MCDB News:

Tin Tin Su

February 20, 2015

Some distinguished “students” dropped in on MCDB’s new Discovery Based Laboratory class yesterday. MCDB 2171 hosted CU President Bruce Benson, CU Boulder Chancellor Phillip DiStefano, Provost Russell Moore, Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh, and the Board of Regents to see for themselves how MCDB undergraduates are diving right into cutting-edge biomedical research. The course, developed and taught by MCDB professor Tin Tin Su, and funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to the Biological Sciences Initiative at CU Boulder, aims to increase STEM retention by offering undergraduates hands-on lab experience on research projects as soon as they set foot on campus. It brings the drug discovery efforts from MCDB research labs directly into the teaching lab, Professor Su explains. “Our students work in teams to screen small molecule libraries for compounds that may lead to new cancer drugs. This is authentic research, and MCDB 2171 students, most of them as freshmen, contribute to the body of scientific data. They experience the scientific process and take ownership of a research project. I expect their work to be part of future manuscripts and presentations at scientific conferences.”

Before visiting the teaching lab, the CU dignitaries asked for a tour of Professor Su’s own research lab. Their impromptu tour guides were MCDB freshman Annika Gustafson, who began working in the Su lab last September, and senior Angela Delano, a Norlin Scholar who is conducting her honors thesis research in the Su lab. Both students are studying genetic processes in fruit flies to understand similar processes that can cause resistance to radiation therapy of cancer in humans.

“I was really surprised and felt important that they came to visit us,” Delano said. “It was really cool that I got to explain how we can use a fluorescent protein from jellyfish to track mutations in fruit flies.” The dignitaries were also awed, as much by the research as by the fact that it’s being conducted by undergraduates. Delano will present her research at CU’s Special Undergraduate Enrichment Research conference in April. After graduation, Delano hopes to enter medical school and train to become a clinical researcher.
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Details of biochemistry

February 4, 2015

Benjamin Weaver and Rebecca Zabinsky have shown that a protein called CED-3, which is a key regulator of the programed cell death pathway or ‘apoptosis’, works with the machinery involved in microRNA-mediated gene regulation to control normal animal development (Weaver et al., 2014).
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Photo of Ding Xue

January 7, 2015

MCDB Professor Ding Xue and colleagues reported their important findings today in the journals Nature and Nature Communications.

Two new studies involving the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia have identified a unique molecule that not only gobbles up bad cells, but also has the ability to repair damaged nerve cells.

Known as the phosphatidylserine receptor, or PSR-1, the molecule can locate and clear out apoptotic cells that are pre-programmed to die as well as necrotic cells that have been injured and are causing inflammation, said CU-Boulder Professor Ding Xue, who led one study and co-authored the other. Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is a natural process that kills billions of cells in a typical human body each day.

But it is the finding that the PSR-1 molecule also can help reconnect and knit together broken nerve fibers, called axons, that has caught the attention of both science teams.
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Mark Winey

December 3, 2014

Four faculty members from the University of Colorado Boulder have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The honor recognizes their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

This year, 401 members of AAAS were named fellows. The four CU-Boulder fellows, all faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, are David Jonas, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Lise Menn, professor emerita of linguistics; Jim White, professor of geological sciences and director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research; and Mark Winey, professor and chair of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.
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Gia Voeltz

November 21, 2014

Research by Ashley Rowland and Gia Voeltz is featured on the cover of Cell this month.


Endocytic cargo and Rab GTPases are segregated to distinct domains of an endosome. These domains maintain their identity until they undergo fission to traffic cargo. It is not fully understood how segregation of cargo or Rab proteins is maintained along the continuous endosomal membrane or what machinery is required for fission. Endosomes form contact sites with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that are maintained during trafficking. Here, we show that stable contacts form between the ER and endosome at constricted sorting domains, and free diffusion of cargo is limited at these positions. We demonstrate that the site of constriction and fission for early and late endosomes is spatially and temporally linked to contact sites with the ER. Lastly, we show that altering ER structure and dynamics reduces the efficiency of endosome fission. Together, these data reveal a surprising role for ER contact in defining the timing and position of endosome fission.

Be sure to watch their video explaining their research (see the "PaperFlick" section).
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Leslie Leinwand

November 20, 2014

Leslie Leinwand has been named a Distinguished Professor by the University of Colorado.

Each year, the University honors six faculty members who demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and outstanding service to the profession, university and its affiliates.

