Hometown: Cordova, Illinois
Degree pursuing: Food Science MS
Adviser: Dr. Steven Bowden
What is your research focus?
Currently, I am working to find bacteriophages that infect a broad range of Salmonella strains. FelixO1 is a broad host range Salmonella phage, but it is not fully effective against all strains of Salmonella. Still, it is used in commercial treatments against Salmonella in foods. The goal of my work is to find and characterize other broad host range bacteriophages that are effective against Salmonella strains that are not so affected by FelixO1.
How did you become interested in food science/nutrition?
I started working in the food service industry when I was in high school, and have continued to do so over the past several years. I found myself trying to learn as much as I could about every aspect of the food we served, the machines we used, even proper handling and cleaning protocols. This was the beginning of my passion for the food industry. I started my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, but I found little interest in continuing on to an engineering position. I would spend a good portion of my available time doing research into food industry practices and reading food science books. I became especially interested in food safety. Ultimately, I decided to change my path to obtain a BS in food science and a BS in chemistry to allow me to work toward a career in ensuring that our food system remains safe.
What is your favorite food science or nutrition fact?
The reason doctors tell you not to drink grapefruit juice while on certain medications is because grapefruits contain compounds known as furanocoumarins. These compounds interfere with the CYP34A enzymes in your body that aid in the metabolism of many drugs. This can reduce the efficacy of the drug, or worsen the undesirable side effects.
Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?
Initially, I applied to the University primarily because of my interest in the work being done in food safety here, but also because it was closer to my family in Iowa. I had several close family members who were struggling with major health problems, and I wanted to ensure that I stayed close to them. However, visiting the campus and meeting the people in the department was the most important factor in my decision to attend. I have yet to meet a single person in the FScN department who has not been friendly, kind, and passionate about their work.
How does your research tie into the research being done in your adviser's lab?
The identification of new phages can serve to provide more options for defense against pathogens in the food system. Further, we can utilize food matrices to enrich for these phages, so that we can help ensure that the phages we discover will be useful in food treatment applications, rather than just in laboratory settings. This can allow for treatments that are more effective in preventing outbreaks of foodborne illness.
What are your future plans?
My aim is to aid not only in the safety of the food industry for consumers, but also to help engage in outreach to consumers. I have learned throughout the years that food scientists spend a lot of time in the lab, but not enough time talking to consumers about their work. This results in consumers not understanding the components of their food system or the steps that the industry takes to keep it safe. I have ambitions to work in food policy and regulation, and I hope to continue research into food safety and toxicology.