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Summer 2019

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Plant pathology graduate student Dianiris Luciano-Rosario inoculates apples in Professor Nancy Keller’s lab at the Microbial Sciences Building. Photo by Michael P. King

Scientists-in-training at the UW Food Research Institute (FRI) are identifying better probiotics and improving food safety with the help of a generous gift from retired bacteriology professor Robert H. Deibel and his wife, Carol.

The Deibels, longtime proponents of food safety and probiotics, recently established a pair of endowed fellowships to support graduate student research in the two fields. Their $1 million gift was doubled thanks to a match established by UW–Madison alumni Albert and Nancy Nicholas. With the support of these vital funds, the inaugural fellows have already made scientific strides.

Dianiris Luciano-Rosario, a doctoral student in plant pathology, is the first recipient of the Robert H. and Carol L. Deibel Distinguished Graduate Fellowship in Food Safety Research. She studies a troublesome blue mold called Penicillium expansum, which can be devastating to fruit crops and human health.

“This fungus grows on apples and other fruit, contaminating them with a mycotoxin called patulin,” says Luciano-Rosario, who works on the project with her mentor, bacteriology and genetics professor Nancy Keller. “Patulin is very toxic and is difficult to remove from fruit. By better understanding at the molecular level how the fungus infects apples, we hope to find ways to reduce patulin contamination and prevent the health problems and food waste it causes.”

Mustafa Özçam PhD’18, who completed his degree in food science under the mentorship of assistant professor Jan Peter “JP” van Pijkeren, is the inaugural recipient of the Robert H. and Carol L. Deibel Distinguished Graduate Fellowship in Probiotic Research. While at CALS, he investigated interactions between probiotic bacteria and their human hosts.

“We identified a novel pathway by which certain probiotics activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which mediates intestinal inflammation,” says Özçam, who is continuing his probiotics research as a bioprocess development scientist at DuPont Nutrition and Health. “We can use this discovery to design probiotics with improved benefits for people.”

Robert Deibel, a former chair of the Department of Bacteriology and member of FRI, led an influential career as an educator and researcher. Among his many notable accomplishments, he is one of the early developers of the globally utilized food safety system known as HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points), which he expanded and taught through a first-of-its kind short course for industry. After 22 years at UW–Madison, he launched Deibel Laboratories, Inc. Under his leadership, and later that of his son, Charles, the lab has become an internationally recognized provider of food safety testing, scientific consulting, and training for leading North American food manufacturers.

Deibel’s legacy as an educator continues with these fellowships. Luciano-Rosario credits the fellowship for giving her time to build a critical foundation for her doctoral work. For Özçam, the financial support played a major role in the start of his successful career.

“Having secure funding allowed me to fully focus on my main Ph.D. project and motivated me to keep working in the field of probiotics,” he says.

If you’d like to help CALS graduate students succeed by supporting fellowships and other awards, please contact Brandi Funk at brandi.funk@supportuw.org or 608-308-5204.