Spring 2020 Grantees

Faculty Research

University Faculty Research Grant Program

Title: Phylogenetic, epidemiological, and microbiological approaches to develop food safety interventions to control Listeria monocytogenes biofilms

PI(s): Byeonghwa Jeon, Ph.D. Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota

Co-Investigator(s): Craig Hedberg, Ph.D. Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota and Co-Director, for the MN Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence; Dave Boxrud, Enteric Division Supervisor, Minnesota Department of Health.

Amount Awarded: $150,000

Length of Project: 2 years

Abstract: Listeria monocytogenes is the foodborne pathogen showing the highest rates of case fatality and hospitalization in the U.S. Listeria may develop an invasive infection, causing serious clinical problems in the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant females. Due to the increase in the aging population of developed countries, it is urgently required to prevent and control human exposure to Listeria. Because Listeria is ubiquitous in the environment, it can be easily introduced to the food supply chain and cause food contamination. Notably, the capability of Listeria to form biofilms can make Listeria contamination persistent and recurrent. In addition, the increased tolerance to disinfectants in biofilm cells makes it challenging to eradicate Listeria biofilms. In preliminary studies, Dr. Jeon discovered a novel anti-biofilm method that synergistically inhibits Listeria biofilms using antioxidants and nisin, the sole antimicrobial peptide approved by the FDA for food application. In the proposed research, our team will make multidisciplinary approaches to control of Listeria biofilms. In Specific Aim 1, we will analyze phylogenetic associations of biofilm development by measuring the level of biofilm formation of 300 clinical isolates of L. monocytogenes that have been collected by the Minnesota Department of Health over the past 20 years. In Specific Aim 2, we will investigate how biofilm formation affects human listeriosis by comparing the level of biofilm formation with the demographic and exposure information of the 300 clinical isolates. In Specific Aim 3, furthermore, we will develop synergistic foodgrade anti-biofilm combinations to eradicate Listeria biofilms, which can be used to decontaminate food processing equipment. The expected outcomes of the project will help us improve food safety by controlling Listeria biofilms.

Title: Manoomin Minds: Tapping Minnesota’s Manoomin/Wild Rice Expertise to Understand of How Growth Conditions Influence the Nutritional Composition of Manoomin/Wild Rice (Zizania palustris)

PI(s): Emily Onello MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus

Co-Investigator(s): Daniel Gallaher, Ph.D. Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); Nathan Johnson, Ph.D., Department of Civil Engineering, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD; Jacob Walker-Swaney, MPH, Research Scientist, MN Dept. of Health; Wayne Warry, Ph.D. UMN Medical School, UMD; John Pastor, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor, Biology Dept. UMN; Nancy Schuldt, Water Resource Coordinator, Fond du Lac Band; Darren Vogt, Resource Manager, Director, 1854 Treaty Authority

Amount Awarded: $147,965

Length of Project: 2 years

Abstract: Evidence suggests that wild rice, or manoomin, is a healthy food that is worth protecting from potential environmental degradation. Manoomin is a treasured resource for many tribal members in our region, for cultural, nutritional and spiritual reasons. Many Minnesotans recognize wild rice as an iconic ingredient in the region’s culinary culture but remain unaware of its health-promoting qualities or its fragile ecological status. In recent years, there has been significant scientific study and political pursuit of a deeper understanding of the ecological conditions under which native wild rice stands thrive. Published literature has described a complex relationship between wild rice and the environment in which it grows. Ecological investigations have found that water and sediment variables such as nitrogen, sulfate, sulfide, phosphorus, iron, and organic matter significantly influence the development and mass of viable wild rice seeds as well the consequent seedling emergence and survival. However, little is known about how alterations in these key environmental variables may affect the nutritional composition of wild rice. This proposal recognizes and partners with multiple wild rice experts across Minnesota to examine how various growth conditions, including sulfate and sulfide in water and sediment, affect the macronutrient and mineral content of wild rice. Manoomin samples will be studied from selected sites representing a range of environmental variations. Harvested wild rice seeds will be analyzed for elemental composition, nutritional content of protein, fiber, carbohydrate, and fat/fatty acids (proximate analysis). Site selection, study methods and dissemination of findings will occur in partnership with tribal biologists, band members and Minnesota Department of Health scientists. The project will culminate with the development of a free and publicly accessible data repository and will position project participants for an application to federal funding sources that builds on the findings from the proposed work. In addition to informing natural resource managers and policy makers, the goal of the repository and follow-up proposal will be to expand public access to information linking the ecology of native wild rice to the nutritional assets of this cherished and threatened Indigenous food.

