Graduate Student Spotlight

The University of Minnesota is where some of the best and brightest future industry leaders are honing their research.

Each month we will feature a different graduate student and their current research efforts, giving you an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in our department, as well as the world of food science and nutrition research right now.

In January 2018, we are featuring two graduate students: Breann Abernathy and Allison Bailey.

Graduate students Breann Abernathy and Allison Bailey

Breann Abernathy

Hometown: Apple Valley, MN
Degree:  PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry with a minor in Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology, & Genetics
Adviser: Dan Gallaher

Research focus: Evaluation of polylactose as a prebiotic dietary fiber

My research focuses on evaluating polylactose, a novel dietary fiber, for its prebiotic activity. I am evaluating its efficacy in altering the gut microbiome and preventing colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, NAFLD, and metabolic syndrome in both animal and human trials. Thus far, we have found that polylactose is vigorously fermentable in the colons of rats, and has shown a positive effect on regulating blood glucose. Moving to a human trial to assess changes in blood glucose control and the human gut microbiome will allow for further understanding of how polylactose can be useful in human consumption and commercialize a new product.

Interest in nutrition: I am interested in the intersection of genomics, molecular biology, and dietary constituents. Understanding how genomic regulation and disease states can be altered using various molecules found in the diet has been a long time interest of mine, and I just so happen to be pursuing that in this department.

Why UMN: I chose to stay at the U after my undergraduate program due to research interests and resources. As a research University, there are many resources and experts available to me that have been integral in my education and research. Further, my unique research interests happened to align with a couple of faculty here, specifically in this department, and I couldn't guarantee that I would find that elsewhere.

Research compatibility: Finding a PI with similar research can be challenging as an interdisciplinary student. Lucky for me, Dan has broad research interests with expertise in many areas, making him a good fit for me. Additional collaborators for my projects provide other resources that are necessary for my growth as a scientist.

Future plans: Upon graduation, I plan to stay in academia, starting either as a postdoc or new faculty member. I hope to continue research in the area of mechanisms of disease prevention.

Allison Bailey

Hometown: Beltsville, Maryland
Degree pursuing: PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry
Adviser: Dr. Dan Gallaher

Research focus: My research focus is studying the effects of wheat class and fraction on colon cancer prevention and inflammation. Our lab has previously found red wheat to be protective against colon cancer compared to white wheat, regardless of whether the wheat was whole or refined. This would mean that eating any type of wheat product made from red wheat could have a protective effect against colon cancer.  Unfortunately, colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women worldwide, but most cases are preventable through lifestyle modifications. We hope to provide evidence of a simple dietary change that might decrease colon cancer risk.

Interest in nutrition: My undergraduate degree was in biology, and during that time I only took one nutrition course. I became a science teacher but decided I wanted to return to school to pursue research. While exploring my options, I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I became fascinated by the idea of phytochemicals, such as polyphenols and carotenoids, which are bioactive compounds in food that aren't required as essential nutrients but may have positive effects on human health.

Why UMN: I chose the University of Minnesota because of its excellent reputation and renowned faculty within the field of nutrition science.

Research compatibility: Dr. Gallaher's research focuses heavily on dietary fiber and fiber-rich foods, phytochemicals, and the prevention of chronic disease, particularly colon cancer.

Future plans: After graduation, I hope to work at a research institution, continuing to study the role of phytochemicals in disease prevention.


Kaela Pittman
Olivia Auell
Sydney Boehnlein
Justin Carlson
Ana Clemente
Tong Ding
Geoff Dubrow
Cayla Duffy
Fateme Farmad
Fanqing Feng
Katrina Flaskerud
Lisa Garretson
Kara Goldfein
Chelsey Hinnenkamp
Sophie Kim
Leah Kleinschrodt
Alexandra Kuechel
Yiwei Ma
Dan Marino
Mitchell Mattes
Theresa Menke
Zach Metz
Hannah Paruzynski
Allison Ritter
Vanessa Thyne