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Welcome to the Friesen Lab Website

Our research interests lie at the interface of ecology and evolution. How do the molecular and physiological pathways of organisms shape their ecology, and how does selection imposed by interactions with other organisms and the environment ultimately shape their genomes?

We are moving to Washington State University Fall 2017! If you are interested in joining us as a postdoc or graduate student, please get in touch with Maren by email.


Catalyzing Graduate Training: White Paper sent to NSF

The loss of the NSF DDIG program caused great sadness, both within the community and apparently at NSF. I happened to be serving on a panel the week the decision came out, and was told that the memo was “stained with tears”. All of the protest letters, while certainly articulating the communities’ dismay, didn’t propose any useful action. Furthermore, in my opinion the very last thing that we should be doing is causing our NSF officers additional tears! I asked the directors what we, the community, could do to ensure our students are trained to be independent scientists and leaders and it was suggested that an unsolicited proposal might be considered.

Emboldened by this suggestion, I teamed up with David Stern of the PSRN (representing 14 plant science societies) and an amazing group of folks spanning SSE, SSB, and ASN at & leading up to Evolution 2017 in Portland. Five of us put together the following WHITE PAPER and sent it to NSF late last week. We’re waiting for a response, but are hopeful that there will be investments made along the lines we suggest.

If you’re interested in getting email updates on this topic and participating in discussion, please join our public google group.


Clover news!

Maren, Ellie Siler, and Emily McLachlan joined our UC Davis collaborators Andrew Siefert and Jess Aguilar last week at Bodega Bay to survey & sample Trifolium for the Friesen-Strauss Dimensions project.  

Check out these nodules!

This coincided nicely with the RNAseq paper led by Alan Bowsher that came out in the Journal of Ecology for the SPECIAL FEATURE: TRANSCRIPTOMIC AND GENOMIC ANALYSES OF COMMUNITIES.

And leading to a nice press release by Layne Cameron at MSU!

Don’t Mess with Switchgrass!

Recently observed in lab: switchgrass roots can break steel!

Late-season switchgrass roots were dried and cut pieces prior to grinding for the MMPRNT project, and were to be ground by being rolled for 3-7 days on what we liken to be a supped-up hot dog roller. The tumbler, seen above, is put inside the vials so that the root tissue gradually gets ground during its stay on the roller. Most of the time, the roots are the ones getting pulverized. This time, however, the roots showed us that they are not ones to be taken lightly. One rock-hard chunk of root wedged its way into the groove in this tumbler and carved a chunk out of it during a week long rolling session. Said root had to be forcibly removed from the tumbler with forceps back in the lab.

The glass vial was also cracked during the root’s battle with the tumbler…

Other samples from late in the season had similar rock hard roots that managed to crack their vials, but none of them managed to break the steel tumbler (yet).

Unicorns versus Narwhals | I’m on Public Radio!

OK, so this isn’t a new interview, but I thought I would post it retrospectively. In #scicomm class this week we talked about being interviewed. Aaron’s interview is HERE and Sheril has tons of interviews online. We noticed a lot of variation in interviewer skill and how “excited” each of us sounded. Here are a couple things I did that the class agreed worked OK:

  • I tried really really hard to not do the up-voice thing at the end of sentences
  • I said “this is really cool” and “the most exciting thing” as many times as I could
  • I tried to explain jargon on the fly

I did this interview over the phone and I wish I had had a better set up–sound quality makes a huge difference in how good thing sound.

My interview about the mythical “Oxygen-tolerant Nitrogenase” aired on “Stateside” Michigan Radio March 7, 2016 with the following blurb:

  • You could argue that research scientists today chase unicorns: If they are able to prove the existence of some myth, they could make the world a better place. Maren Friesen has done exactly that


I admit it, I like unicorns. (Who doesn’t like unicorns?) But I like narwhals better, because they’re real. I own a stuffed narwhal named Nar-walter. I recently received a narwhal tea-infuser. And a pair of socks with a narwhal crossing horns with a unicorn. But the main message that barely got across in the interview is that we DID NOT find the unicorn. Or rather, we found it and it was a narwhal that doesn’t fix nitrogen in the presence of oxygen.

Narwhal beats Unicorn! Go Science!

It would be really great if there were enzymes that could fix nitrogen without being so sensitive to oxygen, but so far it looks like we need to keep exploring within the classical Mo, V, and Fe enzymes that are known.

CV tips

It’s that time of year again, when departments assess whether their faculty are performing adequately, time for the *Annual Review*! To that end, this week has been a flurry of getting papers submitted / re-submitted and next week will be as well. Which means I get to update my CV!

