UF/IFAS researcher awarded almost $500,000 NIFA grant

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has been awarded a $499,348 grant to study the effects of blueberries and probiotics on the digestive tract.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded Graciela Lorca, associate professor of microbiology and cell science at UF/IFAS, the grant to examine the interaction between microbes that are found in the intestine and phytophenols in blueberries.

In the study, some research subjects are given a high fat diet and others a modified diet. “A high fat diet is known to cause inflammation in the digestive tract. So, we are excited to see if adding phytophenols to the diet will reduce the inflammation,” Lorca said. “We want to see how the phytophenols affect the immune system and behavior, too.”

The study may help improve diets in humans, Lorca said. “We know that when we have an unbalanced diet or lack healthy microbes in our intestines, our bodies don’t function well and result in disease development. In the long run, we want to improve the nutritional value of food,” she said.

Lorca is collaborating with Claudio Gonzalez, associate professor of microbiology and cell science, on the project. The grant is part of $4 million in research grants awarded by NIFA to improve the functional role of food in human health and nutrition.

“The daunting challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050 is not only about the amount of food that is available or ease of access—it is also about the quality and healthfulness of the food available,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “As the United States battles against an obesity epidemic and promotes a more balanced, moderated approach to eating, it is essential that people have access to nutritious foods so they can be part of a healthier national community and lead safer, improved lives.”   NIFA made the awards through the AFRI Foundational Program under the Function and Efficacy of Foods priority area. This year’s grants are focused primarily on the role of bioactive components in food, traits that are integral to preventing inflammation and promoting gastrointestinal health. The objective of these projects is to use a whole food approach or address the health effects of two or more bioactive components found in food.

Fiscal year 2014 grant recipients are:

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $26,212
  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $499,993
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $499,978
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $149,857
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $499,348
  • Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $499,989
  • Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $496,113
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $499,812
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $35,000
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $500,000
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., $149,998
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., $447,790
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $74,606

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Source: Graciela Lorca, 352-273-8090, glorca@ufl.edu