Phytoestrogen Project: This project involves elucidating the effects of dietary phytoestrogens. Estrogens are steroid compounds that have primary roles in reproduction, but have also shown involvement in metabolism, immune function, and mental health. Previous studies suggest that estrogens can strongly affect fertility, lifespan, and oxidative stress across various organisms. Phytoestrogens (a.k.a., isoflavonoids, isoflavones, and dietary estrogens) are a diverse group of naturally occurring non-steroidal plant compounds that have the ability to cause estrogenic or antiestrogenic effects, due to their structural similarity to estrogen. Interestingly, phytoestrogens are sold in many health food stores as dietary and as post-menopausal supplements. Therefore, I hypothesize that phytoestrogen from plants may have beneficial effects on these processes without carrying many of the feminizing effects of hormonal estrogen.
Toxicity of Nanoparticles Project: This project uses the C. elegans model organism to evaluate the effect of nanoparticles on biological phenomena, such as longevity, reproduction, metabolism and metabolic health (excretion/defecation), and general growth features, through exposure of such nanoparticles in the environment and food source of C. elegans. This investigation will allow for the development of standardized protocols for assessing toxicity of nanoparticles. Research results from these experiments will provide highly valuable information and insight into the effect of the above-mentioned nanoparticles on the environment and living organisms.
Much attention has been devoted to the employment of nanoparticles and nanotechnologies to develop novel methods of detecting pathogens. Nanoparticles are nanometer-sized materials, which have been recently developed for a variety of applications in energy, medicine, safety, defense, and products of importance to society. Due to their small size, nanoparticles exhibit unique properties, such as increased surface area, excellent mechanical strength, fast chemical reactivity, good electrical conductivity, strong magnetism, and special opto-electronic characteristics. The nanoparticles used for this study are currently being used for target extraction and concentration, signal transduction, and signal enhancement. They consist of iron oxide cores and a variety of shell coatings, such as electrically active polymers (EAM), carboxyl, and amine, and polyaniline. This study will employ the nematode model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) to evaluate the potential risks posed to environmental health by the use of these magnetic nanoparticles.
Validation of DNA Based Biosensors for the Detection of Foodborne Pathogens: My collaborator, Dr. Evangelyn Alocilja, a research investigator of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, is currently developing various nanoparticle-based biosensors that have the potential to serve as effective devices to ensure food biodefense through the rapid, sensitive, and specific detection of select (bioterrorism) agents in food products. The nanoparticle-based biosensors are rapid, sensitive, inexpensive, and can be used for field-operable identification of infectious pathogens, such as B. anthracis, E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella species, avian influenza virus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The role of my lab is to validate their accuracy in being able to detect bacterial pathogens in liquid and solid food stuffs.