Ann Palmenberg named 2016 AAAS Fellow

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Ann PalmenbergBiochemistry professor Ann Palmenberg, known for her work in molecular virology, has been elected a 2016 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is one of five faculty from the University of Wisconsin–Madison named a Fellow this year.

Election as a AAAS Fellow, a tradition begun in 1874, is recognition by peers for distinguished contributions to advance science or its applications.

“It is indeed an honor to be elected as a Fellow of such an illustrious Academy,” says Palmenberg, who is also part of the Institute for Molecular Virology. “That many of our UW faculty are already AAAS Fellows speaks to the national and international level of respect achieved by the UW in our research, teaching, and service endeavors.”

Palmenberg was honored for her groundbreaking research in the field of positive-strand RNA molecular virology and for outstanding leadership in the American Society for Virology.

Four other faculty members from UW–Madison have been named Fellows. For more information, see the original UW-Madison news release.

Founded in 1848, AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society. It includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving nearly 10 million constituents.

This article was modified from a post on the UW-Madison Department of Biochemistry website.

Bacteriology professor Jade Wang named HHMI Faculty Scholar

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
Jue Wang HHMI

Jue “Jade” Wang (right), associate professor of bacteriology, works with student Christina Johnson in Wang’s lab in the Microbial Sciences Building. Wang is the recipient of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar award. Photo: Bryce Richter

Jue “Jade” Wang, an associate professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Faculty Scholar.

The recognition comes with research funding for Wang and her laboratory each year for the next five years, as well as support for the institution in order to help cover the administrative costs associated with her work.

“We’re very happy that she’s gotten this award,” says Rick Gourse, professor of bacteriology and a colleague of Wang’s in the bacteriology department.

The Faculty Scholars Program, created through a partnership between HHMI, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation, is intended to boost the work of promising early-career scientists who have already demonstrated excellence in their fields.

Wang is one of 84 Faculty Scholars recognized at 43 institutions across the U.S, according to HHMI. This is the first time it has been awarded. Wang was chosen from among 1,400 applicants at 220 institutions.

This year’s program will invest around $83 million in research support for recipients and their institutions. Grant awards range from $600,000 up to $1.8 million.

“Support for outstanding early-career scientists is essential for continued progress in science in future years,” Marian Carlson, director of life sciences at the Simons Foundation, said in a statement issued by the philanthropies.

Wang, who has been at UW–Madison since 2012, studies the physical conflicts between the machinery in bacterial cells responsible for making copies of DNA and the machinery responsible for creating RNA from DNA. She is interested in how such conflicts, in the form of collisions, have shaped the evolution of microbial genomes and how bacterial cells avoid them by coordinating cellular responses to stress.

Stress on bacterial cells such as nutrient deprivation or exposure to antibiotics can exacerbate these conflicts.

“DNA-RNA polymerase collisions are a big problem because they can result in mutations in the bacterial genome,” says Gourse, who originally helped recruit Wang to UW–Madison. These mutations can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance.

According to the Faculty Scholars website, the trajectory for early-career scientists has become much less certain as the competition for grant support has intensified in recent years. In the last two decades, the National Institutes of Health research award success rate for scientists in the U.S. has declined dramatically. The average age at which an investigator receives his or her first major research grant has, meanwhile, increased.

“Basic science has not fared well in our current funding climate,” says Gourse. “This award will allow her to do things she would not be able to do otherwise.”

This story was originally published on the UW-Madison News site.

Students find passion in labs as Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars

Monday, August 29th, 2016
Hannah Poe

Hannah Poe. Photo: Robin Davies/UW-Madison Department of Biochemistry

Hannah Poe peers into a large microscope in the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building, seeing not just florescent molecules of RNA, but also a future career in biochemistry research.

Poe is about to start her last year in the Department of Biochemistry’s undergraduate program, but it will only be her second year on the University of Wisconsin­–Madison campus, as she is a transfer student from a university in Colorado. In addition to her classwork, she became involved in undergraduate research in the department and is currently an undergraduate summer research scholar in Aaron Hoskins’ Lab.

“It’s very beneficial to be able to work in the lab without also taking classes like we do during the fall and spring,” Poe says. “The funding from the scholarship has been very helpful for me securing my position in the summer.”

The Biochemistry Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarships help undergraduates gain focused, full-time research experience early in their academic careers. In return for a summer stipend, students work in the lab for 30 to 40 hours per week for eight weeks during the summer and write a research report on their findings.

Poe actually started working in a lab as soon as she got to campus, eventually working her way to the Hoskins Lab last January and then securing a summer research scholarship. In the lab, she places small molecules that emit light, called fluorophores, on a synthetic strand of RNA, nicknamed Mango. These experiments allow her to characterize how Mango functions as a molecular beacon for lighting up RNAs in cells. The Hoskins Lab is deeply involved with researching the spliceosome, a cellular machine essential for processing precursors to messenger RNA (mRNA) after genes are copied from DNA.

