Texas Tech University

Nutritional Sciences Faculty Member Awarded USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant

Mallory Collins

June 6, 2023


Yujiao Zu, Ph.D. dives into research on tart cherry juice’s impact on health, obesity, and inflammation

Yujiao Zu, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She joined the Nutrigenomics, Inflammation, and Obesity Research (NIOR) lab in 2020. Recently, Zu received the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant.

 NIFA is America's flagship competitive grant program that provides funding for fundamental and applied research, education, and extension projects for more sustainable, productive, and economically viable plant and animal production systems. Zu worked on her research with Nutritional Sciences faculty member Naima Moustaid-Moussa, Ph.D., and the NIOR lab. Zu's research aims to use nanotechnology to enhance the bioavailability of anthocyanins in tart cherry juice while improving gut health, obesity, and inflammation.

“I serve as the PI/PD, and Dr. Moustaid-Moussa is Co-PD on this new investigator seed grant award, amounting to $285,038 from USDA NIFA to investigate novel prebiotic nanoparticles to enhance tart cherry anthocyanin bioavailability and improve gut health in the diet-induced obesity,” Zu said. “Dr. Moustaid-Moussa's lab has shown several protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry in obesity and aging. Thus, our complementary expertise was a major strength in winning this USDA award.”

Zu says Although various nano/micro systems have been developed to enhance the stability and bioavailability of bioactive compounds, overconsumption of certain compounds, involved in nanostructure, may negatively influence gut and human health. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop novel nanoparticles with prebiotic compounds to enhance the nutritional value of foods and beverages such as tart cherry juice and positively modulate gut microbiota composition. Ultimately, these approaches will improve metabolic and gut health and reduce obesity-related inflammation and dysfunctions in clinical practice in ways that will have health benefits, nationally and globally.

With help from Moustaid-Moussa, Zu was given academic support to expand her research. Zu said the department provided her research space, state-of-the-art equipment to nutrition research laboratories, and funding to support her research. She shares how the Department of Nutritional Sciences' networking connections, collaborative environment, and funding opportunities helped her research efforts.

“Dr. Moustaid-Moussa also provides significant guidance and mentoring not only in research but also in my professional and career development and in student mentoring,” Zu said. “I truly appreciate the support of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the College of Human Sciences, who provided startup funds to develop new nutrition research directions that also support my career development.”