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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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New research center to address current issues in nutrition, agriculture

TAMU Nutrition Institute PNG.png

A new research institute focused on nutrition and agriculture has started its work with funding from the USDA.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s Institute for Precision Nutrition, Responsive Agriculture and Health will include five multidisciplinary research hubs and two core facilities. The institute will give students and faculty members a chance to collaborate on cutting-edge research, said Susan Ballabina, deputy vice chancellor for Texas A&M AgriLife.

“For students, they’re going to get great practical experience with world class researchers in these critical areas of food and health,” Ballabina said.

The center will help identify where some chronic diseases can stem from, said AgriLife research spokesperson Blair Fannin said. Students can learn about how this may affect them or their families throughout their lives. 

 “Nutrition plays just a critical role in our daily lives and eating good, healthy foods is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, along with daily exercise and so forth,” Fannin said. 

Ballabina said the hiring and staffing process has begun, and she hopes the center will be running at full force in a few months.

“We have already received some funding through the USDA to put together a research program around responsive agriculture, precision agriculture and precision nutrition — and more specifically, to bridge the gap between ag producers and consumers,” Ballabina said. “This is a very innovative way to approach agriculture and consumers, and I think it will be a real public value as we move into the future.”

Patrick Stover, AgriLife Research director and a dominant leader in the creation of the center, said the issue facing production agriculture is that the more that is produced, the lower the profit margins will be. There is also a tie to human health, which the center will be able to research. 

“Our producers are struggling,” Stover said. “On the other hand, diet-related chronic disease costs the U.S. economy about a trillion dollars a year and is a major driver of healthcare costs. What we want to do is have a research initiative and also lead into extension and to the other service functions that we do. Our training for students is really to try to bring together … production agriculture and human health.”

Stover said the center is researching a wide variety of implementations ranging from changes in the food itself to the effects on human health and on the environment from creating food.

“On the responsive agriculture side, we can work on improving the quality of the food, try to breed out and remove a lot of the calories, put in more micronutrients so it has better health effects,” Stover said. “Also, continue to minimize the environmental footprint of the food system in terms of water usage and input usage.”

Research will  be done for the consumer side as well, inluding the use of technology such as a nutrition app and improvements to the quality of food consumed. 

“On the consumer side as well — address that simultaneously — by not only having higher quality food but really finding ways to motivate consumers to make the right choices, the helpful choices,” Stover said.

One of Stover’s main goals is to help people find the connection between their health and their nutrition, and also involve the producers in such a way that they can be more understanding of consumer needs.  

“We want to build our precision technologies that allow consumers not only to monitor on a daily basis what their food habits [and] food intakes are, but also track their chronic disease,” Stover said. “They can see how when they make a lifestyle change, such as diet, they can see how that either accelerates or lessens their chronic disease progression or their likelihood to get chronic disease.”

Fannin said the center’s broad focus can help yield a broad range of positive outcomes for the state and nation.

“It’s a very broad, very extensive system that’s being developed in this institute,” Fannin said. “[It] will feature a variety of researchers across A&M AgriLife research, we’ll also be using AgriLife extension to some degree, but all of this is going to work in concert with the goal of making Texas healthier as well as the U.S.”

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