center director sees opportunities touting benefits of regional
As the University of North Dakota seeks to expand its research
base, it need only look a short distance east of the campus to
find a major, big-scale, and internationally know partner: the
Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center of the U.S. Department
With an annual budget of $9 million, the Center employs 14 scientists
and a staff of 145. It conducts basic and applied research to
elucidate the roles of minerals and other nutrients in supporting
the health of Americans. The goal is to reduce chronic disease
and promote health by helping to maintain the quality of food.
Since the facility opened in 1970, it has enjoyed a congenial
relationship with UND, but one that President Charles Kupchella
and School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dean H. David Wilson
have long hoped to expand. When it was learned that Dr. Gerald
Combs, a collaboration-minded nutrition researcher and professor
at Cornell, was considering an invitation to assume the directorship
of the Center, they encouraged him to accept. So did the North
Dakota Congressional delegation, among others.
Combs took the job. Today he has become, as expected, a high-profile
advocate of new partnerships, working not only with Vice President
Alfonso at UND but also with North Dakota State University, private
trade organizations, and others interested in the nutritional
benefits of crops grown in the Northern Great Plains.
Combs says the selenium-rich soils of the region offer possibilities
to develop healthful crops such as wheat, barley, and buckwheat.
He envisions work to develop the solid scientific basis needed
for the health claims of such foods. He sees similar opportunities
to develop other regional products, including beans, flax, beef,
and bison, all with various health-promoting characteristics.
In his own research, Combs has published widely on nutritional
biochemistry of minerals and vitamins, especially selenium, vitamin
E, and factors affecting their metabolic functions.