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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 R44ES031414
Funding Organization National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Award Funding Period 01 Jan 2023 to 31 Dec 2024
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Project Summary 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), the goal of RFA-ES-21-008 (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. has partnered with media experts (SquishyMedia) environmental and education scientists at Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University and local undergraduate institutions to submit this proposal. Our strategy is to use epigenetic science as an education bridge to improve EHL because the basics of this science are relatively easy to understand and the epigenome responds to environmental exposures in ways that can improve or worsen health. To accomplish this goal, our SBIR Phase I and now our Phase II application focuses on developing two “experiential” educational tools. The first tool, delivers interactive learning modules in an online software application that utilizes “gamification” principles to teach users how the environment impacts our epigenome and health as a consequence. Gamification offers a variety of benefits associated with learning outcomes, including enhancing user-engagement, learning, and knowledge retention. Our software application will include the “EpiMon” app, a stylized interactive game that will utilize the epigenetic principles that the student has learned and apply them to fictional creatures (EpiMon) in a fictional world. The second tool, is an educational laboratory kit that will emphasize and tie in principles taught with the software product. The lab kit utilizes a simple and safe model organism, Neurospora crassa, to demonstrate basic epigenetic principles and how environmental exposures can influence the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. While the kit will contain control experiments to demonstrate these principles, it will also offer the students the ability to experiment with growth conditions to determine their impact on epigenetic gene regulation. Unlike most laboratory kits in the marketplace where the experimental outcome is pre-determined, the experiential approach of our kit puts the keys in the hands of the student. 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 enable us to extend these tools to public school students and the interactive software to the lay public and public health professionals at little to no cost.
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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