Leslie Leinwand, Ph.D., professor, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers Institute, CU-Boulder. Her research opens the door to the possibility of personalized treatment for heart disease. As an international leader in the study of the molecules involved in muscle contraction and their role in the development of heart disease and other muscle diseases, Professor Leinwand has shown that the mechanisms of heart disease differ between males and females and that the genetic risk of the disease is impacted by gender and diet. She maintains a strong commitment to teaching and training, and is influential nationally in the shaping of biomedical research policies and focus.
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Jonathan Van Blerkom

November 14, 2014

Jonathan Van Blerkom

Research Professor

A novel, low-cost method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) developed at the University of Colorado Boulder and successfully used in human clinical trials in Belgium has been awarded a %ldquo;Best of What’s New Award” from Popular Science magazine in 2014 in the health category.

The IVF technology developed by Professor Jonathan Van Blerkom showed that low-cost IVF in developing countries can be feasible and effective, with baby delivery rates roughly the same as those achieved in conventional IVF high-cost programs. Van Blerkom worked with researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium as part of the Walking Egg Project, an effort to raise awareness surrounding childlessness in resource-poor countries and to make inexpensive, assisted reproductive technologies available and accessible for a much larger proportion of the world population.
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Photo of Joaquin Espinosa

October 15, 2014

by Joaquin Espinosa

Associate Professor
HHMI Early Career Scientist

What images and thoughts come to your mind when you think of Down syndrome?

Do you think of cognitive disabilities, short stature and contagious smiles? There is something that you are probably not thinking about: Our friends and relatives with Down syndrome may hold a cure for cancer.

Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. Instead of inheriting just two copies of every chromosome, one from each parent, individuals with Down syndrome carry a third copy of chromosome 21. This chromosome is very small compared with other chromosomes, and it carries only a few hundred of the 20,000-plus genes in every human cell. However, an extra copy of this tiny piece of DNA suffices to cause all the features of Down syndrome, including but not restricted to intellectual disabilities, short stature, congenital heart defects and increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
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Photo of Michael Stowell

October 6, 2014

Michael Stowell

Associate Professor

The CU Technology Transfer Office is pleased to announce that a CU research team led by Associate Professor Michael Stowell (MCDB; Mechanical Engineering (affiliate); Center for Neuroscience) has been awarded a patent for a new peptide manufacturing process. Now being developed by CU startup company AmideBio, the Biopure® process enables rapid structure activity relationship (SAR) studies on peptide therapeutics as well as ultimately decreasing costs of difficult-to-manufacture peptides. Initial research has focused on the production of amyloid peptides for the study of Alzheimer’s disease, novel thermo stable insulins for treatment for diabetes, as well as solution stable glucagons for emergency hypoglycemia and orphan indications such as hyperinsulinemia.

TTO began prosecuting this family of patents (which includes multiple issued and pending patents in the U.S. and internationally) in November 2009 on behalf of the university; U.S. 8,796,431 (“Efficient Production of Peptides”) was issued on August 5, 2014. Other inventors listed on the patent include MCDB research associate Jonathan Caruthers, Ph.D., former MCDB undergraduate student Travis Nemkov, former MCDB Graduate Student Brian Hiester, Ph.D. and AmideBio CEO Misha Plam.
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October 6, 2014

The Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado Boulder, invites applications for a tenure track Assistant Professorship with an academic appointment in one of the following departments: Psychology and Neuroscience, Integrative Physiology, Computer Science, or Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. We anticipate that the appointment will begin August 2015. The Institute seeks to build on its strengths in human behavioral, quantitative, and statistical genetics.
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Photo of William B. Wood

September 26, 2014

The Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association has announced that William B. Wood, Distinguished Professor of MCD Biology, Emeritus, will receive this year’s prestigious Arthur Kornberg and Paul Berg Lifetime Achievement Award in Biomedical Sciences. Professor Wood received his PhD from Stanford in 1964. He chaired the CU Boulder MCD Biology department from 1978 to 1983. According to the announcement, the award, which will be presented in a ceremony at Stanford on October 18, “honors the legacy of Arthur Kornberg, MD, and Paul Berg, PhD, medical science pioneers and Nobel laureates who brought to Stanford a passion for discovery and groundbreaking research. Established in 2010, this award acknowledges and celebrates the lifetime career achievements of Stanford University School of Medicine alumni in the biomedical sciences.”

Mark Winey, Professor and Chair of MCD Biology, said of the award, “This is a very well deserved honor. Bill has been an intellectual leader in his research work and educational activities for his entire career, positively influencing his colleagues and countless students.”
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September 25, 2014

GMO labels a $500 food tax

The Right to Know Colorado GMO proposition 105 mandates the labeling of GMO food products. Since consumers like to know what they eat, the idea of GMO labeling is appealing. However, the proposal is ill-conceived and poorly written. It creates more confusion than enlightenment, it will dramatically increase the costs of foods, and taxpayers will face huge legal bills defending the law. A recent analysis of GMO labeling costs by two Cornell University scientists pegged the costs at $500 per family of 4 per year. Three similar studies carried out in California and Washington State have calculated price tags of $400-800. Why do we need to have mandatory GMO food labeling when voluntarily labeled non-GMO products are readily available?
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Photo of Relay team

July 28, 2014

Lab scientists understand more than anybody how expensive it is to conduct biomedical research.

