By Justin Dickey
Dr. Si Hong Park, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, is working to enhance food quality and safety by understanding the microbiome (all of the microorganisms in a specific environment) of the human gut and how it interacts with the microbiome of commonly eaten foods. His research into the human gut microbiome can be used to make foods that are customized to meet the specific needs of each consumer. These foods have the potential for wide-ranging benefits on physical and digestive health.
For every gram in the digestive track there are over one billion microorganisms. Identifying which are good and which are bad is central to Dr. Park’s research. “Microorganisms can consume any food we eat and proliferate in the gut, affecting health,” Dr. Park explains. “Food supplements, yogurts and cheese may be beneficial to some, but not to those who are lactose intolerant. It all starts with understanding the microbiome, and then we can develop new food products specialized to each person.” These food products will be tailored to increase the good bacteria and microorganisms in the gut while decreasing the bad, enhancing the individual’s overall health.
The microbiome is also key to understanding another very important area in food science: food-borne pathogens. According to Dr. Park, “Food can make you healthy, but it can also make you very sick.” While working on his master’s degree in The Republic of Korea (South Korea), Dr. Park developed a new technology for identifying Salmonella, the most common food-borne pathogen in the world. Salmonella can be deadly to humans and is most often picked up from the consumption of undercooked poultry products. Detecting Salmonella is particularly important because while dangerous to humans, birds can host the bacteria without being affected. Dr. Park’s method enables producers to accurately identify Salmonella outbreaks that can then be treated to keep consumers safe. During his doctoral program at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Park extended his research by incorporating studies of the microbiome to identify core microorganisms associated with food-borne pathogen reduction.
Dr. Park and his students have completed several projects exploring the microbiome of dairy products. They have tacked changes in the microbiome of Cheddar cheese during processing, assessed the impact that organic farming practices have on the microbiome of raw milk seasonally, and evaluated the effects of prebiotics on the gut of microbiome of lactose intolerant people. These studies have expanded the science needed to improve food quality for those who need it. Currently, Dr. Park and his students are using multi-omics approaches (analysis based on multilevel genetic data) in the genomic characterization of food-borne pathogens to prevent contamination during food production.
Dr. Park’s food science research plays a vital role in strengthening OSU’s relationship with international research facilities. He has worked in collaboration with several universities and governmental agencies, and has recently accepted an affiliate professor position at Chung-Ang University in the South Korea. He hopes to give guest lectures and work in collaboration with their food science department on new research this year.
Justin Dickey is an Ecampus student studying environmental economics and policy. He expects to graduate in spring of 2024. He is based out of San Antonio, Texas but uses Ecampus’ flexibility of to travel while studying. He is currently traveling through Asia and is documenting OSU’s influence around the globe. His favorite way to experience a new culture is to try to eat like a local. Wherever he’s at, he enjoys spending time in nature, hiking, swimming, and trail running.