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Around Circle Drive

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Summer 2012


Two MSU researchers have invented a protein purifier that could help pharmaceutical companies save time and money.

MSU chemists Merlin Bruening (right) and Greg Baker explain in a recent issue of Langmuir that high performance membranes are suitable for protein purification, a crucial step in the development of some drugs.

Purifying proteins, the process of isolating a single, desired protein, is expensive and time-consuming, but a necessary step to increasing the effectiveness and safety of new drugs. Streamlining the process could help manufacturers reduce costs, speed new drugs to consumers and reduce pharmaceutical costs, Bruening says.

“The membrane devices that we’ve manufactured can simplify protein purification by rapidly capturing the desired protein as it flows through membrane pores,” says Bruening, who has patented the process. “Our membranes have two to three times more capacity than existing commercial devices, and they should reduce the purification process time substantially. Typically, our procedures are complete in 30 minutes or less.”


MSU’s new Molecular Plant Sciences Building, which opened in April, will house some of the world’s premier plant-science research.

The building on Wilson Road, just west of Bogue Street, joins MSU’s two plant-research buildings and brings together world class plant researchers from across a variety of disciplines.

“This building bridges, both physically and intellectually, disciplines, departments and colleges,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “What it will do is promote the cross-pollination of ideas and expertise, and initiate a new era of collaborative interdisciplinary research at Michigan State.”

The four-story, 90,000-square foot building connects the Plant Science and Plant and Soil Sciences buildings. It will bring together basic research departments—plant biology and the Department of Energy-sponsored Plant Research Lab, with applied research departments, crop and soil science, horticulture and plant pathology.

The new building supports 18 research groups, including nearly 150 graduate students, postdoctoral students, undergraduate students and technicians. The lower level will feature increased space for state-of-the-art growth chambers, which will allow year-round plant growing in clean environments.

For more information on MSU’s plant research initiatives, visit


MSU researchers have shown a prebiotic can help the body’s own natural killer cells fight bacterial infection and reduce in ammation, greatly decreasing the risk of colon cancer.

Prebiotics are fiber supplements that serve as food for the trillions of tiny bacteria living in the gut.They can stimulate the growth of the “good” bacteria. MSU’s Jenifer Fenton reports in the Journal of Nutrition (April 11, 2012) that mice given the prebiotic galactooligosaccharide, or GOS, saw the severity of their colitis significantly reduced. In fact, the mice fed GOS saw a 50 percent reduction in colitis.

“There is something unique about certain types of fibers, such as GOS, and how they alter cells and influence the immune system to change disease risk, either for the good or bad,” she says. “Our overall goal is to identify either dietary patterns or diet components to reduce inflammation and cancer risk.” 

The next step is to verify how that mechanism works; finding that link could help researchers apply the lessons learned to other intestinal ailments.


MSU, the nation’s pioneer land-grant university, celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Land-Grant act on April 26 with some outdoor theater, ice cream And T-shirts for students readying for final exams.

The Morrill Act of 1862 created America’s system of land-grant colleges and universities. Observations of this sesquicentennial have been planned across the country throughout the year.MSU’s light-hearted commemoration featured actors portraying Land-Grant Act sponsor U.S. Rep. Justin Morrill and President Abraham Lincoln, chatting up visitors to another cherished MSU landmark, the Rock on Farm Lane. The MSU Dairy Store created a new ice cream  flavor for the occasion, Morrill Mint Madness.

For more information about upcoming events, visit morrill-celebration.


A clinical trial in Africa by MSU researchers could provide relief for children who survive cerebral malaria but suffer from epilepsy or other neurologic disorders.

Gretchen Birbeck, professor of neurology and ophthalmology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, is leading the trial in Malawi that will use levetiracetam, or LVT, an anti-seizure medication. However, the drug has never been tested to target cerebral malaria seizures.

“Seizure management in malaria endemic regions such as sub-Sahara Africa is challenging because the available antiepileptic drugs can suppress respiration, and assisted ventilation is unavailable,” Birbeck says.“LVT does not have that effect, and if we can optimize a seizure control treatment that is both affordable and accessible in resource-limited settings, we may be able to improve neurologic outcomes in cerebral malaria survivors.” 

