Link: University of Iowa

Archive for August, 2014

Dr. Brenner’s Tribute to Dr. Andy Robertson

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

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

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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.