Shedding Light on Genetic Associations with Cancer

Many of the genes we study at the NRI are involved in nutrient metabolism. One of the ways we can learn about what a gene does is to delete it in an animal model and then see how the gene-deleted animals differ from normal animals. By observing how disruption of a gene affects an animal’s growth, development, and health, we can develop insights into what that gene normally does in people as well as animals.
BHMT is an enzyme involved in the metabolism of dietary betaine and choline. This metabolic pathway is important because, among other things, it sustains the source of methyl donors necessary for DNA methylation. One of ways a gene can be controlled is by attaching methyl tags on top of it (to start or to stop it). When the Zeisel group created a type of mouse with the Bhmt gene deleted, they observed that (1) most of the mice would develop liver tumors within one year (Teng et al., 2011), and (2) prior to tumor development, the mice had better glucose tolerance and lower body fat (Teng et al., 2012). Since that time, the group has been trying to determine the mechanisms underlying these phenomena. One key question was “How will decreasing the main source of methyl donors change DNA methylation and, as a result, gene expression?” Understanding this effect could, in the long term, lead to ways to decrease risk of liver cancer, increase glucose tolerance, or lower body fat.
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NRI Tours

Summer Nourishment Tours:

Mark your calendars, because Summer Nourishment Tours are back at the NRI. Find out where scientific discovery takes place by touring the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis. Points of interest include one of only a few whole-room calorimeters in the US, body composition lab, and a research laboratory. Our research in nutrigenomics is serving individuals in our communities, across our nation and throughout the world.

All tours begin at 11:00 AM. Guests should arrive a few minutes early. Tour Dates:

  • June 8
  • June 22
  • July 13
  • July 27
  • August 17
  • August 31

Tours limited to 16 people and will run approximately one hour in length.
* Registration opening soon.

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Whole Grains Prevent Chronic Lifestyle Diseases in More Ways Than One

This story was originally published on
Whole grains have more health benefits to offer other than those from consuming fiber. These plant foods are also unique and rich sources of phytochemicals, bioactive compounds exclusively produced by plants that lower the risk of chronic disease.
Whole grains contain dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals, but only the former two components have been thoroughly researched. From the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University’s Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, Associate Professor Shengmin Sang, PhD shines the spotlight on phytochemicals in whole grains and their health-promoting effects.
“My research goal is to identify bioactive compounds in functional foods and herbal medicine to prevent chronic disease, mainly focusing on colorectal cancer and metabolic syndrome,” Sang explained. “Now this research is being extended to phytochemicals in whole grains, because they are a very important part of the diet.”
Phytochemicals in whole grain wheat are beneficial because of their ability to combat colorectal cancer, lower blood sugar, reduce glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, lower “bad” cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. In a review of more than ten types of phytochemicals found in whole grain wheat, Sang describes three major health conditions – colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – of which compounds unique to wheat can lower an individual’s risk.
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Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries

Designed by: Chef Megan Lambert, Senior Instructor at Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte, NC.

Serves 4-8

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups blueberries, or other berries, fresh or frozen


  1. Preheat the oven to 375F
  2. Butter or spray an 8-inch square baking dish
  3. In a bowl, mix together the oats, baking powder and salt
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, milk, egg, butter and vanilla extract
  5. Cover the bottom of the dish with 2/3 berries. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Jiggle the baking dish on the countertop to make sure the milk mixture is distributed through the oats and fruit. Scatter the remaining berries across the top.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden and the oat mixture has set
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve with additional maple syrup if desired

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