marches for Science Held Globally

April 24, 2017

Marches highlighting the importance of science – both its methods and its goals – attracted massive crowds on April 22. The organizers called for the science march after the successful Women's March drew millions on January 21; the protest was a response to ominous signs from the Trump administration regarding its intention to suppress government activities related to climate change, cut research funding, and slash the budgets of federal agencies with a scientific mission. According to the New York Times, the flagship march in Washington drew large crowds (estimated at 40,000), with similar results being reported from across the nation. In St. Paul, a protest at the Capitol drew more than 10,000, and was one of 13 pro-science rallies held in Minnesota. According to the Star Tribune, "Notable events [were held] in London, Paris and Sydney. . . . Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were among the largest U.S. marches, and smaller events took place across the country." 

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