The spliceosome is essential in humans for producing the correct mRNA from genes. These mRNAs ultimately pass along the genetic code in the cell to form proteins needed for function. Mango will someday be used by the Hoskins Lab to discover how different components of the spliceosome work together by allowing researchers to follow RNA movements and interactions in live cells with a microscope.

“[The spliceosome is] really critical in genetics and general cell activity, so the lab is trying to solve the structure and investigate the interactions between different components of this huge multifaceted mechanism,” Poe explains.

Aaron Hoskins

Aaron Hoskins

In the lab, undergraduates are mentored by the lab’s principal investigator in addition to a postdoctoral scientist or a graduate student. Poe works with Hoskins and postdoctoral scientist, Clarisse van der Feltz. In addition, Hannah shares her results with a Hoskins Lab collaborator on Mango, Peter Unrau of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“Hannah is very eager to learn and try new things and be independent in the lab,” van der Feltz says. “She is learning to troubleshoot scientific problems to understand how they can be checked and tested.”

Hoskins echoed van der Feltz by adding he is fortunate Poe decided to join his lab. He also says it is extremely important for undergraduates to get involved in research.

“Undergrad research is essential for any student thinking about a career in science,” he says. “It teaches you to work as part of a scientific team, solve problems as an independent scientist, and work on big scientific questions that may take months or years to solve.”

Joe Kraft, a senior in Thomas Record’s lab and another recipient of an Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarship, says the mentor-mentee relationship it provides is extremely beneficial. The basic research happening in the Record Lab has allowed him to gain experience in lab fundamentals essential for a career in research.

“I have been mentored by Professor Record and a graduate student, but this summer I’ve also been able to mentor an undergrad who is new to the lab,” says Kraft, who has been in the Record Lab since his junior year. “Being on both sides of that has been extremely valuable. Those are relationships you have throughout your research life.”

Kraft and Poe are among hundreds of undergraduate researchers on the UW–Madison campus who have benefited from their time in the lab.

Kraft plans to ultimately pursue a Ph.D. in science, with a particular interest in ideas like engineering immune cells to fight cancer. Poe’s summer of research has shown her she enjoys research and may return to graduate school after working in industry for a few years after graduation.

“Being involved in undergraduate research has made me more comfortable in lab and shown me that I enjoy research,” Poe says. “My undergraduate research experience, particularly the time I spent in lab this summer, really formulated my next five years post-graduation, and that’s been invaluable to me.”

This story was originally published on the Department of Biochemistry News site.

CALS announces 2016 Honorary Recognition awardees

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

On Oct. 13 the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) will present its Honorary Recognition Award to Ben Brancel, Bernard Easterday and Richard “Otto” Wiegand, its Distinguished Service Award to Daryl Lund, and its Distinguished Alumni Award to Gary Onan.

These are the highest honors bestowed by the college. The Honorary Recognition Award, established in 1909, recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to their professions, their communities and the university. The Distinguished Service Award, first presented in 1994, recognizes meritorious service by CALS faculty and staff members. The Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding lifetime achievement and service, has been presented since 2009.

The awards will be presented at the CALS Honorary Recognition Banquet on Thursday, October 13 in the Varsity Room of Union South, 1308 W. Dayton Street, Madison. For more information and to register for the event, visit

2016 Honorary Recognition Awardees

28235189994_448b5e958e_zBen Brancel began his career in agriculture on his family farm. In 1972, he graduated with a degree in animal science from the University Wisconsin-Platteville, and returned to the farm where he and his wife Gail would eventually take over operations. His progress in farming provided him with immediate respect and recognition in the farming industry. Though some would think he was at the pinnacle of a successful career, Brancel still had dreams and ambitions that surpassed his farm. From 1987 to 1997, Brancel demonstrated his political dexterity in the Wisconsin State Assembly and was later elected to the respected position of Assembly Speaker. Though he quickly established himself in the political world, Brancel never forgot his roots in agriculture. Whenever possible, he fought for legislation that benefitted agriculture statewide. Since 1997, when he was appointed the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) by then Governor Tommy Thompson, he has held positions that allowed him to directly grow the industry responsible for his lifetime of success, including a position with the CALS’ Agricultural Research Stations and his current role as Secretary of DATCP under Governor Scott Walker.

28776423081_2d76f3ebe8_zBernard Easterday is the founding dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After receiving his DVM degree from Michigan State University in 1952, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps where he conducted research on the transmission and pathogenesis of viral diseases of animals and humans. Following the completion of his military service, he earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the Department of Veterinary Science in the UW-Madison College of Agriculture (now the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences). He returned to the same department in 1961 as a faculty member, continuing research on viral diseases while discovering his passion for teaching and outreach. At UW-Madison, Easterday conducted and collaborated on multiple studies involving the interspecies transmission of viruses, which included uncovering the first conclusive evidence of swine influenza virus transmission from swine to humans. In 1978, he was appointed to lead the planning and development of the SVM, which was officially established in 1979. The first class of veterinary medical students was admitted upon completion of the construction of the school in 1983. Easterday, as emeritus dean and professor, continues to serve as an advisor and mentor to veterinary medical students.

