Spring 2019 Grantees

University Faculty Research Grant Program

Title: Extending the Senses: Rapid Chemical Sensing in Foods and Liquids

PI(s): Lawrence P. Wackett, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, University of Minnesota

Co-Investigator(s): R. Lee Penn, Ph.D., Merck Professor of Chemistry, University of Minnesota; Leza Besemann, Office of Technology Commercialization, University of Minnesota; Jeff Ochs, CEO, Venn Foundation; Paul Hansen, Minnesota Social Benefit Corporation, President and CEO, Minnepura Technologies; Gregg Whited, Senior Scientist, DuPont, Division of Nutrition and Health.

Amount Awarded: $124,552.13

Length of Project: 2 years

Abstract: This proposal seeks to increase and sustain the University’s impact in the interdisciplinary arenas of food, agriculture, and health while training students and engaging the community in real-world applications leading to healthy foods and lives. We will develop sensors that work in complex matrices via student-conducted research at the University and then move that into the community with the support of University technology transfer, a Minnesota foundation, and industry. The initial target will be nitrogenous ring compounds known to cause kidney disease and death from kidney failure and that negatively impact bacterial disinfection processes in food and water. Our overall goal is to have on-the-spot, rapid, and inexpensive detection systems that give immediate feedback of contamination or adulteration of foods, and to determine unacceptable levels in fluids. To inform systemic change, we plan to engage the community through Foundation involvement and industrial participation. The team is ideally constituted to carry out all the steps from: (1) student-led research, (2) to University marketing, (3) to Foundation expositions, (4) and ultimately to industry mass production. Prof. Penn has led students in developing rapid tests for chemicals using smartphone apps. Prof. Wackett has published and patented on rapid biosensor methods for food and water. Dr. Leza Besemann currently works in the Office of Technology Commercialization at the University and was formerly a project manager for rapid diagnostic testing methods at Thermo Scientific. A St. Paul, Minnesota foundation and Social Benefit Corporation (SBC) will participate, along with a prominent scientist at DuPont. In total, we propose to develop new tools for food protection and security, integrating our collective expertise in food and analytics, to bring about systemic change in promoting health


Title: Community-led Approach to Increase Consumption of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: The Case of the Somali Community in St. Cloud, Minnesota

PI(s): Serdar Mamedov, M.S., CHES | Extension Educator, Health and Nutrition Programs, Center for Family Development, U of MN Extension

Co-Investigator(s): Hikaru Peterson, Ph.D | University of MN Professor, CFANS Applied Economics; Kathryn Draeger, Ph.D. | University of MN Statewide Director for the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Adjunct Assistant Professor (affiliated) CFANS Agronomy/Plant Genetics

Amount Awarded: $120,000.00

Length of Project: 2 years

Abstract: The Somali community is one of the largest refugee communities in Minnesota with an estimated population of 80,000, of which 10,000 reside in the Saint Cloud Metropolitan Statistical Area (The Economist, 2019). Being largely a low-income immigrant community, access to healthful foods such as fresh produce is limited due to financial, logistic, and cultural constraints. In addition to food insecurity, incidence of diet-related diseases is on the rise. Many of the Somali grocery stores are located in proximity to homes of their patrons and serve as spaces for people to gather. The goal of this project is to examine the effectiveness of empowering Somali store owners to address food and nutrition insecurity in culturally appropriate ways. 11 Somali grocers in the Saint Cloud metro area, many previously recruited for the study, will make improvements to the store infrastructure to increase offering of fresh produce. The store owners and employees will receive training on handling fresh produce, and Extension staff will connect them to local suppliers. The grocers will collaborate with the project team to develop culturally appropriate, educational material and display in-store promotions to raise nutritional awareness among their patrons. Somali residents will be recruited at social venues, like mosques and English classrooms, to complete pre- and post-intervention surveys on their food purchases, diet, and health status. Using a difference-in-difference model, we will estimate the impact of the interventions on purchases of fresh produce by Somali residents, sales of ethnic grocery stores and conduct a mediation analysis to identify the effectiveness of each of the individual interventions. Positive effects of the inventions would not only incentivize ethnic grocers to increase the offering of healthier food choices to help improve the diets of their patrons, but also encourage grocers to take on additional leadership roles within the community. 


Graduate and Professional Research Grant Program

Title: Characterization and Culture Optimization of Segmented Filamentous Bacteria for Administration as a Probiotic for Turkey Production