Title: Hunger and Heart Health: Multi-level Predictors and Intervention Targets for Food Security and Cardiovascular Health in Diverse Children

PI(s): Jerica Berge, Ph.D. Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, 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: $149,998

Length of Project: 2 years

Abstract: Food insecurity is associated with cardiometabolic disease in adults. However, there are major gaps in our knowledge regarding the factors that influence the emergence of cardiometabolic risks from food insecurity during childhood. The main objectives of this study are to: (1) Determine the impact of exposure to household food insecurity (i.e., timing, severity, duration) on children’s cardiometabolic health; (2) Evaluate the extent to which child behaviors, parent factors, and access to resources impact the relationship between food insecurity and cardiometabolic health; (3) Examine whether and how a societal-level stressor, COVID-19, impacts food insecurity and associations with child health; and (4) Use mixed-methodologies (surveys, interviews, focus groups) to identify intervention targets at the level of the family, neighborhood, school, and community to inform intervention development and future public health approaches to address food insecurity during critical incidents. We will recruit 300 parent/child dyads from a cohort of racially/ethnically diverse children from low-income households participating in a prospective, longitudinal study of obesity. Survey and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) data have already been collected, including measures of food insecurity, household environment, child health behaviors, and parent behaviors at two-time points (~18 months apart) at ages 5-10. New mixed-methods measures that will be collected in the proposed study at ages 9-14 include: measures of cardiometabolic health (e.g., BMI, waist circumference, metabolic and cardiovascular parameters, oxidative stress and inflammation), Geographical Information Services (GIS) data, and qualitative interviews and focus groups. This cohort is unique because the second data collection time point for 300 families occurred/will occur between March and August 2020, allowing for us to assess the impact of a societal-level stressor, COVID-19, on parent and child health. Results will be used to inform an intervention to be submitted to the National Institutes of Health to reduce cardiometabolic disease risk among children from food insecure households.


Graduate and Professional Research Grant Program

Title: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity, psychological distress, dietary intake, physical activity, sleep, and alcohol use among mothers

PI(s): Jessica Friedman, MPH, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate, Epidemiology and Junia Nogueira de Brito, MBA, MPH, Ph.D. Candidate Epidemiology and Community Health

Advisor(s): Susan Marshall Mason, Ph.D., Epidemiology and Community Health & Mark Pereira, Ph.D., Epidemiology and Community Health, SPH

Amount Awarded: $10,000.00

Length of Project: 1 year

Project Background: Stay at home orders and the closing of many sectors of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic are critical for reducing transmission but have precipitated dramatic increases in unemployment, child care challenges, and other economic hardships that have rapidly impacted the financial security of many households. These policies have had unique implications for families, particularly mothers, who are trying to balance work, household responsibilities, childcare, and provide adequate food for their families in a context of great economic uncertainty. A national poll recently showed that women are more likely than men to say their lives have been disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic; even if both parents

