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UNR researcher goes for the gut

microbiome.jpg
Human Microbiome Project/National Institutes of Health
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Some types of bacteria found in a person's digestive tract.

Editor's note: This segment originally aired on Dec. 20.

A Nevada researcher wanted to study what’s in our guts to improve health for people across the state.

The trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in people’s digestive tract are associated with all kinds of health issues.

UNR has embarked on what’s called the Wolfpack Study to better understand the connection between gut health, diet, and well-being.

Assistant Professor Steven Frese, who works in the Department of Nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, is conducting the microbiome study.

“We're trying to capture a subset of the population of Nevada that's representative of the state,” Frese said. “We're going to be looking for rural-urban differences, folks that are different races and ethnicities, this is a really diverse state.”

Frese has invited Nevadans to participate in the study, which includes submitting a fecal sample and answering questions about diet. When the study is complete, they’ll have access to their own results and see how they compare to this study and others, at no cost to them.

“Part of what we're trying to understand here is whether or not the population in Nevada is actually similar or different from other studies that have been conducted in other parts of the country and other parts of the world,” Frese told State of Nevada.

“The idea is that we're looking for a wide local population of people to look at the gut microbiome and how these different factors and lifestyles can influence it,” he said.

Scientists say they are excited about the potential that a better understanding of the gut microbiota can provide insight into — and perhaps unlock ways to prevent — disease.

“This (microscopic) community actually plays a really important role in our health,” Frese said.

“Thanks to some brilliant immunologists that I work with, we were able to show that the gut microbiome in the first 100 days of life has a profound impact on how that immune system develops,” he said.

Steven Frese, assistant professor, UNR Department of Nutrition

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Lorraine Blanco Moss is the host of KNPR's award-winning Asian American Pacific Islander podcast, Exit Spring Mountain. She's also a producer for State of Nevada, specializing in food and hospitality, women's issues, and sports. She started at Nevada Public Radio in October 2021.