Link: University of Iowa

Dr. Brenner’s Tribute to Dr. Andy Robertson

August 28th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Robertson Desk 1The death of our colleague Andy Robertson two weeks ago was unexpected. His death is a reminder of just how important our friendships are. I met Andy in 1989, twenty-five years ago, when I was in graduate school and he was a postdoc at Stanford. He had just come from the University of Wisconsin where he did his PhD with John Markley. The reason Andy meant so much to me is that I spent five to seven days a week with him for a couple of years, seeing and talking with him nearly every day. That was a formative time in my life. Two years later, when he moved to our department as an assistant professor, he spent five to seven days a week seeing five of our colleagues who were then new assistant professors. He was very close with Dan Weeks, Madeline Shea, David Price, Pamela Geyer, Marc Wold—the heart and soul of our department—not to mention many others.

It turns out that, whether we are graduate students, technicians, post-docs, faculty members, or retirees, we’re all in formative periods of our lives and we always need friends.

In science, Andy really cared. He loved the turkey ovomucoid third domain. He loved every ionizable group in the turkey ovomucoid third domain from its amino terminus to its carboxy terminal group and every ionizable group in between. He really cared about that molecule. At Stanford, Andy spent two years working on ribonuclease, which was one of Buzz Baldwin’s favorite molecules, but he returned to turkey ovomucoid third domain when he was on the faculty at Iowa.

Beyond caring about every ionizable group, Andy truly cared about people. He was a very warm and graceful person. What is grace? Grace is the ability to adapt, to turn, to change, and to adjust to one’s surroundings. One of the ways to think about grace in terms of dealing with problems: picture Jacqueline Kennedy when her husband, our president, was shot in 1964. The type of grace she exhibited to hold her family together inspired people that life would go on and that we’ve got to make the best of a very difficult situation. If you look at graceful athletes—and, as a person who surfed and skied, Andy was a graceful athlete—they are constantly changing. At the top of a mountain, skiers imagine a line that they are going to take but, to get to the bottom, they shift their weight and turn on the basis of the wind, other skiers, and conditions encountered going down the mountain. You will not only encounter moguls and changing snow conditions, but actual ice patches. And, friends, there will be ice patches.

We’re mourning the loss of Andy Robertson, because we know that in life he would be available to us at any time. Andy was the kind of person who kept both eyes on you when he talked to you. When I had the opportunity to consider taking a position here, Andy was the first person I consulted about what I would find at the University of Iowa. Even though it was a telephone conversation, I knew that Andy was one hundred percent present with me in that conversation. We are mourning Andy because, not only do we no longer have him to listen to us, but he doesn’t have us to listen to him.

In closing, I emphasize that we need to know our friends, treasure our friends, and rely on our friends. Work hard, but please always talk with each other. We don’t know how long any of us will be here, we don’t know how long our friendships or our lives will last, and we don’t know what another person might be going through at any given time unless we are present, like Andy was.

Andy Robertson was a tremendously valued member of this department and of this world. No one can take his place. And guess what? No one can take anybody else’s place, either. Everyone has a role and everyone has an important contribution to make, not just in science and in the department, but in the world. Your role is a unique one that no one else can fill.

Let’s remember Andy’s life with as much grace as we can muster. Let’s try to shift speeds, shift our weight from one ski to the other without ever giving up our principles or our goals. Please talk with each other, check in with each other because life can be too short.

Thank you, Andy, for being a part of our lives.

Dr. Charles Brenner

Highlights of the Fifth Annual Biochemistry Retreat

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

The 2014 Annual Biochemistry Retreat, organized by Lori Wallrath, Maria Spies, Elizabeth Boehm, Emily Malcolm, Jiannan Guo, Quinn Li, and Briana Horwath, was held on Saturday, August 23 at the Northridge Indoor Pavilion, Coralville. The Retreat was dedicated to Andy Robertson (former faculty member, 1991-2005), who unexpectedly died on August 14th, 2014. Dr. Brenner delivered a moving tribute to Dr. Robertson, describing his passion for research and teaching.

Oral presentations were given by Todd Washington, Ran Chen (Wold Lab), Larry Gray (Taylor Lab), Thomas Magin, Sheila Baker, Zhen Xu (Fuentes Lab), Casey Andrews (Elcock Lab), M. Ashley Spies, Pamela Geyer, Jiannan Guo (Price Lab), and Miles Pufall.

The poster session featured 28 posters. In the graduate student category, first place award went to Emily Malcolm (Davies Lab), who won the Lois Bigger Gehring Award, which supports travel to research conferences. Second place in this category went to Tyler Weaver (Musselman Lab) and third place to Jacob Litman (Schnieders Lab). Kaylee Lovander (Research Intern, Geyer Lab) won in the Postdoctoral Fellow/Research Intern category and Dylan Thiemann (Wallrath Lab) won in the undergraduate category.


Fifth Annual Biochemistry Retreat poster winners: (Back row, from left): Tyler Weaver, Dylan Thiemann, and Jacob Litman; (Front row, from left) Emily Malcolm and Kaylee Lovander.

