Undergraduate Research (NUTR/FSTC 485/491)

Faculty Research Descriptions

 


Professor: Dr. Clinton Allred

Classification: Juniors and seniors who have at least two semesters remaining will receive preference for enrollment. This gives students more time to make decisions and apply to graduate programs after the class. However, underclassmen (particularly sophomores) will also be considered.

Prerequisites: None

GPR Requirement: 2.8

Time Required: At least 2 ½ hours twice a week

Research: One of the main goals of the class is to introduce students to what they can expect if they choose to attend graduate school. We are seeking motivated students who are interested in learning about nutrition related research and exploring the possibility of graduate school to participate in NUTR 485/491. My laboratory conducts research evaluating the effect of dietary compounds on the development and progression of both breast and colon cancer. Specifically we study how things in the diet mimic the effects of naturally occurring hormones in the body. Ongoing projects are focused on estrogenic compounds in plants such as soy, while other studies are exploring the effects of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

Student Role: Students will be introduced to a variety of common research techniques and learn fundamental principles of cancer biology.

Additional Information: All interested students need to complete the entire application. In addition, in the space provided for comments the applicant needs to answer the following question. Why do you want to participate in this class? I anticipate taking at least two students each semester including both Fall and Spring and during the long summer session.


 

Professor: Dr. Robert S. Chapkin

Classification: Any

Time Required: A minimum of 9 hours per week

Minimum GPA: 3.25

Pre-requisites: None

Research: Dr. Chapkin’s lab investigates the impact of dietary fat and fiber on the cellular “signaling cascades” in the colon. His laboratory is involved in Systems Biology, the modeling and understanding at the molecular level of the dynamic relationships among diet and  biological molecules which regulate colon cancer development. He has demonstrated that omega 3 fatty acids regulate the transmission of information that alters physiological responses such as cell growth, differentiation, apoptosis, DNA methylation status, membrane microdomain organization, and protein trafficking, thereby ultimately determining the risk for developing colon cancer. Findings from his studies indicate that the chemopreventive effect of fish oil is due to the direct action of omega 3 fatty acids and not to a reduction in the content of omega 6 fatty acids. He has developed noninvasive methodology for monitoring global changes in intestinal gene expression. This effort has generated a patent and an NIH initiated and sponsored clinical intervention trial.

Dr. Chapkin’s laboratory is also investigating the mechanisms by which dietary lipids and phytochemicals, e.g., docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and curcumin, modulate effector cells (T- lymphocytes) of the immune system. He is involved in studying the role of lipids as mediators of chronic inflammation. He has demonstrated that dietary DHA and curcumin alter T-lymphocyte membrane microdomain composition and suppress cytokine production. Elucidation of the mechanisms by which DHA and phytochemical feeding suppress T-lymphocyte function will lead to the establishment of dietary guidelines designed to reduce the incidence and severity of disorders that involve an inappropriately activated immune response (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis) without increasing the susceptibility to infection. This is important because epidemiological and preclinical studies indicate that dietary EPA and DHA-induced shifts in inflammatory processes, in part, account for their anti-tumorigenic properties in colon cancer.


 

Professor: Dr. Shaodong Guo

Prerequisites: Open to all, but approval of instructor is required.

GPR Requirement: 3.0

Time Required: At least 4 hours per week

Research: Dr. Guo lab research interests include the mechanisms of diabetes mellitus and associated cardiovascular dysfunctions, focusing on nutritional and hormonal signal transduction, insulin resistance, gene transcriptional control of nutrient homeostasis, and obesity-induced diabetes and cardiac dysfunction. Dr. Guo’s lab has been working on the gene transcriptional regulation of metabolic homeostasis by insulin receptor substrate proteins (IRS) and Forkhead-winged helix transcription factors (FoxO) with the hope of understanding how the signaling from insulin via IRS to FoxO proteins plays a key role in many fundamental cellular processes, including cellular growth and metabolism. His lab has taken a multidisciplinary approach in both cell- and animal- based experiments to investigate how different nutritional and hormonal signals regulate FoxO and how dysregulation of the FoxO pathway is involved in the development of metabolic diseases. His lab long term goals are to identify components of the IRS and FoxO regulatory network that can be targeted for nutritional and therapeutic intervention in the treatment of diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases. For more information, please visit Guo lab departmental website: http://nfscfaculty.tamu.edu/guo/

Student’s Role: Student will learn techniques from cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and animal physiology. In particular, techniques including genotyping, animal handling, gene targeting and mouse genetics, DNA and RNA isolation, real-time PCR, gel electrophoresis, primary hepatocyte and myocyte isolation and cell culturing, blood chemistry, fluorescent and electron microscope, gene array and micro RNA array analysis, tissue section and immunostaining, metabolic and cardiac analysis are available at a daily-based research in the lab. The student will also be involved in Guo lab meetings with postdoctoral fellows and graduate students for discussing research papers in and lab research progress at a weekly-basis.