PI(s): Grant A. Hedblom, Ph.D. Candidate, Food Science and Nutrition

Advisor(s): David J. Baumler, Ph.D., Department of Food Science & Nutrition

Amount Awarded: $10,000.00

Length of Project: 1 year

Abstract: The proposed research seeks to characterize and optimize the growth of Candidatus Arthromitus (CA), a bacterium linked to improved immune health in several animals, notably turkeys. Turkey production in Minnesota has been severely damaged by a condition known as light turkey syndrome, where turkey flocks fail to meet their genetic weight potential and possess higher viral loads, costing the industry millions in annual losses and posing a risk to food safety and quality. Candidatus Arthromitus has been demonstrated to appear in much higher proportions in normal weight flocks when compared to counterparts with light turkey syndrome. Candidatus Arthromitus, a member of a group of bacteria known as segmented filamentous bacteria, has been shown to stimulate the innate and adaptive immune responses in mice and rats, and may be serving to improve turkey immunity. The proposed research project has three aims: (1) to characterize the nature of an experimental culture of CA isolated from turkey hosts (2) to optimize growth media for the cultivation of turkey-isolated segmented filamentous bacteria to increase production of these organisms, (3) to determine if administration of segmented filamentous bacteria cultures to monocultured turkey poults induces adaptive and innate immune responses. The research plan involves genome scale metabolic modeling to predict the metabolic nature of Candidatus Arthromitus and Bacillus marisflavi, the two members of an experimental co-culture obtained from commercial turkey. From these metabolic predictions and subsequent validation of these predictions, an optimized growth media formulation will be derived. Finally, the isolated and optimized probiotic culture of CA will be administered to germ-free turkey poults to determine the role that CA plays in turkey immune health. The proposed research has the potential to save turkey producers $30 million of lost revenue due to light turkey syndrome and serve as a template for probiotic discovery.


Title: Realizing Integration within Cultivated Ecosystems (RICE): Global Projections

PI(s): Tyler C. Seidel, Ph.D. Student, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; Kelsey Peterson, Ph.D. Student, Plant and Microbial Biology

Advisor(s): Jacques C. Finlay, Ph.D., Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; Yaniv Brandvain, Ph.D., Plant and Microbial Biology

Amount Awarded: $10,000.00

Length of Project: 1 year

Abstract: Rice paddy ecosystems are highly integrative networks of human, animal, and plant interactions. Rice is decreasing in nutritional value and one cause is climate derived CO2(g) deposition changes. To increase food security and protection, and to prevent diet-related diseases associated with nutrient deficient rice consumption, systematic changes to rice paddy management should be made to facilitate ecosystem dynamics. These dynamics could cascade throughout rice paddy networks to increase rice productivity and quality, cross-ecosystem biodiversity, and generate ecosystem services to increase public safety and wellbeing. We hypothesize that rice productivity and nutrient quality changes are the results of shifts in nutrient routing within the plant due to climate derived CO2(g) deposition changes that stress plant growth and biomass allocation. Moreover, we hypothesize that farmers and breeders of rice could invest more in cultivating rice varieties that facilitate non-rice pest aquatic insect growth. These invertebrates have the potential to supplement rice productivity and quality, while also increasing cross-ecosystem biodiversity. By integrating laboratory, field, and modeling experiments, we will leverage stable isotope analysis in the laboratory and field to determine whole-plant resource allocation patterns across a latitudinal gradient of four major rice producing regions. We will also quantify aquatic insect contributions to rice productivity, quality, and cross ecosystem biodiversity through isotopic differences produced by food web and plant-animal interactions. After our research is complete, we will also be able to retroactively model the evolutionary and contemporary trends of rice nutrient quality changes, its impact on biodiversity, food security, food protection and potential disease transmission. Most importantly, our work will directly empower rice growers by providing opportunities to reduce and naturally supplement rice production costs, and sustainably enrich their diet by promoting rice paddy ecosystem functioning despite climate change effects.

Community-University Partnership Planning Grant Program

Title: Learning-by-Doing to Improve Dietary Quality of Rural Latino Families

Community PI(s): Juan Pablo Higuera, MBA candidate, Minnesota State University, Mankato; Rodolfo Gutierrez, Executive Director, HACER; Francisco Ramirez, Community Health Educator, Fairview.

University PI(s): Lisa Harnack, DrPH, RD, Professor, Division of Epidemiology & Community Health Director, Nutrition Coordinating Center Co-Director, Obesity Prevention Center; Nancy Sherwood, Ph.D., Associate Professor Division of Epidemiology & Community Health School of Public Health, University of Minnesota; Jennifer A. Linde, Ph.D. Associate Professor Division of Epidemiology & Community Health School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.

Amount Awarded: $9,387.60

Length of Project: 7 months

Abstract: The Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER) proposes an innovative qualitative research project to reduce obesity and diet-related diseases in rural Latino communities. The project will seek to improve dietary habits among Latino individuals in rural Minnesota by understanding the grocery shopping process of Latino families. The findings from in-depth interviews (10) and behavioral observation research will be the inputs to design two Learning-by-Doing workshops. The in-depth interview sample will be defined in collaboration with the St. James’ Latino Community Organization: Convivencia Hispana. Workshops will be led by a Certified Community Health Worker and a Chef, who will teach Latino families how to cook healthier under their grocery shopping budget. With the Learning-by-Doing approach, participants will have the opportunity to actively participate in the workshops by cooking, asking questions and creating healthy recipes. The first workshop will focus on fruit and vegetables while the second workshop will focus on protein, grains, and dairy. Each workshop will have a pre-evaluation and post-evaluation assignment, which will tell us what was learned during the workshop. The results of the evaluations will be presented to HFHL in the final report, and a NIH or a R01 proposal will be written to fund full development and rigorous evaluation of the prototyped program most strongly supported by feedbacks from workshops.