Elizabeth Boehm Advanced to Nationals in Lasker Essay Contest

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Elizabeth Boehm, a graduate student in Todd Washington’s Lab, was one of three students who won the internal competition for the Lasker Essay Contest ( Her essay was titled “Creation of an Independent Trust for Sustainable Funding of Medical Research.” She advanced forward to nationals, but was not ranked.

The contest, open to medical school students and fellows; doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in biomedical research; graduate students in public health programs; and graduate students in other health professions programs at U.S-accredited institutions, accepted essays supporting medical research.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Baker Lab Publishes Article in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Yuan Pan, a senior Biochemistry graduate student, published a first author paper in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. This is her second first author paper and her third paper as a graduate student. On this latest work, she was aided by research assistant Joe Laird and BSURF student David Yamaguchi. This is the first scientific paper for David, while Joe has previously published in PNAS.

The paper, “A di-arginine ER retention signal regulates trafficking of HCN1 channels from the early secretory pathway to the plasma membrane,” reports a novel mode of regulating HCN1 channels in the retina. Because these channels are also present throughout the brain and heart, this research might have applications for understanding learning and memory, management of epilepsy and chronic pain, and regulation of heart rate.

An Epub ahead of print version was made available electronically on August 21st.

Congratulations Yuan, Joe, and David!


Biochemistry Alumna turned Science Writer Nicholette Zeliadt in Latest Issue of The Scientist

August 18th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Nicholette Zeliadt, an undergraduate in the Department of Biochemistry from 1997 to 2001, has parlayed her science education into a science writing career.

Her most recent article, “Tailoring Your Proteome,” is in this month’s issue of The Scientist. Earlier articles have appeared in Scientific American, Science, Nature, and The Scientist.

As a biochemistry student, Nicholette took a Technical Communications course, for which she gave a presentation on pathogenic prions–arguably her first real piece of science writing for an audience.

Her professional science writing career was launched when, after earning her PhD at the University of Minnesota, she interned at Scientific American for a summer during her mass media fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

To read more articles by Nicholette, visit Nature or Scientific American online.


Dr. Fuentes Promoted to Associate Professor

August 18th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Congratulations to Dr. Fuentes for his recent promotion to Associate Professor!

Dr. Fuentes began working as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry in January of 2006 after completing a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and postdoctoral fellowships focused on structural and cancer biology at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Shea presents FUTURE in Biomedicine Program to Board of Regents

June 23rd, 2014 by Christa Fraser

FUTURE_SheaLab_10_croppedAt the June meeting of the Board of Regents, Professor of Biochemistry Madeline Shea presented an overview of the FUTURE in Biomedicine Program, a novel STEM initiative now beginning its sixth year in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. FUTURE stands for Fostering Undergraduate Talent – Uniting Research and Education. A major goal of FUTURE is to develop a statewide network of scientist-educators conducting collaborative research and sharing best practices for teaching undergraduates about the breadth of new discoveries in biomedicine.

During the summer portion of the FUTURE in Biomedicine program, professors from primarily undergraduate institutions bring a student or two, and work in a host laboratory in Iowa City to make use of state-of-the-art instruments, research facilities, and faculty expertise. They also participate in weekly events to learn about the resources and training programs offered by the Carver College of Medicine and the Graduate College.

The FUTURE in Biomedicine Fellows serve on two public panels during the summer to share information about their home colleges with UI admissions directors, and to provide career advice to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows considering a career in academia. Professor Shea, the founding director of the program, shared with the regents news about how the summer collaborations have evolved into long-term research and learning partnerships that strengthen undergraduate science education across the entire state.

Since it began in 2009, the FUTURE program has hosted 25 professors from 17 schools. There have been at least seven co-authored research papers and 35 presentations at scientific conferences, as well as three successful grant applications with three more currently in preparation. The FUTURE Faculty enrich teaching and research on their own campuses with insights gained from their experiences in Iowa City, and facilitate connections that help their students pursue opportunities in graduate and medical education or work as research assistants at the University of Iowa.

This year, the FUTURE program has participants from Coe College in Cedar Rapids; Loras College in Dubuque; Drake University in Des Moines; Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo; Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids; and Wartburg College in Waverly.

To learn more about this year’s participants and the program, visit A map of participating institutions across the state is here

Jessica Ponce Awarded American Heart Pre-doctoral Fellowhip

June 9th, 2014 by Briana Horwath

Congratulations to Jessica Ponce in the Wallrath Lab for being awarded an American Heart Pre-doctoral Fellowship to examine the role of the nuclear envelope protein lamin in redox homeostasis in muscle tissue. Ms. Ponce is a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics.

Drs. Wallrath, Geyer, and Musselman among speakers at the Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetic Meeting

May 21st, 2014 by Christa Fraser

The 2014 Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetic Meeting was held on May 18, 19, and 20 at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Speakers from the University of Iowa included Frederick Domann, Catherine Musselman, Pamela Geyer and Lori Wallrath; poster presenters included Lacy Barton, Heather Brockway, Diane Cryderman, Lynne Dieckman, Daniel Ferrell, and Tyler Weaver.