 

Professor: Dr. Karen Kubena

Classification: Junior or Senior

Prerequisites: Approval of instructor

GPR Requirement: 3.0

Time Required: 1 or 2 credits (3 hours/credit)

Research: Decisions about which foods are eaten by humans depends upon variables, including family and friends, culture and many other variables. Identifying factors that play a role in food choices and other lifestyle behaviors allows development of educational and other programs designed to achieve and maintain healthy weight and optimal nutrition in children and adolescents. This is the focus of our research.

Student Role: The student will conduct a literature search and prepare a paper on an aspect of food preference and food use. Routine meetings will facilitate the process.

Additional Information: I appreciate being able to place a motivated and talented individual in my laboratory this semester for this exciting research project.


 Professor: Dr. Suresh Pillai

Classification: undergraduate preferably Junior or Senior

Prerequisites: an interest in microbiology and laboratory research

GPR Requirement: none, as long as you can demonstrate your ability to contribute in a research setting

Time Requirement: about 12 hours a week if you want to perform research work for credit. Otherwise about 5-10 hours a week if you want to gain some understanding of what laboratory research means.

Research: My laboratory is a microbiology laboratory. We work on research projects that extend pretty much from septic tanks, sandwiches, and up to the space station. We work on projects at the interface between food safety, public health and environmental microbiology.  Students will have the opportunity to gain experience in classical microbiology

techniques, molecular microbiology techniques, pathogen decontamination technologies and environmental treatment technologies.

Student Role: Work in a team along with graduate students and senior scientists. The extent to which an undergraduate student will have the opportunity to contribute to projects will depend on their initiative, drive and sense of responsibility. My laboratory has always supported a number of undergraduates, some of whom have been selected as Undergraduate Research Fellows at TAMU and have since gone on to graduate and professional programs.

Additional Information: The laboratory works with food borne and water borne pathogens. These include bacteria, viruses and protozoa.


 

Professor: Dr. Yuxiang Sun

Prerequisites: Open to all, but approval of instructor is required.

GPR Requirement: 3.0

Time Required: At least 4 hours per week

Research: Ghrelin is the only known “hunger hormone”, which stimulates appetite and promotes obesity. Dr. Sun has made seminal contributions to ghrelin field. She generated the first set of ghrelin and ghrelin receptor knockout mice, and discovered ghrelin’s novel functions in diabetes, thermogenesis and macrophage polarization. Her work suggests that ghrelin might be a promising drug target for obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and aging (For more info, please see:  https://nfs.tamu.edu/people/sun-yuxiang/).

The research interests of Dr. Sun include nutritional regulation of glucose regulation and lipid metabolism, neural and hormonal regulation of energy- and glucose- homeostasis, pathogenesis and pathophysiology of obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and aging.

Current projects in the lab are to elucidate the roles and pertinent mechanisms of ghrelin- signaling in obesity, diabetes, inflammation and aging. State-of-the-art tools are used to study the functions of ghrelin signaling in: 1) energy metabolism and energy balance; 2) inflammation and immunometabolism; 3) pancreatic hormonal secretion. Physiological and pharmacological approaches are carried out in global and tissue-specific knockout and knockin mice, as well as in primary cells and tissue culture systems.

Student’s Role: Student will learn general cell and molecular biology techniques, including DNA and RNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and cell culture etc. Depend on student’s background and interest, advanced program is available.


 

Professor: Dr. Susanne Talcott

Classification: Juniors and seniors who have at least two semesters remaining will receive preference for enrollment. This gives students more time to make decisions and apply to graduate programs after the class. However, underclassmen (particularly sophomores) will also be considered.