28568174510_0836e4e2a2_zRichard “Otto” Wiegand was born on a dairy farm in Cleveland in Manitowoc County, which he later operated in the 1980s. He attained four degrees over time, three of them in dairy science from UW-Madison. Wiegand worked in industry doing dairy employee placement and dairy expansion business planning for eight years before spending time teaching agriculture courses at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay as an adjunct instructor. Wiegand has been working for UW-Extension as an agriculture agent in Spooner for the past 12 years. His career has taken him around the world, starting in the Peace Corps in Kenya and Paraguay, conducting graduate studies in Ethiopia, consulting at the African Development Bank in Ivory Coast, and doing various international agricultural work, mostly with Farmer-to-Farmer projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Wiegand has been to 75 countries and worked in 20 of them. He has a wide range of expertise – from hands-on dairy farming and cropping systems to farm business planning and conservation. Avid passions for geography, history, political science, genealogy and photography add meaning to his travel and development work.

28776421971_bf82275b31_zDaryl Lund received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics before earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in food science with a minor in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He began teaching in UW-Madison’s food science department in 1967 and remained a faculty member for the next 20 years, serving as chair of the department in 1984. In CALS, he served on numerous committees including as chair of the Business and Industry option for several years. At the university level, he served as chair of the Biological Sciences Divisional Committee. In the late 80s, he led the pioneering effort to renovate Babcock Hall through the use of private sector donations. Today, it is standard practice for private gifts to match state contributions to building projects at UW-Madison and other land grant universities. After his impressive career at UW-Madison, Lund served two other land grant universities – Rutgers (1988-1995) and Cornell (1995-2000) – where he was a professor, chair, and dean. Lund followed his heart back to Madison where he served as the executive director of the North Central Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors until his retirement in 2007. Lund continues to make generous contributions to the UW-Madison food science department and acts as an exceptional advocate for the entire university.

28237510723_22be440e8a_zGary Onan earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in meat and animal science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduating, he pursued his dream of becoming a dairy farmer and spent nearly 20 years developing a respected Holstein herd and hands-on knowledge. Following the advice of his colleagues, Onan decided to harness his academic training and seek out a position in academia. He joined the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1997, where he quickly came to be known for his creativity and inherent knack for teaching. He currently serves as chair and professor of animal and food science in the university’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences. Onan has received numerous awards over the years that recognize his efforts as a professor, mentor and researcher and for his contributions to youth livestock project programming and animal agriculture. Most recently, he was named the UW-River Falls 2015 Distinguished Teacher.

UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative winners include CALS-led projects

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
UW2020 project story

Billions of people worldwide lack clean, safe water. Novel electrodes, at the heart of a UW2020 project co-led by UW–Madison soil scientist Joel Pedersen and chemist Robert Hamers (above), could enhance methods to inexpensively and efficiently inactivate bacteria and viruses in water. Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.

Fourteen research and infrastructure projects – including four with CALS participants – have been selected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for support from the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative. The four projects with CALS participants are listed below.

The winning projects were selected from among 134 proposals from across the UW–Madison campus. Underwritten by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), UW2020 will support selected projects with an average award of about $300,000 over two years.

The projects were reviewed by faculty from across the university, ultimately involving 87 reviewers. Reviewers identified ambitious, early stage research ideas and infrastructure investments in an effort to jump-start innovative interdisciplinary research projects. Final selections were made by the UW2020 Council, a group of 16 faculty from all divisions of the university. They evaluated the merits of each project based on the reviews and their potential for making significant contributions.

The 14 funded projects include 72 faculty and academic staff investigators from eight schools and colleges. For more information, read the full UW-Madison announcement.

Anticipating Abrupt Ecological Change in the 21st Century
Co-PI: Christopher J. Kucharik Professor Agronomy and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Novel Electrodes for Hydroxyl Radical Production to Enable Low-cost Water Treatment
PI: Joel A. Pedersen, Rothermel Bascom Professor, Departments of Soil Science, Chemistry, and Civil & Environmental Engineering

Systematic Functional Annotation of Orphan Proteins by High Throughput Mass Spectrometry Profiling
Co-PI: David J. Pagliarini, Investigator and Director of Metabolism, Morgridge Institute for Research, Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Full-Range Imaging Spectrometer Enables an Innovative Linkage of Genetic, Plant Trait and Remote Sensing/Spectroscopy Data
PI: Phil Townsend, Professor, Forest and Wildlife Ecology

Eric Kruger, Professor, Forest and Wildlife Ecology
Paul Bethke, Associate Professor, Horticulture/USDA

Amy Charkowski, Professor, Plant Pathology
Shawn Conley, Professor, Agronomy
Rick Lindroth, Professor, Entomology,

Natalie de Leon, Associate Professor, Agronomy
Claudio Gratton, Professor, Entomology
Randy Jackson, Professor, Agronomy
Shelley Jansky, Associate Professor, Horticulture/USDA
Shawn Kaeppler, Professor, Agronomy
Chris Kucharik, Professor, Agronomy
Felix Navarro, Research Manager, Hancock Agricultural Research Station