Over 200 attendees, representing eighteen states and four countries, presented their current research findings on transcriptional regulation, chromatin structure, and epigenetics as it relates to nutrition, the environment and human disease.

The prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry‘s Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award was given to Andrew DeVilbiss, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Wallrath co-organized the event with John Denu of the University of Wisconsin and Raul Urrutia of the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Brenner Wins the 2014 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence

May 12th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Charles Brenner, Professor and Roy J. Carver Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, has received a 2014 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence.

The award, which is given to those faculty whose work represents “a significant contribution to excellence in public education,” is one of the highest honors given by the University of Iowa for faculty achievement.

Dr. Brenner has had an exceptional career, beginning with his early academic trajectory. After graduating from Wesleyan in 1983, and working at Chiron Corporation and DNAX Research Institute, he earned his PhD from Stanford in 1993 for purification and characterization of the Kex2 prohormone processing protease. During his post-doctoral appointment, which was conducted at Brandeis, he served as a Leukemia Society of America fellow and showed that histidine triad proteins are a novel superfamily of enzymes related to galactose-1-uridylyltransferase.

Dr. Brenner began his independent research program at Thomas Jefferson University in 1998, where he rose to the position of associate professor and director of the Structural Biology and Bioinformatics Program of the Kimmel Cancer Center. In 2003, he was recruited to Dartmouth, where he directed the Cancer Mechanisms Program of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. There, he also served as the Associate Director for Basic Sciences and the Scientific Director of the Thoracic Oncology Group at the cancer center. Dr. Brenner’s research has been funded by the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Brenner’s current research is largely focused on reversible modifications of DNA and proteins and the relationship between metabolism, gene expression, and organismal function. He is best known for uncovering new steps in NAD metabolism including the existence of nicotinamide riboside as a vitamin precursor of NAD in eukaryotic cells. This work combines basic mechanistic science with work that attempts to translate nicotinamide riboside into a preventative and therapeutic agent for particular diseases and conditions.

Dr. Brenner was recruited to the University of Iowa in 2009. Under his leadership, the Department has recruited eight new faculty members who are well integrated with existing strengths in Biochemistry and the Carver College of Medicine. In response to then Provost Wallace Loh’s call for proposals to develop faculty clusters focusing on grand challenges of the twentieth century, Dr. Brenner developed the idea to create the Obesity Research and Education Initiative (OREI), which he directs with Dr. Allyn Mark. The OREI, working closely with the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, have made Iowa a destination institution for interdisciplinary research and substantive outreach in problems including overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes and its complications, human activity, behavioral economics, eating disorders and other related problems.

In his role as professor, department chair, and research scientist, Dr. Brenner is also responsible for the training and mentorship of undergraduates and graduates, post-doctoral fellows, laboratory assistants, and faculty colleagues. Brenner mentees have important positions worldwide. Three will take faculty positions this summer, namely Dr. Peter Belenky, who will become an assistant professor at Brown University, Dr. Rebecca Fagan, who will become an assistant professor at Bucknell University, and Dr. Ruth Grossmann, who will become an assistant professor at Iowa. Many of his trainees become expert practitioners in technologies that he helped to develop and disseminate at the University, such as high throughput screening and metabolomic analysis.

Dr. Brenner has also become nationally known in educational matters. As a faculty member who teaches metabolism to undergraduates and who is in touch with the changing landscape of undergraduate, medical, graduate, and professional education in the molecular sciences, he and Dr. Dagmar Ringe developed the premedical curricular recommendations endorsed by the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. These recommendations, which have been further developed in peer-reviewed literature, go farther than recognizing that biochemistry will be a required subject in the 2015 Medical College Achievement Test. Recognizing that 500,000 new U.S. college freshmen per year enter the premedical pipeline and 20,000 doctors are annually produced, Dr. Brenner has advocated developing curricula that will improve the preparation of all of the biomedically-inclined students in areas including data analysis, genetics, biomolecule reactivity, macromolecular structure and metabolism.

Winners of the 2014 Regents Award were announced at the Faculty Senate meeting on April 29th. The award comes with a one-time $1000 stipend. Dr. Brenner will be presented with the award in the fall. Other winners of the award this year were Kim Brogden, Dows Institute for Dental Research and the Department of Periodontics; Charles Lynch, Department of Epidemiology; John Beldon Scott, School of Art and Art History; Larry Weber, Civil & Environmental Engineering; and Mary Wilson, Internal Medicine.

In his nomination, Dr. Brenner was noted for his deep engagement in research, his efforts to expand student learning opportunities, and his aptitude for bringing together individuals from different departments in order to establish new intercollegiate research and education initiatives. He was also commended for his ability to benefit the entire University when he builds something in order to fulfill a need for his research or the Biochemistry department.