We advance health through transformational discoveries across disciplines, from Alzheimer’s to zinc digestibility. These impacts are made possible through public and private investments, legislator support, multi-institutional partnerships, and the dedication of faculty and student scholars.
Below, we showcase recent examples of our most impactful research in the area of health and wellness. You can also view and download a pdf version and subscribe to one of our ACES e-newsletters to stay abreast of new developments in ACES research.
Discover Our Health & Wellness Research
Diet Quality Affects the Gut Microbiota to Promote Health
Our gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of microorganisms that contribute to many physiological processes. Illinois researchers investigated the role of diet in supporting a healthy gastrointestinal microbiota. They analyzed data from the American Gut Project, which includes fecal samples from thousands of people across the U.S. Their findings showed that individuals who most closely followed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, via MyPlate, had the highest gut microbiota diversity and a larger presence of beneficial bacteria. Thus, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber, as outlined in MyPlate, is not just good for your overall health, it also nourishes your gut microbes. As we understand more about the interaction of diet, microbiota, and health, some gut microbes may become targets of dietary recommendations in the future, the researchers said.
Hannah Holscher, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Alexis Baldeon (doctoral student), Division of Nutritional Studies
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Margin of Excellence Program in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois.
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Exploring Mental Health Among Farm Families
In a five-year study, Illinois researchers found stress on the farm extends to adolescent children. Although most anxiety stems from economic sources in agriculture, adolescents understand struggles within the farming community. Researchers found 60% of farmers and their children have symptoms of mild depression as a result, despite self-diagnosing emotional health at normal levels. In response to these findings, the University of Illinois is expanding its mental health resources for farming community families. For example, Illinois Extension’s North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center offers mental health resources to various states, providing face-to-face health intervention and support. With two years of data collection left, researchers are working to provide a better standard of mental health to farmers now and in the future.
Josie Rudolphi, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Illinois Extension
Funding: National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Safety and Health via the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Provides Quick, Easy Method to Detect Food Allergens
Food allergies pose a significant health risk, and even trace amounts of allergens can trigger severe reactions. Illinois researchers explored the use of near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to identify the presence of three common allergens – peanut, sesame, and wheat – in quinoa flour, a gluten-free grain that is often used as a wheat substitute. NIR spectroscopy uses near-infrared light to measure the absorbance of different wavelengths. The information is analyzed through machine learning to identify the allergens and quantify their concentration. Conventional allergen detection methods involve complex laboratory testing, but NIR spectroscopy is fast, non-invasive, inexpensive, and highly accurate. The researchers said it will not be difficult to develop low-cost miniature NIR sensors that can be used in industry facilities, restaurants, and even homes.
Mohammed Kamruzzaman, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Lisa Wu (undergraduate student), Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Funding: The University of Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research and the College of ACES
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Illinois Researchers Add to Evidence for COVID Seasonality
In multiple recent studies, Illinois researchers with expertise in viral evolution and bioinformatics analyzed global mutation patterns in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Their results provide genetic and mechanistic clues explaining the seasonal behavior of the virus. The team examined mutation and evolution patterns in 12 million genomic sequences of the virus to reveal interconnected, genetically linked bursts of evolutionary change associated with colder latitudes across the world. Additionally, they found countries with colder average temperatures were correlated with higher incidence and mortality rates across the pandemic, regardless of vaccine uptake or behavioral mitigation strategies. Taken together, these studies help explain the genetic and environmental factors contributing to SARS-CoV-2's seasonal behavior and can help inform public health strategies and vaccination campaigns to better manage future outbreaks.
Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, Crop Sciences, Institute for Genomic Biology
Nicolas Hernandez (undergraduate student), Animal Sciences
Tre Tomaszewski (graduate student), School of Information Sciences
Funding: Office of Research and Office of International Programs, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and New Frontiers Initiative, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)
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