Lab scientists understand more than anybody how expensive it is to conduct biomedical research. They also know that the money they spend in the lab comes from hard-working taxpayers and generous donors.

Last weekend, MCDB students, staff, and faculty members—many who are searching for cancer cures—took a break from the lab bench and donned running and walking shoes to raise critical cash for cancer research in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Boulder. Together, the team raised $2,480, and the event raised $27,000, which was $7,000 over the goal.

About half of MCDB’s team camped through the night at the event venue, Potts Field track, on CU’s East Campus. “We probably walked over 100 miles around the track,” MCDB graduate student, Jaimee Hoefert, said. Joaquin Espinosa, MCDB associate professor and cancer researcher, won the fleet-footed prize. Espinosa arrived at the event at 1 am and ran 25 MILES around the track, earning him the honor of most laps completed during the event. MCDB graduate student Lavan Khandan got 3rd place at the midnight 5K fun run.

This year’s relay event was just a start of an annual MCDB tradition, Hoefert insists. She’s already told department members to stay tuned for information about next year’s MCDB Relay for Life team.
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July 24, 2014

Crnic Institute‐affiliated program names Mary Allen and Alfonso Garrido‐Lecca

The BioFrontiers Institute at CU has launched its inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program in affiliation with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The program will fund three post‐doctoral researchers, Sie Fellows, who will focus on research that will improve the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.

The Sie Fellows research is co‐funded by the BioFrontiers Institute and the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation. Every two years, three Sie Fellows will be selected from a competitive grant process and will receive between $71,000 and $85,000 a year for two years.

Nobel Laureate and head of the BioFrontiers Institute Thomas Cech, BioFrontiers Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Leslie Leinwand, and Executive Director of the Crnic Institute Tom Blumenthal were key in assessing the 44 applicants before deciding on the inaugural three recipients: Mary Allen of CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB), Geertruida Josien Levenga of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Genetics, and Alfonso Garrido‐Lecca of MCDB.
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Photo of BSI Poster Session

May 30, 2014

Biological Sciences Initiative

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder $1.5 million over five years to continue to transform science education by encouraging more real-world research experiences for undergraduates, ranging from cancer studies to screenings for new antibiotics.

The new award will allow CU-Boulder to strengthen hands-on, research-oriented teaching to students planning to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, popularly known as STEM, said Julie Graf, director of CU-Boulder’s Biological Sciences Initiative. CU‐Boulder is one of 37 research universities across the nation to be awarded a total of $60 million in the new round of funding announced today by HHMI, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md.

Prior HHMI funding to CU‐Boulder has helped engage more than 1,600 undergraduates in research projects spearheaded by roughly 230 faculty members from 15 departments. Graf said 92 percent of those students earned undergraduate STEM degrees. In addition, 82 percent of underrepresented minority students from that pool earned undergraduate STEM degrees, and 47 percent of the total number of CU-Boulder STEM students went on to earn doctoral degrees, said Graf.
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Photo of Mary Allen

May 27, 2014

Mary Allen

Postdoctoral Fellow

Scientists from the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the University of Colorado Boulder used a new technology to tease out how the p53 gene‐which is responsible for recognizing damaged DNA in cells and then marking them for death‐is actually able to suppress tumors by determining what other genes p53 regulates. The study, published in the journal eLife, describes dozens of new genes directly regulated by p53.

The study authors say further research can explore which of these genes are necessary for p53’s cancer‐killing effect, how cancer cells evade these p53‐activated genes, and how doctors may be able to affect cancer cells’ ability to stay safe from these genetic attempts at suppression.

The exhaustively studied gene p53‐which has been the subject of 50,000 papers over more than 30 years of research‐is the most commonly inactivated gene in cancers. When p53 acts, cells are stopped or killed before they can survive, grow, replicate and cause cancer.

Help fight cancer and further research like this by donating to MCD Biology’s Relay for Life Boulder team.
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Photo of Brooke Wittleder

May 1, 2014

Brooke Wittleder, a 2013 graduate of CU-Boulder, with degrees in MCD Biology and Spanish, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue teaching, research and graduate studies abroad during the 2014-15 academic year.

“The work of our students and their contributions to the global community are inspiring,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “As ambassadors of CU-Boulder, they are bettering the world while setting an exciting path forward for their own lives and careers.”

