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Robert Ward

Lab Focus

Research in the Ward Lab involves investigating linkages between food chemistry and nutrition. Our approach is to apply comprehensive analytical tools (such as metabolomics, lipidomics and functional genomics) to both characterize foods and the dynamic responses of organisms that consume them.


Dietary Fat and Health

In the last 100 years the composition of fat consumed in the US has changed drastically. There has been a substantial increase in the polyunsaturated fatty acid content of the US diet, which has largely been in the form of omega-6 fatty acids. Some have suggested that the increased omega-6 intake may predispose us to a greater inflammatory response to stimuli, but there has not been much data provided to back this assertion.

To investigate the effects of dietary PUFA on health we have been working with both humans and in rodent models. In humans, we have profiled the red blood cells of ~2000 participants in the Cache County Study on Memory Health and Aging. This has allowed us to investigate correlations of PUFA intake with RBC fatty acid content and cognition.In rodents, we have been systematically manipulating the PUFA content of diets such as the AIN93G, the 45%kcal DIO diet, and the Total Western Diet developed at Utah state with colleagues. In addition, we have been investigating how different stressors, such as obesity, viral challenges and LPS, affect the inflammatory response.

A second are of interest with dietary fat is the milk fat globular membrane (MFGM). Milk fat globules have a unique structure in that all triglyceride droplets are coated in a bilayer of epithelial cell membrane, which originates from the apical surface of mammary gland epithelia. This material is available as an ingredient in co products of dairy processing, such as whey and churn buttermilk. Due to its unique composition, many have suggested this material may have interesting bioactive properties, but few studies have been conducted to investigate this activity. Together with the Hintze Lab, we have conducted several studies in rodents as well as two human studies. We have investigated effects of MFGM on cancer, inflammation, the microbiome, and gut permeability.

Food Quality

Meat quality: We have several projects involving the effect of animal diet on both sensory characteristics and fatty acid profiles of meat. We worked with Dr. Silvana Martini to develop a flavor lexicon for beef. In addition, we have worked with Fred Provenza and Juan Villalba of the WIldland Resources Department in the College of Natural Resources.
Dairy products: Our department is home to the WesternDairyCenter ( and in addition to our work with MFGM we are involved in dairy chemistry at multiple levels. For example, we are working with Dr. Jeff Broadbent of the NDFS department to characterize the aroma volatiles produced by lactic acid bacteria as a function of the fat content.

Analytical Capabilities

Lipidomics: The Ward Lab is equipped with a Shimadzu QP2010 Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer and as well as a Shimadzu GC2010 coupled to a flame ionization detector. We routinely separate up to 60 individual fatty acid methyl esters (including major CLA isomers) and are able to separate and characterize all major lipid classes, including phospholipid species.
Volatiles: We are currently using solid phase microextraction (SPME) to measure volatiles in cooked meats and cheese. We couple SPME sampling to our GC-MS and are able to improve sensitivity by running the instrument in simultaneous single ion and scan mode.
Small molecule metabolomics: This discipline attempts to capture dynamic aspects of metabolism via simultaneous measurement of as many cellular metabolites as possible. We are focusing on small molecules, which are able to be measured in the gas phase via GCMS.


We are always looking for motivated students to join our team. While there is not always funding available, there are alterative mechanisms interested students can use to fund their education at USU. If you are interested, please email me a CV along with a one page statement of research interests.
Cache Valley is an amazing place to work and live. We have a four season climate and have year-round access to world class recreation.

The PI

I am originally from Cleveland, OH. I attended Western Reserve Academy for high school and received a BA from the University of Vermont. After graduation I worked as a chef in Park City, UT and as a bike touring guide in Italy. During this time I became deeply interested in food chemistry and in the ability of foods to affect health. I subsequently studied food science and technology at the University of California - Davis and received a MS in Brewing Science with Charlie Bamforth and a PhD with Bruce German. I have worked at USU since 2005. In my spare time I enjoy biking, skiing and exploring the Intermountain West.