One year during my annual review I was advised to improve my CV to make it easier for people (read the people who determine whether I get a raise or promotion) to evaluate my performance. For those of you interested, here are the tips!

  1. Include page numbers (this goes for research & teaching statements as well)
  2. Make sure margins aren’t too big — this will look like you’re padding it
  3. Include your mailing address & phone number
  4. Highlight research! publications & grants/awards first, then teaching
  5. Reverse number pubs with most recent (& thus the highest number) first — this lets the reader immediately know how many pubs you have, which matters for the “bean counters”
  6. Include any highly cited, highly accessed, or commentary info for particular pubs
  7. For collaborative grants, include total award and amount to your lab
  8. Spell out all abbreviations (all of them!)
  9. Separate Oral & Poster presentations
  10. Separate Service into subcategories
    1. * Professional memberships
    2. * Journal reviews (total, list journals)
    3. * Funding agency reviews/panels (list agencies)
  11. List Personnel!!
    1. * All personnel supervised (starting with when you’re a postdoc)
    2. * Students (high school, UG, grad) and postdocs names, dates, project title (if indept research), where they are currently if known
  12. List all Committees
  13. List Outreach
  14. List Websites

Once I get mine updated, I’ll add it to my people page for the world to see! But first I’m going to resubmit this lingering paper…

Update: A couple more papers accepted! FRIESEN_CV_CURRENT.

Cody Bekkering


Cody is a laboratory technician working to test root software developed in the Friesen lab and compare it to both published root measuring software and hand measurements. In addition, he will be working with multiple different programs to determine minimum image quality requirements for several different root measuring programs and to summarize the capabilities of available root image analysis programs to the community.

This summer, Cody will be working on a project that determines the effects of nitrogen inputs and environmental conditions on the growth of switchgrass, a biofuel crop.

Cody is a recent graduate from Michigan State University. He graduated with a B.S. in Plant Biology, and B.A. in Chemistry, and a minor in mathematics. He enjoys biking and competitive gaming, and his recent trip to China (imaged above) has shown him the joys of travelling.

Science Role Models

Last semester, I was struck by a remark Jim Tiedje made during PubClub about a well-regarded scientist he knew who worked in a not-so-great lab but who had identified a top scientist in his field and emulated him/her.  By adopting the character traits of an admired scientist, the implication goes,  we can ourselves become better scientists. This reminded me of Rob Pennock’s Scientific Virtues project, which through surveys has identified the traits that scientists admire in our culture.

To kick off the new year, I asked everyone in my lab to submit a brief writeup of one of their science role models and reflect on how his/her traits enabled their scientific achievements. Many selected a former advisor, while others chose someone established in their field or someone famous they admired. Recurrent virtues included: Skepticism, Rigor, Loyalty, Hard work, Communication Ability, Caring, Curiosity, and Risk-taking. Many highlighted the importance of training students and postdocs and creating opportunities in science for those with diverse backgrounds.

The Friesen Lab’s Scientific Role Models: Catharina Coenen; Rosie RedfieldMary SeelyScott Peck; Jack Webster; Joan Strassmann; Lisa Donovan; Thomas Kuhn; David Arora; Alfred Wegener; Kathleen Rubins

To try to emulate our role models (and because Aaron Garoutte, Sheril Kirshenbaum and I are running a “Communicating Science” seminar this spring!) one of my 2017 resolutions is to write a post on this website every week–and my lab is going to hold me to it!

Friesen Lab is Trying sciNote, an Open Source Electronic Lab Notebook

We are trying sciNote, a promising new electronic lab notebook that was a Kickstarter Project in fall 2015. One of the coolest things about it is that it is open-source — and it is being actively developed. Maren spoke with the folks there about the future and they’re working on integrating with Office (so that you can edit files directly inside the platform) and on developing a real database for samples. We’d love to see the Chado schema for stocks and natural diversity integrated…



In the meantime, several labmembers are trying this out before we decide whether to switch entirely from paper!

Check out sciNote for yourself here (the 1Gb plan is free): sciNote Open source Electronic Lab Notebook

Note: Through their PIs program, by posting this link we are getting the upgraded storage (100Gb) for free.

New Friesen lab paper out in the ISME Journal

Jeff and Maren’s new perspectives paper about exoenzyme production by free-living diazotrophs is available online in the ISME Journal! The paper is open access and can be viewed at the link below:


This paper lays out the conceptual basis for a lot of the experiments we’re conducting in association with our EAGER grant (info on that here).