New report highlights food and ag science breakthroughs at Nebraska and 10 other universities

November 2, 2017

Lincoln, Neb. — The University of Nebraska–Lincoln joins ten other prominent research institutions in the United States and the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation today in urging increased federal support of food and agricultural science. Their new report, Retaking the Field—Empowering Agricultural Sciences for Health, explores the success of research projects funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the flagship competitive grants program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The report highlights the research of Robert Hutkins, Khem Shahani Professor of Food Science at Nebraska, concerning gut health. An unhealthy balance of gut bacteria can lead to inflammation and other intestinal disorders. Through a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, Hutkins and his collaborators are discovering ways to enable beneficial bacteria to thrive in the gut. This novel approach has now been used in a human study to improve gut barrier function. Ultimately, this research may provide a basis for developing personalized nutrition strategies based on individuals’ microbiomes.

“Intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are terrible diseases that negatively affect the quality of life for many Americans. We often hear from people desperate for answers. This motivates us to develop strategies to restore gut health," Hutkins said. 

All of the research highlighted in the report focuses on how scientists have tackled three separate crises that have immense economic impact for the United States and the world:

  • Nutrition-related diseases cost Americans billions of dollars in medical expenditures each year. Estimated costs for high cholesterol are $34.5 billion; obesity, $147 billion; diabetes, $176 billion; heart disease, $193.4 billion;
  • Zoonotic diseases—those that plague both animals and humans—resulted globally in $20 billion in direct economic losses and more than $200 billion in indirect losses from 2000 to 2010; and
  • Foodborne illness costs Americans $15.6 billion annually according to USDA estimates.

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