Fulbright students are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The 68‐year‐old program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, operates in more than 140 countries and currently awards about 1,900 grants annually to U.S. students, foreign students, U.S. scholars, visiting scholars, teachers and professionals.Read More.

Photo of Thomas Perkins

April 30, 2014

Dr. Thomas Perkins, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, and Associate Professor Adjoint of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology and JILA Fellow, has been named one of 12 recipients of the 2013 Arthur S. Flemming Award, which honors outstanding federal employees.

The award recognizes Perkins “for creating unprecedented new ways, as a physicist, to precisely measure and manipulate the key molecules of life (DNA, RNA, proteins) under real world biological conditions for the first time, through innovative, multidisciplinary programs combining atomic force microscopy (AFM), laser physics, molecular biology, and advanced electronics. Dr. Perkins’ leadership has led to the invention of new AFM systems 100 times more stable and sensitive than the previous world’s best.”
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Photo of Leslie Leinwand

April 23, 2014

University of Colorado Boulder biologist Leslie Leinwand has been selected as a member of the 2014 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which honors the leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including scientists, scholars, writers and artists.

Leinwand‐chief scientific officer for CU‐Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute and a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology‐is an expert in cardiovascular disease.

“Her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an outstanding recognition of Leslie’s scientific contributions to understanding the biology of the heart,” said BioFrontiers Institute Director Tom Cech.
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Photo of Robin Dowell

March 25, 2014

Most university faculty divide their time between research activities, teaching and service to their institutions, sometimes putting in hundreds of hours weekly to accomplish the job’s demands. Being able to shine in all of these areas is a rare accomplishment, especially for newer faculty. For BioFrontiers faculty member Robin Dowell, juggling these responsibilities is somewhat second nature.

“With respect to components of academia, I firmly believe that these are difficult to separate,” she says. “The best way to deeply understand scientific concepts is to get your hands dirty‐ actually perform an experiment, write a program, or solve a math problem ‐ or to teach the concepts to someone else. In the best‐case scenarios, you do both.”

Her ability to apply this philosophy recently earned Dowell the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant. Providing five years of support totaling more than $650,000, the grant recognizes emerging investigators who excel at combining teaching and research in ways that directly impact their institutions and the broader community. Dowell is one of only ten scientists nationwide in the field of molecular and cellular bioscience who have received the award so far this year.
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BFA Logo

March 10, 2014

Michael Klymkowsky


‐ and ‐

Jonathan Van Blerkom

Research Professor

Two of MCD Biology’s faculty have been recognized for professional excellence!

The Boulder Faculty Assembly has announced the 2014 recipients of the BFA Excellence Awards. These are the highest awards given by the BFA and recognize faculty for efforts in teaching, research and creative work, and service and leadership. Please join us in congratulating this year's BFA Excellence awardees.
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Photo of Jennifer Bernet

February 16, 2014

Jennifer D. Bernet

Graduate Student

- and -

Brad Olwin


New findings on why skeletal muscle stem cells stop dividing and renewing muscle mass during aging points up a unique therapeutic opportunity for managing muscle-wasting conditions in humans, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

According to CU-Boulder Professor Bradley Olwin, the loss of skeletal muscle mass and function as we age can lead to sarcopenia, a debilitating muscle-wasting condition that generally hits the elderly hardest. The new study indicates that altering two particular cell-signaling pathways independently in aged mice enhances muscle stem cell renewal and improves muscle regeneration.

One cell-signaling pathway the team identified, known as p38 MAPK, appears to be a major player in making or breaking the skeletal muscle stem cell, or satellite cell, renewal process in adult mice, said Olwin of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. Hyperactivation of the p38 MAPK cell-signaling pathway inhibits the renewal of muscle stem cells in aged mice, perhaps because of cellular stress and inflammatory responses acquired during the aging process.
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Photo of Tom Blumenthal

July 5, 2012

Down syndrome research hub based at CU School of Medicine
Nationally renowned molecular biologist Tom Blumenthal, Ph.D, has been named the new executive director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, headquartered at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Blumenthal, who is leaving his post as chairman of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, brings an impressive track record of academic management and basic science experience to his new role.

“Morally, I believe we are obligated to help people through scientific study,” Blumenthal said. “Scientifically, I am intrigued with the Crnic Institute's mission to eradicate the medical and cognitive ill effects associated with Down syndrome. Given current technological advances, I believe we have a fighting chance at delivering. My first focus will be to dramatically increase the amount of research the Crnic Institute is engaged in and to initiate a competitive Grand Challenges grant program within the University of Colorado system.”

Blumenthal is no stranger to the Crnic Institute's mission. From its inception he has served on the Crnic Institute's Scientific Advisory Board; he has belonged to the Board of Directors for the past year.
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Last updated: 2015-01-06