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Your Environment. Your Health.


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Principal Investigator: Rountree, Michael
Institute Receiving Award Nzumbe Epigenetics
Location Portland, OR
Grant Number R43ES031414
Funding Organization National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Award Funding Period 23 Jan 2020 to 31 Dec 2021
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Project Summary/Abstract NIEHS defines environmental health as “the field of science that studies how the environment influences human health and disease”. The environment in this definition includes the natural environment, man-made chemicals and structures that often pollute the natural environment, and our social interactions and lifestyle choices. Because toxic environments are linked directly to human health and disease, a critical need exists to educate the American population on this relationship to allow us to make informed choices about the amount of risk we are willing to take. Stated differently, to improve public health we need to improve environmental health literacy (EHL), which is the goal of RFA-ES-19-005 (Innovative Approaches for Improving Environmental Health Literacy). The RFA requests collaborations between small businesses and environmental scientists “to develop novel tools, activities, or materials to build EHL”. In response, Nzumbe Inc. (Portland, OR) has partnered with environmental and education scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) (Portland, OR) and local undergraduate institutions to submit this proposal. We will use epigenetic science as an education bridge to improve EHL because the basics of this science are relatively easy to understand and the epigenome (the sum total of all epigenetic modifications) responds to environmental exposures in ways that can improve or worsen health. Two complementary specific aims are proposed for this Phase 1 application, which will focus on undergraduate education. The first is to create interactive and gamified software based on epigenetic science that undergraduate educators can use to teach students about environmental health. The prototype mobile app will allow students to create scenarios in which identical twins receive an unhealthy exposure in utero known to change epigenetic patterns and suspected to cause disease later in life. The students will then choose different combinations of diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices for each twin that are also known to change epigenetic patterns to attempt to counter over a virtual lifetime the negative early life exposure. The students will be scored based on their choices with the ability to compare results with classmates and students at other institutions. The second Aim will create a prototype laboratory kit focused on epigenetic science that will provide fundamental information about environmental epigenetics. The kit will use a simple epigenetic model system, the fungus Neurospora crassa. We will engineer a Neurospora strain with a reporter gene that is epigenetically silenced by DNA methylation and sensitive to activation. Students will choose different exposures and then measure activation and DNA methylation of the reporter gene. Results will be reported to an accompanying software application module where students can compare their results with classmates and other schools to identify exposures with epigenetic activity. Successful completion of the proposed work will lead to Phase II funding to complete these modules and modify and extend them to public school students and the interactive software to the lay public and public health professionals.
Science Code(s)/Area of Science(s) Primary: 94 - Communication Research/Environmental Health Literacy
Secondary: 03 - Carcinogenesis/Cell Transformation
Publications No publications associated with this grant
Program Officer Daniel Shaughnessy
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