On the Ground: Human Health Across Disciplines
Clearing the Air
Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), studies environmental health and justice, focusing on U.S. populations that are vulnerable to the toxic effects of pollution because of poverty, malnutrition, discrimination, and underlying health conditions. One of her recent research projects found that closing coal- and oil-fired power plants in California lowered the rate of preterm births and improved fertility in neighboring communities.
Examining Migrants’ Access to Health Care
A cultural and medical anthropologist and a physician, ESPM associate professor Seth Holmes investigates health care inequalities faced by migrant and undocumented communities. For his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States, Holmes spent more than a year conducting participant-observation research in collaboration with indigenous families in Mexico and immigrant communities in the U.S., a partnership that included accompanying migrant laborers on clinic visits and trekking across the border desert into Arizona. One of his current projects seeks to understand how medical trainees perceive and respond to social difference in their patients.
Focus on Maternal and Pediatric Health
Susana Matias joined the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology (NST) as an assistant Cooperative Extension specialist in July. Matias is an epidemiologist whose research promotes health through nutrition and the prevention of nutrition-related chronic diseases. She focuses on infant feeding, diet, food security, and obesity, with a particular concentration on the mother-child dyad and vulnerable populations.
ESPM professor Jill Banfield and her team use phylogenetic and metagenomic approaches to examine normal and diseased infant guts. By studying the microbial colonies that bloom in the gut during the critical first 100 days of a baby’s life, Banfield’s lab hopes to better understand the abnormal microbial colony growth associated with the higher rates of illness and death among premature infants.
CRISPR vs. Cholera
Collaborating with scientists and medical professionals in Bangladesh to collect and analyze patient samples, plant and microbial biology assistant professor Kim Seed works to understand how epidemic strains of cholera continue to evolve to infect human hosts. She and her lab use comparative genomics and molecular approaches such as CRISPR to untangle the impacts of bacteriophages—viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria—on the evolution and epidemiology of cholera’s causal agent, Vibrio cholerae.
Disease at the Cellular Level
NST associate professor James Olzmann’s research illuminates the cellular processes governing how the body stores and uses fat. By revealing the cellular mechanisms that control lipid homeostasis, Olzmann hopes to be a leader in the development of therapeutics for cancer, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and other medical conditions.
More Than a Drop to Drink
Isha Ray, an associate professor in the Energy and Resources Group, examines access to safe, affordable water and sanitation for the rural and urban poor in developing economies. In a recent study co-authored with School of Public Health colleagues, Ray reported the presence of E. coli in drinking water in Alibag, India, demonstrating that even in communities that have gained drinking water access, contamination can still pose a significant risk.