The new agreement, signed before the Mexican House of
Representatives by Associate Dean Steven Pueppke of the U of I
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences boosts
funding for a highly successful program that has already brought 18
Mexican graduate students to Illinois. CONACYT will also provide
$20,000 a year for joint projects between Mexico and the U of I
College of ACES.
"This is a tremendous vote of confidence in the
work that Mexican students have done here," said Elvira de Mejia,
associate director of the TIES program, of the cooperative venture
between the U of I and the Universidad de Queretaro, beginning its
Students in the program, directed by Dr. Elizabeth Jeffery, are
mentored by faculty in both universities. The Mexican students and
visiting faculty members have contributed to intriguing research
findings, including the identification of cancer-preventive
compounds in both black beans and amaranth and a discovery that may
help combat the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
While working with Dr. Mary Ann Lila last semester, Dr. Guadalupe
Loarca-Pina, professor and director of food chemistry at Queretano,
characterized pigments in the outer layer of the black bean that
inhibited the growth of cervical cancer cells in the laboratory.
In Dr. de Mejia's lab, a graduate student of Ana Paulina Barba de
la Rosa discovered that amaranth contains some of the same proteins
found in soybeans, including lunasin, a very active anticancer
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"We also created two drought-tolerant amaranth genotypes," de
Mejia said. "This is important because amaranth is grown in a part
of Mexico that doesn't get much rainfall. Many cereal companies
would like to use this nutritious seed in their products, but there
isn't enough of it. Now we may be able to meet the cereal
And, in Dr. Scott Martin's lab, Claudia Alvarado Osuna isolated a
bacteriocin that inhibits the growth of Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria is a leading cause of food-borne illness, especially in
foods such as deli meats, because the pathogen can grow at
refrigeration temperatures. Osuna's data suggest the bacteriocin she
found could be used in coatings that season deli meats, and the
scientists continue to study the viability of its use.
Dr. Jeffery is excited to be leading a program in which so much
good work has already been done, and she welcomes the additional
students and research funding that the new grant will provide.
"It's gratifying to be training a new generation of Mexican
scientists, and the research made possible by this program has great
potential to benefit the citizens of both countries," Jeffery said.
[University of Illinois news release]