The research, part of MSU’s Blantyre Malaria Project at 'Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, is being funded with a nearly $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

MSU Moments

This capsule of MSU history was written by Megan J. Badgley, assistant archivist at MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Each May, dozens of students are mysteriously kidnapped by their loved ones and deposited at the foot of Beaumont Tower. Dressed in pajamas and blankets, some blindfolded and bound, they discover they have been “tapped” to become Tower Guards. “Tapping of the Guard at the May Morning Sing” dates back many decades.

In spring 1933, the Q Girls emerged on MSC’s campus. A sophomore honorary society, the organization held Christmas parties for local children, acted as dorm hostesses during Freshmen Week and assisted with an annual rummage sale. Sponsored by MSU First Lady Sarah Shaw, the Q Girls officially became the Tower Guard in 1934.It’s the only student organization holding keys to the Tower.

The Tower Guard is known for its community service. In 1938 Marian Patch suggested the Tower Guard read to blind students as a service project. That program later expanded to include assisting deaf and hearing-impaired students. The Tower Guard raises money for Tower upkeep at activities such as its annual Open House held following the Homecoming football game, when the public may tour Beaumont Tower.

Pledges’ names are kept secret until the May Morning Sing. In the early days, pledges’ parents hid and surprised them when their name was called. As membership increased, the Tower Guard refined its tactics. Parents, family, and references were secretly contacted to help devise plans to lure unsuspecting pledges to the Tower. Some plans were simple, like offers of breakfast or a peaceful morning jog. Other plans were cleverer; one pledge partook in a scavenger hunt that led to waiting parents at Beaumont Tower. However, kidnapping is the most popular method. Initiates are snatched from their dorm rooms at dawn, blindfolded and bound, and dragged to Beaumont Tower.

Today the Tower Guard remains committed to serving students with disabilities by converting textbooks into electronic formats and holding a St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock 5K Run/Walk/Roll to raise money for the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities’ endowment fund.


You can say that “Anything Goes” in the 30th Anniversary Season at MSU’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts, as patrons will have a huge array of choices along with Five Signature events to commemorate the anniversary.

“The five Signature events represent the broad spectrum of Wharton’s diverse presenting history,” says Bob Ho man, Wharton Center publicist.

War Horse (Dec. 5-9), which is captivating audiences with its puppetry, is a Signature event in the Broadway series. Also coming is Anything Goes (Oct. 16-21), winner of three 2011 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival and Choreography. The musical stars Rachel York and is currently undergoing smooth sailing on Broadway. Three other musicals are based on motion pictures—the 2009 Tony Award winning Best Musical Billy Elliot (Jan. 15-20), the comedy smash Sister Act (Feb. 12-17), and the incredible true story of Catch Me If You Can (Apr. 16-21).

This year’s special events include the popular Blue Man Group (Feb. 22-24) and Green Day’s American Idiot (Apr. 9-11). World renowned artists include nine-time Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow (Signature event, Sep. 9), comedian Lily Tomlin (Sep. 16), influential jazz artist Sonny Rollins (Signature event, Oct. 7), diva Renée Fleming (Signature event, Feb. 27) and Conductor Keith Lockhart and Cellist Sophie Shao with the BBC Concert Orchestra (Jan. 31). The final Signature event is the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare’s Will (Nov. 29-Dec. 1).

The Wharton Center is offering subscribers discounts up to 30 percent. For more information, visit or call 1-800-WHARTON.


MSU is working on a new $5 million anaerobic digester, a system that re-uses waste while creating energy for campus buildings.

Estimated to be completed in 2013, the system will provide a source of renewable energy to produce electricity for some south campus buildings and keep organic waste produced at the university from going to landfills.

“Once complete, this system will be the largest on a college campus in the United States,” says Dana Kirk, a specialist from MSU’s Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering who is overseeing the project. “It will be the largest in volume and in energy output.”

Manure, food waste and other organic matter are placed in an airtight tank, which is maintained at roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The organic material is decomposed by a group of naturally occurring microorganisms found in livestock manure.The result is biogas and a slurry of partially decomposed organic matter, water and nutrients.MSU generates about 21,000 tons of manure and 1,500 tons of food waste every year.


