Specialties: Epigenetics, epigenomics
The goal of my research program is to understand the influence of environmental factors on epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation in determining health and disease in animals and humans. In other words, we focus on the intersection of nature and nurture by investigating gene-environment interactions. My research group will strive to address three key questions: How is the fetal epigenome impacted by the environment? How are these epigenetic changes related to the health or disease status of the offspring? Can optimal maternal dietary conditions be identified to reduce disease risk in adulthood? Our studies center on a class of environmental pollutants important to Utah and the world – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), derived from burning of fossil fuels and biomass materials. We also investigate the beneficial effects of certain nutrition supplements and bioactive food components derived from a number of key food crops, several of which are important to Utah agriculture (e.g. apples, onions, various berries, tomatoes), in counter-acting the adverse effects of PAHs to prevent or suppress cancer. My research program is supported by funds from the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
In 1997, I received my B.S. with dual majors in Biochemistry and Biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I then completed my doctoral research in Marine Science, with a specialization in comparative reproductive physiology, at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004. I worked as a post-doctoral research associate at Oregon State University, where I received additional training in the areas of Toxicology and Carcinogenesis. I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences department where I teach courses in Endocrinology and Science Communication. I am also a faculty member of the USU School of Veterinary Medicine where I teach components of Veterinary Physiology. I am an affiliate faculty member of the USTAR Applied Nutrition Research program, which has a research focus on gut microbiota, diet and health.
The long-term goal of my research program is to understand how chemicals in the environment influence human health and disease, both for the better (cancer chemoprevention) and for the worse (tumor promotion). My research interests are specifically focused on: (i) the role of the estrogen receptor in transplacental cancer prevention by dietary phytochemicals, (ii) the novel role of the estrogen receptor in tumor promotion by a class of environmental contaminants called perfluoroalkyl acids, (iii) transplacental chemoprevention by bioactive food components via epigenetic mechanisms, and (iv) the impact of dietary mixtures on key molecular targets involved in cancer prevention and suppression.
As a Science Communication Fellow with the Environmental Health News organization for 2007 and 2008, the following representative citations are for short synopses or full review articles written for the media and the public to highlight recent, important research in the field of environmental health. For more information about this group, please visit www.environmentalhealthnews.org/2007scicommfellows.html.