The Foods for Health Institute congratulates Nickolas Bokulich on receiving the 2014 Kinsella Award from UC Davis. The Kinsella Memorial Prize acknowledges the finest Ph.D. in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; it is given annually to an outstanding individual who submits their Ph.D. dissertation and is nominated by their major professor.
Dr. David Mills, a Professor in the Departments of Viticulture & Enology, Food Science & Technology, and the Peter J. Shields Endowed Chair in Dairy Food Science, calls Bokulich an “incredibly prolific and brilliant student.” As the dissertation major professor, Dr. Mills said his job was to “get out of the way” and enable Bokulich to address as many subjects as he wanted, knowing that Bokulich possessed the knowledge and skill to design and complete fascinating multidisciplinary projects.
Dr. Mills contends that Bokulich has “created a whole new field” using high end tools to comprehensibly profile the microbial life in food production as well as within the food production facility itself. During his time as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Food Science & Technology, Bokulich will have published more than two dozen papers in high-impact journals on topics ranging from the microbial profiling of beer and wine, to the function of bifidobacterium in premature infants.
In addition to his deep knowledge of food microbiology, Bokulich also developed computational tools and programming to understand and analyze the microbial communities he studied. Dr. Mills refers to Bokulich’s work on optimizing metagenomic sequencing tools in order to perform bioinformatic analysis as his “second Ph.D.”
This computational project culminated in a significant publication in the journal Nature Methods with co-author Dr. Rob Knight from University of Colorado Boulder, and others. Dr. Knight is a Professor at the BioFrontiers Institute and in the Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Computer Science, and is one of 50 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientists for his work on the human gut microbiome. Dr. Knight says that Bokulich is “one of the most talented graduate students I have had the pleasure to work with,” and that Bokulich’s work on improving methods for sequencing data is an essential part of the Quantitative Insights into Microbial Ecology (QIIME) software for comparison and analysis of microbial communities. Additionally, Dr. Knight notes that Bokulich’s dissertation work on microbial systems in wine, cheese, and sake, “changes the way we think about food microbiology and its theoretical and technical implications.”
For Bokulich, the Kinsella Memorial Prize is the “greatest affirmation that my past several years of work are having a positive impact within the field, and that my mentors and peers (to whom I owe much of my progress and the honor of this award) are as excited about my research as I am.” Bokulich is a fundamental part of the exciting work within the UC Davis Foods for Health Institute, and he expresses a deep appreciation for FFHI researchers Dr. Mills, Dr. Bruce German, and Dr. Mark Underwood for providing support and encouragement over the years. Bokulich believes the opportunities, connections, and knowledge-base available through the Foods for Health Institute was invaluable in propelling his last three years of research.
Now that he has completed the Ph.D., Bokulich is leaving UC Davis for a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Martin Blaser at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. This high-profile appointment puts Bokulich at the cutting edge of research on the human microbiome in health and disease, particularly in the context of the impact of modernization.
Bokulich is looking forward to learning new skills and investigating new questions “now and forever.” The faculty and staff at the Foods for Health Institute know that Dr. Bokulich will continue to impact the future of microbiology and shape research on the human microbiome through his innovative and valuable work.