The Great Rift Valley of East Africa—the birthplace of the human species—may have taken much longer to develop than previously believed, according to research published in Nature Geoscience.

“We now believe that the western portion of the rift formed about 25 million years ago and is approximately as old as the eastern part, instead of much younger as other studies have maintained,” says Michael Gottfried, MSU associate professor of geological sciences. “Our study has major implications for the environmental and landscape changes that form the backdrop for that evolutionary story.”

Gottfried worked with an international team led by Eric Roberts at Australia’s James Cook University who added that the findings have important implications for understanding climate change models, animal evolution and the development of Africa’s unique landscape.

Traditionally, the eastern branch is considered much older, having developed 15 to 25 million years earlier than the western branch.  is study provides new evidence that the two rift segments developed at about the same time, nearly doubling the initiation age of the western branch and the timing of uplifit in this region of East Africa.


The next time you’re on campus, try Udder Delights, an ice cream cookie sandwich developed by MSU students. Available at various campus locations, including the two dairy stores, the treat combines chocolate chip cookies baked by the MSU Bakers and ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store. Students in Bonnie Knutson’s marketing class in the School of Hospitality Business developed a business plan and a student in Residential and Hospitality Services designed the packaging. “Udder Delights had the right combination of ingredients, name and potential for growth,” vouches Joel Heberlein, director of the Spartan Hospitality Group.


Michigan’s food and agriculture business sector has emerged from the recession with flying colors, contributing an estimated $91.4 billion to Michigan’s economy, according to an MSU study presented at the Michigan Agriculture and Rural Development Commission meeting.

“The impact of Michigan’s farms and the commodities they produce is 12 percent of the overall total, and their economic contribution has nearly doubled from less than $7 billion to more than $13 billion,” says Chris Peterson, director of the MSU Product Center. “You’d be hard-pressed to find another business sector that has pulled through the recession with those kinds of numbers in just six years.”

Michigan’s food and agriculture industry remains core to the state’s economic recovery and reinvention. The industry would rank 47th if it were on the list of Fortune 500 companies, notes Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development.

According to the report, Michigan has more than 73,000 full-time farmers and farm workers.That’s 12 percent of 618,000 direct jobs in Michigan’s food and agriculture business sector.

Every semester, MSU faculty, staff and students garner kudos too numerous to name exhaustively here. Some examples:

David Closs, chairperson of MSU’s Dept. of Supply Chain Management—ranked No. 1 for undergraduates and No. 2 for graduates by U.S. News & World Report—participated in a White House panel to discuss how to make the nation’s supply chains more sustainable.

Timothy J. Collier, a professor of translational science and molecular medicine at the College of Human Medicine and director of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research, has received the 2011 Bernard Sanberg Memorial Award for Brain Repair from the American Society of Neural Therapy and Repair. the award was presented in recognition of his work on the role of dopamine in neuron biology as applied to aging, Parkinson’s disease and experimental therapeutics.

Professor Norbert E. Kaminski in MSU’s colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Human Medicine has been named vice president of the Society of Toxicology, a national organization of about 7,500 scientists. Kaminski is the director of MSU’s Center for Integrative Toxicology.

Christopher Steffes, ’12, MSU senior in accounting, won the Capsim Capstone Challenge that requires competitors to run a $100 million business. More than 1,600 students around the world competed in the business simulation to identify the best potential future business CEO.

MSU has been named to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, and is the only institution in Michigan to make the honor roll “with distinction.” Last academic year, 17,892 students registered at MSU’s Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement.


Alan L. Smith, director of graduate studies in the Dept. of Health and Kinesiology at Purdue University and co-director of Purdue’s Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory, has been named chairperson of the MSU Dept. of Kinesiology. He replaces Deborah Feltz, who returns to the faculty after 23 years in the position.

Heather C. Swain, interim vice president of University Relations since 2010, has been named vice president for Communications and Brand Strategy. She succeeds Terry Denbow, who retired.

Sheila Teahan, associate professor of English, has been recommended to serve as MSU’s faculty grievance official. Teahan joined the MSU faculty as an assistant professor in 1989 and was promoted to associate professor in 1995.