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New Faculty Research Spotlight

Jie Zhu, Nutrition and Foods

How Genes and Diet Impact Maternal and Fetal Health


"Ultimately, our research will promote good prenatal and postnatal care as well as allow for more effective and precise nutritional prevention and treatment of human chronic diseases.”

Zhu
Dr. Jie Zhu

I am an assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences Nutrition and Foods program at Texas State. During my internship as a potential physician, I realized that many chronic diseases, such as fatty liver disease and diabetes, are closely related to unhealthy diet and that medication is not the only solution to conquer these diseases. After earning a Ph.D. in internal medicine at Wuhan University, I decided to further my training as a postdoc in human nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before joining Texas State in fall 2019, I was also a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China.

Nutrition is one of the most pivotal, life-long environmental factors that influences human health. Traditionally, a good diet for the public has seemed as if "one-size fits all." However, in reality we respond differently to the same food because each of us is genetically and metabolically unique. An individual's ability to use nutrients efficiently not only depends on food intake, but also on gene variations encoding the key enzymes that metabolize nutrients entering our bodies. Having this knowledge and information is important for improving the health of individuals because it can be used to tailor diet and lifestyle to their own genes.

Dr. Zhu in the classroom
Dr. Zhu in the classroom

Based on this concept, my current research focuses on how diet patterns/nutrients and gene interactions affect the risk of disease related to maternal and children’s health. Specifically, I am interested in one-carbon metabolism nutrients (such as folate, choline, vitamin B12), which play an important role in fetal programming and development and are closely associated with chronic disease risk in adulthood.

Through collaboration with researchers and doctors in China and the U.S., I am currently investigating how maternal intakes of these one-carbon metabolism nutrients during pregnancy and genetic susceptibility affect the risk of gestational diabetes and what impact they have on offspring health. The goal of this research is to identify individual genetic factors that contribute to diet-related disease risk, to understand inter-individual differences in nutrient metabolism, and to explore effective nutrition intervention programs. Ultimately, our research will promote good prenatal and postnatal care as well as allow for more effective and precise nutritional prevention and treatment of human chronic diseases.

Currently, I am an associate editor of BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health and a board member for the International Society of Nutrigenetics/Nutrigenomics.