Prerequisites: None

GPR Requirement: 2.8

Time Required: 2 semester commitment, at least 4 credit hours/semester

Research Interest: Dr. Susanne Talcott’s overall research objective is to assess bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables, dietary supplements, antioxidant fruit juices and other foods, in their role in the prevention of chronic diseases and the protection of health in an integrative, translational research approach (bench to bedside). Dr. Talcott is also working in  the improvement of quality and determination of health benefits of grapes and wine in collaboration with the Texas Wine and Grape Industry. Millions of Americans consume plant based foods, including dietary supplements and functional foods with the hope of preventing or even treating chronic diseases. However, very little research investigating the efficacy of antioxidant foods has been performed. Hence, consumers as well as food industry, have very little to no guidance regarding efficacy and dosing recommendations for these products.

It is our goal to establish efficacy, safety and dosing recommendations for plant based bioactive compounds, using pharmacometric tools and disease specific biomarkers for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Including antioxidant endpoints as well as biomarkers for inflammation, vascular endothelial function, apoptosis, cell signalling


 

Professor: Dr. Steve Talcott

Classification: Juniors and seniors, food science or nutrition students.

Prerequisites: None

GPR Requirement: None

Time Required: Variable; depending on number of credits taken.

Research: To conduct phytochemical extractions and analysis of bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables, dietary supplements, and botanicals per the direction of current research objectives. Undergraduate students will be paired with a graduate student or other experienced personnel as their mentor, and assistant and learn in hands-on applications.

Student Role: Students will be introduced to a variety of food analytical techniques and learn- by-doing in a hands-on experiences that may range from washing lab ware to advanced LC-MS analysis.


 

Professor: Dr. Matthew Taylor, Associate Professor, Dept. Animal Science

Classification: Juniors in FSTC are preferred, but NUTR (Science option) students will also be considered. Students with sophomore status will be considered for FSTC 485 participation, but not for 491 credit.

Prerequisites: Students should have completed DASC/FSTC 326 and 327, or be in process of completion of courses, with at least a B grade being obtained in each class. The applicant should also have completed the required organic chemistry sequence, or be in the process of completion, with at least a B in each course. Unofficial transcripts must be provided by the student to the instructor, or permission allowing the professor to request student grades in conjunction from departmental advising staff.

GPR Requirements: No minimum GPR is required, but will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Students possessing a >3.5 GPR within their major will be given preference when multiple candidates apply for a listed opportunity.

Time Requirements: Time requirements will be outlined for each position and may differ between positions based on learning outcomes/objectives, student course enrollment, type of course credit obtained (i.e. 485, 491), and student scheduling commitments. Generally, at least 2 hours/week are anticipated for every credit of 485 earned, while 2.5-3 hours/week are anticipated for every credit of 491 earned.

Research: Food Safety Microbiology. The food antimicrobials research laboratory (FARL) investigates the functionality and mechanisms of action of multiple food antimicrobial compounds, including the organic acids, bacteriocins, and lytic enzymes (e.g. lysozyme). Studies are both basic and applied in nature, and may include research on the encapsulation and micro- analysis of antimicrobials. The laboratory is certified Biosafety Level 2 (BL2) and all members must maintain up-to-date training and certification status. Students must adhere to safety protocols outlined for work in the FARL or risk expulsion and loss of course credit or a failing grade for credits sought.

Student Role: Undergraduate roles vary from those developing written reviews of ongoing research and background research that contribute to development of refereed papers and abstracts to assisting in the gathering of experimental data in conjunction with graduate research and under the supervision of instructor and graduate students.

Additional Information: None


 

Professor: Dr. Nancy Turner

Classification: Sophomore – Senior

Pre-requisites: No specific course prerequisites are needed.

Time Required: The greatest consideration will be given to students who are seeking 2 or more hours of credit (at least 6 hours of time in the lab each week). One hour of credit would only be considered for 285 or 485 students.

Research: Our research evaluates the effects of bioactive molecules present in our diets on various aspects of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer development and

prevention. We use animal models to study how dietary factors influence the balance between new cell formation and cell death, oxidative stress and regulation of gene expression. Our goal is to identify compounds present in foods that are able to suppress these diseases.

Student Role: 285 or 485 students would be involved in a review of the literature, which includes searching databases and summarizing their findings. In addition, directed studies students would be exposed to the laboratory and the techniques used for our  experiments. The level of activity would depend on the student’s background and training.

Ideally, 291 and 491 students would have completed a 285 or 485 course prior to initiating the research class. These students would be provided with a small research project for the semester, if sufficient time was available. The project assigned would depend on the student’s schedule. The work could include care of animals, collection of samples or sample analyses.


