As an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri with some natural aptitude towards biochemistry, I landed a summer job helping in the research lab of a prominent nutritional biochemist. My experiences in this laboratory sparked a career-long interest in cellular aspects of nutrition and of the nutritional biochemistry of essential micronutrients. Obtaining a Ph.D. in biochemistry (trace minerals), I have studied the biochemical effects of a variety of mineral micronutrients in the food supply including zinc, copper, iron, selenium and arsenic. A research focus on the effects of mineral elements on the structure and function of biological membranes of cells led to studies on the interactions of essential fatty acids and antioxidants with select mineral nutrients.
About 20 years ago one of my students came to me, a bit frustrated with the difficulties of working on the intricacies of the metabolism of the essential nutrient zinc, and said, 'there must be more to nutrition than just a balance of essential nutrients.' This half-joking comment helped alert me to the growing body of knowledge concerning 'conditionally essential nutrients' and 'pharmacologically beneficial nutrients and natural health products.'
In the subsequent decade, I focused my research on nervonic acid and other very long chain fatty acids in sphingomyelin as nutrients that might have specific health benefits. At the same time, I began developing courses on Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals and Natural Health Products and integrating them into the B.Sc. Nutritional Sciences Curriculum. This interest in curriculum design led to my current emphasis on research and scholarship in teaching, learning and knowledge transfer. I am a member of the Departmental Teaching, Learning and Knowledge Transfer Research Group and participate in multiple educational research and practice endeavours at the College and University levels.