What We Do
-Fe and Zn Bioavailability-
We utilize two main experimental models to assess mineral bioavailability: an in vitro Caco-2 cell assay, and an in vivo Gallus gallus animal model. Both enable us learn more about both specific and systemic effects dietary micronutrient deficiencies have onhealth outcomes in regards to human nutrition. The Caco-2 cell model allows us to observe the effects, for example, of polyphenolics and similar compounds on Fe and Zn absorption and bioavailability. Gallus gallus is an ideal animal model in which to study human nutrition, with a relative ease in manipulating its diet, rapid growth and development, and high genetic homology between Fe and Zn-dependent proteins and enzymes.
More information about the Gallus gallus model can be found HERE.
More information about the Caco-2 cell model can be found HERE.
-Fe & Zn Utilization Among Host Microbiota-
The study of the totality of the microbes living on or in us (termed the microbiome or microbiota) is a relatively new and rapidly expanding field of scientific inquiry and research. The scientific community is just beginning to understand how and why these microbes affect our health, and, in turn, how our health shapes their composition within us. We are primarily interested in the observed differences of the resident gut microflora between Zn deficient and Zn replete subjects. Using next generation sequencing techniques, we can glean information about potential relationships between certain families of microbes and Zn utilization within the host; information which may ultimately constitute a new and reactive biomarker of Zn deficiency.
More information about the microbiome in general can be from the Human Microbiome Project HERE.
-Zn Biomarker Elucidation & Development-
Although Zn deficiency affects billions of people in both developed and developing countries around the world, accurate biomarkers (tests which are used to detect the presence of a nutritional deficiency or pathological state), are lacking. Current indicators of Zn status, such as serum Zn, may not yield a true picture of one’s Zn status since it is affected by physiological processes other than Zn nutriture. The World Health Organization has urged for the continued focus on reliable measures of Zn status especially in mild to moderate Zn deficiency. We are working to develop new, reliable indicators of Zn status to be utilized in human studies across various populations.
More information about a Zn biomarker we are developing can be found HERE.
-Prebiotics & Micronutrient Absorption-
Prebiotics are usually non-digestible carbohydrates/ fibers of varying length and complexity that serve as raw material for gut bacteria and other microbes to utilize for energy. The fermentation of these substances, in turn, yield beneficial effects such as increasing production of short chain fatty acids, decreasing pro-inflammatory immune factors, and increasing the uptake of Fe and Zn. We are interested in learning more about these effects in regards to how they may modulate mineral absorption and bioavailability in vivo.
-Biofortification of Staple Food Crops-
Biofortification is a process by which micronutrient-dense staple crops can be developed using traditional breeding practices and modern biotechnology. The strategies used when biofortifying foods (such as beans, millet, and lentils) include increasing the mineral content itself, increasing enhancers of mineral absorption (e.g., ascorbic acid and prebiotics), and decreasing inhibitors (e.g., phytic acid and certain polyphenols) of mineral absorption. All of these strategies are used with the goal of improving the micronutrient status in the target population who consume these foods. A benefit of biofortification is that the crops being targeted are already consumed in high amounts by populations which suffer from these nutritional deficiencies. This makes implementing the new, biofortified crop much easier. Our lab is interested in assessing the benefits on Fe and Zn status provided by biofortified staples foods crops, by utilizing both cellular and animal models. We collaborate with plant geneticists, nutritional scientists, and policy makers when studying about biofortification.
More information about the importance of biofortification can be found from Harvest Plus and CGIAR HERE.