 

Professor: Dr. Chaodong Wu

Classification: Prefer completion of NUTR 470 but not required

Prerequisites: Prefer junior but seniors may also apply

GPR Requirement: 3.0

Time Required: At least 4 hours per week

Research: The Wu Lab has expertise in nutrition, metabolism, and integrative physiology. Currently, the research in Wu Lab is focused on elucidating roles of inflammation-metabolism interactions in overnutrition-associated insulin resistance, adipose tissue inflammation, and hepatic steatosis and liver inflammatory response. The Wu Lab is also interested in exploring roles of inflammatory and signaling molecules in regulating atherosclerosis, and in studying myeloid cell functions in metabolic diseases. Both cellular and integrative approaches are employed by the Wu Lab. In particular, the ongoing projects in the Wu Lab involve a number of mouse models in which gene(s) are over-expressed or disrupted in a cell-specific manner.

Student Role: Student will conduct experiments including PCR, DNA digestion, gel electrophoresis, and cell culture.


 

Professor: Dr. Linglin Xie

Prerequisites: Open to all, but approval of instructor is required.

GPR Requirement: 3.0

Time Required: At least 4 hours per week

Research: Recent insights have highlighted the importance of nutrition during fetal and early life development and thus far suggest that prevention of obesity may need to begin even before pregnancy. Current recommendations are for women of childbearing age to modulate their body weight by engaging in lifestyle changes such as changing their dietary habits; however no evidence-based strategy such as the optimal duration of the intervention is currently available. Critical questions regarding the effect of maternal dietary interventions before pregnancy and offspring obesity have never been studied due to well-known limitations of human study.

Previously, we reported in a murine model that switching from a high-fat (HF) diet to a normal- fat (NF) diet 1 week before pregnancy (H1N group) and maintaining this diet until weaning, is not necessarily beneficial but actually exacerbates the offspring obesity and glucose intolerance (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26607040). We hypothesize transitions from a HF to a NF diet for different periods of time before pregnancy, differently pre-program offspring  obesity and metabolic outcomes. Therefore, our recent study focus is to find out if and how different maternal diet intervention before pregnancy would prevent the downstream offspring using a mouse model.

Dr. Xie is also interested in the molecular and genetic basis of heart development and the ontology of congenital heart disease (CHD). CHD is the most common type of birth defect that affect 1% live birth and account for 1/3 of the whole birth defects. Her research has been focused on understanding how important transcription factors and signaling pathways for heart development such as Tbx5, Gata4 and Hh signaling networks in regulating the inflow and outflow tract development (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26744331 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25986147 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22898775). She is also interested in understanding how maternal obesity or diabetes increase the risk of CHD of the baby.

Student’s Role: Student will learn general cell and molecular biology techniques, including DNA and RNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and tissue processing for histology study, etc. Students will also learn and assist in mouse colony maintenance. Depend on student’s background and interest, advanced program is available.


Professor: Dr. Erin Giles

Classification: Open to all, but approval of the instructor is required.

Time Required: At least 2 ½ hours twice a week

Minimum GPA: None

GPR Requirement: 2.8 (Preferred >3.0)

Pre-requisites: None

Research: The research in the Giles lab is primarily focused on understanding why obese increases the risk for breast cancer after, but not before, menopause. Our work focuses on understanding how the obese microenvironment, when combined with the metabolic and hormonal changes associated with menopause, promote tumor development, survival, and growth. In parallel, we are investigating the role of adipose tissue inflammation in the development of metabolic disease after menopause. Our hope is that the knowledge gained from studying the ‘normal’ adipose and breast environments during menopause will also help us understand the changes that occur to create a tumor-promoting environment in the breast of obese women during this same window of time.

We work with cell cultures, pre-clinical (rodent) models, and some human samples. We use a variety of techniques to study metabolism, inflammation, and molecular pathways and have performed intervention studies with diets, exercise, and pharmaceuticals.

Student Role: The role for each undergraduate student in the lab will vary based on their prior experience, initiative, and desire to become involved. They will be introduced to a variety of common research techniques based on the studies currently ongoing in the lab, but these may range from general molecular and cell biology techniques, cell culture, animal models of obesity and cancer, etc. They will also have the opportunity to work with other members of the lab, contribute to background research and ongoing experiments, perform general lab duties, and participate in regular lab meetings.

Additional Information: All interested students need to complete the entire application. In addition, in the space provided for comments the applicant needs to answer the following question. Why do you want to participate in this class? I anticipate taking at least two students each semester including both Fall and Spring and during the long summer session

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