UC Davis Partners with University College Dublin


by Professor J Bruce German  

Throughout the history of UC Davis, leading Irish food and nutrition scientists have visited the campus, sharing their work and sparking mutual interest. These interactions increased with the recruitment to the Nutrition Department in 1972 of Irish scientist Dr Andrew Clifford. 'Andy' brought to the program, a unique combination of computation and pharmacokinetics to nutrient metabolism, which began to attract Irish collaborators. Professor Clifford was instrumental in the appointment of John Kinsella (born in Wexford, Ireland) as Dean of Agriculture at UC Davis. Dean Kinsella's arrival at Davis triggered an acceleration of collaborations and more formal visits by Irish scientists. These  included Frank Monahan, now UCD Dublin Associate Professor of Food Science, who came to UC Davis from University College Cork as a post-doctoral fellow under John Kinsella. Frank's research brought at the time, a unified vision for food protein structure and function to both research groups. This line of research collaboration continued to expand, with researchers from UC Davis and Ireland actively exchanging research collaborations over the years.

The research programs in Ireland and UC Davis are each separately recognized centers of excellence in milk and dairy science and this thematic emphasis has framed much of the collaborations over the past 15 years. In 2000, UC Davis scientists led an initiative entitled the International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC) together with scientists from Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Australia and Canada, to sequence and annotate various mammalian genomes for lactation. This consortium has guided various collaborations and meetings since 2002 and accelerated exchanges of UC Davis and specifically UCD Dublin scientists. This International consortium format proved to be successful in promoting collaborative research in milk and lactation and serves as a model for the UC Davis UCD Dublin partnership. The IMGC history of collaboration  and jointly authored publications on milk and lactation science, without explicit research grant support, attests to the ability of a unifying thematic structure to bring scientists together.

Milk research at UC Davis and UCD Dublin accelerated with access to human and bovine lactation genomes. The ability to apply new computational methods and technologies to lactation genomics, led to an unprecedented understanding of milk constituents. The potential of this new body of knowledge inspired scientists at both campuses to realize the potential of lactation to guide a more profound, and mechanistic view, of human nutrition. UC Davis established the Foods for Health Institute to unify food as a scientific and translational theme for researchers across all of its colleges and schools. While at UCD Dublin, the UCD Institute of Food and Health was established with the very same goal, to bring together all those scientists on its campus with a research program in food and health into one center of excellence. With UC Davis focused on human milk and UCD Dublin on bovine milk, the campuses expanded on the obvious opportunities for complementary collaborations. The executive board of UC Davis traveled to Dublin, while Professor Dolores O'Riordan, Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health, and other staff traveled to Davis to exchange concepts and thematic strategies and potential synergies between their two research programs. Plans were also initiated to establish a more formal relationship and the funding of an annual lectureship, the John E. Kinsella Memorial Lecture, in memory of the late John Kinsella.

The unique capabilities at UC Davis in oligosaccharide structure discovery, were leading to remarkable insights into the functions of these paradoxically abundant components in human milk. The recognition that similar molecules were present in bovine milk opened the potential for bovine dairy streams to provide milk glycans for human consumption. To realize this potential and build new technologies for laboratory scale and industrial separation, Daniela Barile, currently Professor of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, spent a post-doctoral exchange year jointly in Ireland and Davis. These collaborations began to alert the entire scientific community to the power of international programs to extend science and its application into new categories of food and health. Dr Samara Freeman-Sharkey spent two years in Dublin working with Food for Health Ireland, a research program jointly funded by the Irish government and the Irish Dairy Industry, extending the collaboration into the diverse opportunities in milk component functions in proteins, glycans and lipids. While Dr Nora Khaldi traveled back and forth from UCD Dublin to UC Davis as a post-doctoral scholar and then in residence entrepreneur as founder of the startup Nuritas (www.nuritas.com).

The future of human nutrition will invariably be in more individualized approaches to food and health. Achieving this reality will require both new research models, and new relationships with industry and regulatory agencies. Needless to say, both UC Davis and UCD Dublin have been leading scientific thought and translational examples in this new health direction. Dr Aifric O'Sullivan was the first international scholar in the innovative new field of personal health phenotyping, to travel from UCD Dublin to UC Davis to coordinate these two research programs.

Science and its translation moves fastest when scientists collaborate across disciplines and institutions. Few collaborations have been as successful as the spontaneous relationships between UCD Dublin and UC Davis over the past decades. It is exciting to contemplate what can emerge with a more formal and structured support system for what is already one of food and health's great friendships.