A dirty – but important – job _ asu now_ access, excellence, impact

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November 4, 2015 ASU professor is studying stool samples to get a new perspective on student health

A few years ago Corrie Whisner read a study about how humans share the same gut bacteria as their pets.

Naturally, this caused the assistant professor in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion is part of the College of Health Solutions. to consider the possibility


of shared bacteria between other companions.

“I started to wonder if people within the same social network — like close friends or college students sharing a dorm room — might also share some of the same microbes,” she said.

So how do you prove or disprove this theory? One way is to start, well, in the bathroom.

Since August, Whisner’s research team has been collecting fresh fecal samples from more than 200 ASU freshmen as part of the devilWASTE study.

The samples will help Whisner study how the gut microbiome — the community of millions of bacteria living within your gastrointestinal tract — changes during the course of a freshman’s first year at college and its exposures to a new diet, environment and friends.

“The large intestine is like a Monopoly board: full of real estate where different bacteria take up residence.”

— Corey Whisner, assistant professor, School of Nutrition and Health Promotion

Whisner is interested how the changes in the microbiome relate to obesity and weight gain, but the results of studies like this could also have far-ranging effects as scientists are theorizing that the balance of bacteria in our bodies could have influence over everything from autoimmune disorders to mental acuity.

And while microbes may outnumber your own cells 10 to 1 that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the difficulties of life’s major transitions. In fact, times of stress and rapid change — like starting college — can have a significant impact on the bacterial communities in your gut, and consequently your health.

Somewhat surprisingly, few researchers have studied changes in eating behaviors among college students. In fact, Whisner’s study is thought to be the first ever to explore gut microbiome changes among college students.

“The large intestine is like a Monopoly board: full of real estate where different bacteria take up residence,” she said. “The types of bacteria that thrive in your gut depend in part on your diet.” These mostly-friendly bacteria help your body break down and extract energy from the food you eat.

Recent research suggests that the gut microbiome may play a role in obesity.

We all have a unique mix of bacteria in our guts. But in people with obesity, researchers note a shift in the makeup of the gut microbiome: Bacteria with a higher capacity for extracting energy from food seem to be more prevalent in people who are obese. These bacterial communities also cause higher levels of inflammation, which may worsen chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.

Depending on what her study finds, Whisner’s research may help university administrators make changes to the campus environment or to help promote healthy eating.

“If we see that college students’ gut microbiomes are shifting toward a makeup associated with obesity the next step is to try to shift dining hall meals or introduce health education to support healthier guts,” she said.

Alexandra Brewis Slade, co-director of the Mayo Clinic-ASU Obesity Solutions initiative, said this study is just one way ASU is rapidly growing its capacities in microbiome research.

“It is gratifying to see a project that so directly engages students on the ASU campus, and in a way that could help improve the health of our community.”

The devilWASTE is part of a larger, NIH-funded study called devilSPARC, led by SNHP Assistant Professor Meg Bruening. This study follows ASU students throughout their freshmen year to see how the social and environmental changes that come with starting college impact their eating behaviors, physical activity, and weight.

But for Whisner’s study, it all comes back to what comes out the back. So how are the volunteering students compensated for their donations?

They are given a small monetary gift. And, perhaps more important to college students looking to dress different then their peers, they also receive a T-shirt announcing “I pooed for science.”

Native students work for bigger voice at ASU

They’re a small group but they have a big voice.

The Barrett Indigenous Culture Association is one of the newest groups to represent diversity at Arizona State University.

Formed last spring by several Native American students in Barrett, the Honors College, the group has been working to make an impact both on campus and off.

“A group of us found each other at Barrett,” said Jennifer Jones, …

November 4, 2015 Culture, heritage celebrated during Native American Heritage Month

They’re a small group but they have a big voice.

The Barrett Indigenous Culture Association is one of the newest groups to represent diversity at Arizona State University.

Formed last spring by several Native American students in Barrett, the Honors College, the group has been working to make an impact both on campus and off.

“A group of us found each other at Barrett,” said Jennifer Jones, a junior engineering major who is the group’s president.

“The group is essentially driven to bring about a community within Barrett for indigenous students, along with recruiting potential high school students into the university and to Barrett, and to share our culture.”

Jones, who is a member of the Navajo tribe, said that ASU provides a lot of support for Native American students but there is still a need to get the word out about the many tribes in Arizona.

She realized that when she went to England and Ireland last year as part of her Barrett experience.

“When I talk to people from outside of the country, they think we’re gone,” she said.

“And there are also people who say ignorant things about Native Americans in Arizona, so it’s important that we share.”

Bringing more Native students to ASU is part of that. Jones has worked as an ambassador to Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which she attended, and has attended student-recruitment events.

Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, a Barrett professor who is the group’s faculty adviser, said that recruitment was a student-led initiative.

“They want to go back to their high schools and to reservation high schools to talk to the students,” she said.

“It’s very powerful when students who look like them say ‘you too can come to Barrett.’ “

A highlight for the Barrett group was talking to author Sherman Alexie, who visited Barrett in September to deliver the Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture (pictured above). Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and has written poetry and novels about the Indian experience in America.

Members of the Barrett association gave Alexie a tour of the campus and described the resources available to Native students.

The Barrett association wants to accept members and share culture from all indigenous groups, such as Pacific Islanders, and not just Native American tribes, Jones said.

“Barrett is a small community and we’re a small group in it,” she said. “We want people to see us.”

This month, the association is participating in Native American Heritage Month, a series of events sponsored by several groups on all campuses. Some of the events are:

Thursday, Nov. 5: Lunch lecture, “The Return of Indian Treaty Making,” by ASU Law professor Robert Clinton, 12:15 p. m., Armstrong Hall, Tempe campus, hosted by the Indian Law Program.

Thursday, Nov. 5: “History and Uses of Native Herbs,” 4 p. m., Colley Ballroom A, Polytechnic campus, hosted by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

Saturday, Nov. 7: “Community Conversations About Identity and Culture: The Cost of Indigenous Stereotypes and Mascots,” 9 a. m. to noon, Burton Barr Library, 1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, hosted by Project Humanities.

Saturday, Nov. 7: Pow Wow, 11 a. m. to 10 p. m., featuring singers, dancers and other activities on the Fletcher Library Lawn, West campus, hosted by the Native American Events Committee.

Tuesday, Nov. 10: Barrett Indigenous Culture Association general meeting, 6:30 p. m., Sage South, Room 242, Tempe campus.

Thursday, Nov. 12: Indigenous Heritage Feast, 5 to 7:30 p. m., Secret Garden at Dixie Gammage Hall, Tempe campus, hosted by Light is Life Food Sovereignty Project.

Tuesday, Nov. 17: Fry bread sale, 10 a. m. to 2 p. m., Student Services lawn, Tempe campus, hosted by Native American Business Organization.

Thursday, Nov. 19: “One Word – Indian – Two Communities,” 6 to 8 p. m., Sparky’s Den, Memorial Union, Tempe campus, hosted by the Barrett Indigenous Culture Association and the Indian Students Association.

Friday, Nov. 20: “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” 3 to 5 p. m., Delph Courtyard, West campus, hosted by the Rainbow Coalition.

For a complete listing of events, visit the Facebook page of ASU’s American Indian Council.