During Zach Stromberg\'s post-doctoral work, he will be working alongside Dr. Melha Mellata as they study adulterants – in this case, bacteria - found in beef that makes it unsafe to be sold. Photo by Whitney Sager
During Zach Stromberg\'s post-doctoral work, he will be working alongside Dr. Melha Mellata as they study adulterants – in this case, bacteria - found in beef that makes it unsafe to be sold. Photo by Whitney Sager

Food science post-doc awarded competitive fellowship funding

A post-doctoral researcher has been awarded a USDA fellowship to support his research into bacteria found in beef.

Zach Stromberg came to Iowa State University in February 2016 after applying and being selected for a post-doctoral position in Dr. Melha Mellata’s lab. Not long after he was offered the position, Mellata suggested they apply for funding from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Competitive Grants Program.

They received word Stromberg was selected for the $152,000 post-doctoral fellowship in August 2016, but they did not receive the money until earlier this month. The funding will allow Stromberg to not only gain experience as he prepares for a career as a scientist, but also allow him to gain leadership experience during the next two years to prepare him for future career positions.

The aim of the USDA fellowships “is to cultivate future leaders who are able to address and solve emerging agricultural challenges of the 21st century,” according to the grant packet.

Stromberg is a native of Nebraska, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and completed his Ph.D. work in biomedical sciences. His background is in E. coli (Escherichia coli) in the beef chain. He said what attracted him to Mellata’s post-doctoral position was her expertise on vaccines, as well as the ability to gain experience working with and researching bacteria at the molecular level.

“I was excited to join Iowa State because of its renowned programs in agriculture and life sciences and to expand my work into host pathogen interaction and vaccine development in Dr. Mellata’s lab,” Stromberg said.

edit_8891_webDuring his post-doctoral work, Stromberg and Mellata will be studying adulterants – in this case, bacteria - found in beef that makes it unsafe to be sold. At first, there was only one known strain of the adulterant bacteria, but more strains have emerged in recent years, which makes their treatment and prevention more complicated.

The ultimate goal is to determine how these different bacteria persist in cattle and how they could cause diseases in humans.

“We want use both Zach’s and my expertise in this project to understand which mechanisms these bacteria use to persist in cattle and interact with human cell lines, which will help make a vaccine that will work against them,” Mellata said.

They are fortunate to be able to do their research at Iowa State, Mellata said, where they have access to many resources and facilities.

Throughout the course of Stromberg’s post-doctoral work, Mellata will be supervising him and helping him learn how to lead his own research project.

“I’ll make sure everything goes well along the way,” Mellata said.

CONTACTS:

Zach Stromberg, postdoc research associate, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, zstrom@iastate.edu

Melha Mellata, assistant professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, 515-294-9220, mmellata@iastate.edu

Whitney Sager, communications coordinator, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, 515-294-9166, wjsager@iastate.edu

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