Story by Kristin Breakell
Eli Finer, an undergraduate Honors Program student studying nutrition and food science at Colorado State University, has been selected to receive the American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship for his research on the probiotic supplementation of mice.
The fellowship is aimed at highly competitive students who wish to pursue graduate careers in microbiology. Each fellow receives a stipend of up to $4,000 and funding for travel expenses to the Microbe Academy for Professional Development and the ASM Microbe Meeting. Finer was one of only 42 students in the nation awarded the fellowship.
In his research project, entitled “The Effect of Administering a Prebiotic with Lactobacillus rhamnosus in Mice,” Finer addressed the question of whether daily probiotic supplementation can reverse weight gain and improve cardiovascular function in mice fed a Western diet. He studied the effect of a VSL#3 probiotic on mouse weight and metabolic function.
“The mice were fed a high-fat diet for six months to induce metabolic dysfunction, and then the treatment group was fed probiotic in their water,” Finer said. “I looked at glucose tolerance, endothelial function and body weight as my main outcomes. I am also in the process of looking at the composition of their gut microbiota.”
Tiffany Weir, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, mentored Finer throughout the research process. Weir helped Finer design the project, apply for the fellowship, learn different assays, complete data analysis and write his honors thesis based on the research results.
Christopher Gentile, an assistant professor in the department, and students Micah Battson and Dustin Lee also helped the project tremendously. They collaborated with Finer and helped analyze data, collect tissue samples and run specialized assays that require significant amounts of training.
Applying for the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship proved to be an extremely valuable experience for Finer. As he begins applying to medical schools and plans future research projects, Finer reflects on how this project prepared him for the future.
“This experience has taught me how to independently manage my own project and has given me the confidence to do so. I am now in charge of a clinical trial examining the consumption of crickets and the gut microbiota,” Finer said. “I have also learned a great deal about study design and scientific writing, which I believe will help me in my future endeavors.”
Finer plans on presenting his research at the 2017 ASM Microbe Meeting in New Orleans in June as an ASM Undergraduate Research Fellow.