Steven Bowden Lab


Assistant Professor Steven Bowden

What are you Driven to Discover?

I am driven to utilize microbial genetics as a means to understand human pathogens growth and survival within foods and determine mechanisms to control them through routes such as bacteriophage (a class of virus that only kills bacteria).

What is the impact of your research in your field?

My research will isolate and engineer bacteriophage that kill foodborne pathogens and provide mechanisms to detect them in foods,

How can people see the impact of your research on everyday life?

Unfortunately, foodborne illness is a common occurrence with an estimated 1 in 6 people becoming infected each year in the USA. By developing bacteriophage as a clean label antimicrobial, I hope to reduce the number of illnesses, especially in ready to eat foods such as fresh produce and deli meats. So, in essence, people will see the impact of our work indirectly through reduced news headlines of Salmonella outbreaks and recalls.

What drew you to your field of study?

I have always been interested in the invisible world of microbiology and its impact on human well-being. In previous positions, I have worked with bacteria associated with food including Salmonella and a food spoilage organism called Pectobacterium. For me, food microbiology is an important field because our digestive system is a primary interface we have with microbes that can make us sick. Plus, there is great complexity of the foods we eat which makes keeping them safe a significant challenge.

What is your favorite research/lab tool and why?

Genetic engineering is a tool that I value because it enables us to mix and match genes for desired properties such as making pathogens glow for detection or building new bacteriophage.

What do you consider to be your greatest research accomplishment?

Identifying glucose catabolism via glycolysis as a major pathway for Salmonella to cause infection within infected cells. Previously, it was largely unknown how Salmonella were growing inside cells and this knowledge may have uses to control these infections.

What is your favorite food science or nutrition fact?

The fact that there are more bacteria in the human body than human cells and that they have ~100x more genes than the human genome.

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Meet Elea Hanson

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.

Meet John McFarlane

Hometown: Monticello, MN

Degree pursuing: Microbial Engineering MS

Adviser: Dr. Steven Bowden

What is your research focus?

My research focus is studying interactions between the foodborne pathogen Salmonella and its corresponding broad host range phage, FelixO1. Specifically, we are attempting to characterize the effects of a phage defense system found in some Salmonella serovars on the reproduction cycle of FelixO1. This research would not only generate general knowledge on FelixO1 infections of Salmonella but could also allow us to utilize the phage defense system as a tool to select for and enrich genetically modified phage.

How did you become interested in food science/nutrition?

Two of my primary interests are microbiology and human health. Food safety microbiology is one field at the intersection of these two interests, so studying foodborne pathogens is a natural fit for me.

What is your favorite food science or nutrition fact?

A wide variety of foods throughout history (including but not limited to bread, beer, tequila, yogurt, and sauerkraut) were likely unwittingly produced as a result of microbial fermentation.

Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?

I chose the U for a few reasons. One reason was the location of the university from my hometown (conveniently only 45 minutes away). The other two reasons were that the university is a public institution with many opportunities for research, and that the university generally delivers a world-class education.

How does your research tie into the research being done in your adviser's lab?

My research ties into my advisor’s research as a tool that could be used to generate novel phage or phage-derived particles for applications in food safety. By employing the phage defense system, we may be able to select for and enrich recombinant phages that have a broader or new host range, a wider tolerance for the various environmental conditions associated with food, or many other applications. Such engineered phages could be used to help detect or inhibit Salmonella on contaminated foods.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to continue working in Dr. Bowden’s lab for a year before pursuing a Ph.D in a microbiology-related field. Following a doctorate degree, my primary plan is to stay in research, either in academia or within the government. I am secondarily considering earning a law degree after a Ph.D, preparing me for a role in government regulation and policy.