Integration of the techniques of molecular biology has transformed the field of nutrition from the study of classical nutrient deficiencies of the 1950s and 1960s, and biomarkers and chronic disease risk in the latter part of the last century, to the study of how nutrients alter gene transcription/translation and physiological processes. The evolution of molecular nutrition has advanced our understanding of the mechanisms that explain diet/nutrient responses. Nutrients are now understood to be bioactive molecules that can affect risk for chronic diseases and impact quality of life. More recently, the study of genomics has changed the direction of nutrition research from a broad focus on public health and development of dietary guidelines at a population level to a more targeted evaluation of the effects of genetic variation on dietary responses. This individualized approach incorporates the study of the effects of specific nutrients on gene expression (nutrigenomics) and the study of variations in dietary responses due to genetic predispositions (nutrigenetics). Nutritional genomics is the term used to encompass both nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics. As we look back at how the field of nutritional science has advanced due to the integration of molecular biology techniques, it prompts the question, how will molecular nutrition affect clinical nutrition research, health policy and product development in the future? At the Penn State University (PSU) Center of Excellence in Nutrigenomics (CEN), we would like to be at the forefront of this discussion and lead the development of new nutritional recommendations, dietary intervention and supplements.
- Identify clinical biomarkers that are responsive to diet and indicate health status
- Use single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) profiles as a screening tool for clinical trials and as inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Understand the cumulative effects of the interactions of multiple SNPs, multiple genes and multiple environmental factors on disease
- Enrich foods with specific bioactive nutrients aimed at individuals with specific genotypes
- Develop functional foods and dietary supplements targeted at specific populations
The strengths of Penn State’s Center of Excellence in Nutrigenomics is understanding the role of dietary fatty acids in metabolic diseases