work full-time, women have now become “the chief operating officers of their households.” Therefore, we expect that mothers, in particular, will disproportionately take responsibility for responding to the pandemic for themselves and their families because of women’s gender roles and expectations (e.g., caretaking, cooking, cleaning). This burden may make mothers particularly vulnerable to the numerous negative consequences of food insecurity, a widespread consequence of COVID-19 and related societal and economic disruptions (e.g., changes to the food supply chain and subsequent food shortages in grocery stores, increased use of public assistance). Food insecurity and related stressors (e.g., concern of running out of staple items) may place mothers at an increased risk for psychological distress (i.e., increased stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms) and other negative weight-related health outcomes (i.e., poor diet quality, reduced physical activity and sleep, and increased alcohol use). Of particular concern is the potential that restrictions on movement, accompanied by financial and other stressors, may heighten obesity risk for mothers, for example by reducing physical activity, increasing consumption of processed or ready-to-eat foods with higher caloric content, and increasing stress-related disordered overeating. These women are therefore at elevated risk of numerous long-term poor health outcomes over the life course, including eating disorders and obesity-related cardiometabolic diseases Identifying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on weight-related problems in mothers will be essential for guiding clinical and public health strategies to prevent food insecurity, promote healthy eating and ensure adequate and sustainable diets. These ongoing health challenges will need to be addressed as we emerge from this crisis. In addition to concerns about food insecurity and obesity, there is an acknowledged and growing concern in the public health community regarding the anticipated surge in the psychological and physiological manifestations of extreme stress.13 In fact, both the CDC and Mental Health UK have issued explicit guidance for the public on identifying and managing stress and coping strategies specific to COVID-19. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiological surveillance identified gender disparities in the magnitude of psychological distress, with a prevalence of psychological distress in women of 1.7 times higher compared to men. There is growing concern that this disparity may widen over the course of the pandemic, resulting in poor dietary intake, decreased physical activity and sleep quality, and increased alcohol use in women. Studies on the mental health consequences of natural disasters, epidemics, and armed conflict support the hypothesis that these situations result in increased psychological distress, particularly among women. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions imposed by social distancing can interfere with healthy coping strategies (e.g., seeking social support) and manifest in maladaptive behaviors.


Title: Culinary Heritage and Cultural Wellness: Studying the Contribution of Ancient Whole Grains from Africa

PI(s): Melissa Jansma Ph.D. Student, Department of Food Science and Nutrition

Advisor(s): Craig Hassel, Ph.D. Department of Food Science and Nutrition

Amount Awarded: $10,000.00

Length of Project: 1 year

Abstract: This novel project integrates culinary heritage, health and wellness, food systems, education and knowledge production to support systemic changes within the South Minneapolis Neighborhood Communities and the Midtown Global Market. Partners include the Cultural Wellness Center (CWC), its Backyard Community Health Hub (BYCHH), Allina Health, Neighborhood Development Center and the U of M Department of Food Science and Nutrition (FScN). Ancient whole grains from Africa are underutilized foods that hold potential for health benefits by tapping into culinary heritage, building community and promoting cultural healing. A cohort of students from U of M Department of Food Science & Nutrition will study composition, history and use of African ancient grains millet, teff, sorghum, African rice, and fonio. Using a community-based, rotating guest chef approach implemented within the Midtown Global Market, the students will work with African American chefs under the direction of the Backyard Community Health hub to incorporate these ancient whole grains into menu items for food service and dishes for in-home preparation through multiple tasting and experiencing community events. The work includes developing an innovative culinary heritage assessment tool to explore and better understand the cultural dimensions of consumer acceptance, sensory qualities, and the significance of culinary heritage in contributing to perceived quality, acceptance and potential health benefits of ancient whole grain dishes. Data collected using the assessment tool will help in understanding the ways in which culinary heritage and culturally significant dishes influence community health and wellness. Additionally, the assessment data will form the basis for Community Health Hub instructional videos and in-person cooking demonstrations. Finally, this project address gaps in undergraduate food, nutrition and dietetics curricula, as current offerings often leave students unprepared to work and communicate effectively within an intercultural setting. The student cohort model described here holds potential to benefit food, nutrition and dietetics programs nationally.