June 2021

Dr. Ievgenia Ostrov

Ievgeniia Ostrov

Rutgers University

What got you interested in research relating to medicinal plants?

I have been fascinated by the favorable health effects of traditional herbal remedies since my undergraduate years. As of today, large number of commercially available drugs are plant-derived or naturally-inspired. Also, over the past decade, numerous additional compounds from medicinal and edible plants have been scientifically recognized as highly beneficial for human health. Particularly, many waste products of agricultural processing are rich in valuable phytochemicals, which have the potential to be used as human medicine, dietary supplements, cosmetics, preservatives, and disinfectants. My current postdoctoral position at Dr. Ilya Riskin’s laboratory at the department of plant biology of the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences enables me to contribute to global understanding of the versatile health and industrial benefits of plants.

What is the main focus of your Postdoc work?

It is common knowledge that metabolic syndrome (MetS) has become a major health hazard of modern world, indicating the need for effective diagnostics, therapies and prevention strategies. Recent studies, conducted both on human and animal models, presume that a significant impact to the pathogenesis of MetS can be induced by dysbiotic changes in gut microbiota. These adverse shifts in microbial communities result in gastrointestinal oxidative stress and inflammation, which leads to further deterioration of metabolic health. Importantly, oxidative stress can be viewed not only as a consequence of microbial dysbiosis, but also as an important culprit. Thus, oxidative stress can exacerbate dysbiosis by targeting obligate anaerobes (susceptible to oxygen intoxication) and promote the growth of facultative anaerobic taxa, certain representatives of which are human pathogens.

We hypothesize that poorly bioavailable anitioxidants (such as plant polyphenols and elemental iron) may facilitate survival of beneficial obligate anaerobic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract by neutralizing excess oxygen and reactive oxygen species. This may initiate events that lead to alleviation of MetS symptoms.  I am also a co-investigator in a project (led by Sarah Skubel, Ph.D. candidate from Dr. Raskin’s laboratory), related to studying antimicrobial properties of medicinal and edible plants. Due to increased resistance to antibiotics, Covid-19 epidemic, and a movement towards naturally sourced products there is an increased need for effective, long lasting, economic antimicrobial agents. Preliminary data from our laboratory suggests that extracts, derived from medicinal and edible plants, might have growth inhibition or microbicidal effect on medically and industrially relevant microorganisms at applicable concentrations. Currently, we are focusing on identification of botanical synergy between tested extracts (or their components) for the development of natural antimicrobials, which can be used for developing preservative and sanitizing agents.

 What tip would you give someone just beginning a career in agricultural research?

In my opinion, agricultural research is a very promising and versatile scientific area, which has a lot of joint spheres of interest with other disciplines, such as biology, biotechnology, medicine, pharmacology, industry, environmental sciences, and economics. This allows students and investigators, who are involved in agricultural research to gain knowledge and experience in multiple scientific fields and conduct basic and applied research. Expertise in the agricultural research also facilitates finding employment in many sectors beyond academia. Nevertheless, I believe the future of the agro-industry might be in connecting agricultural research with human health.

I would suggest to those just beginning their career in agricultural research, to try to analyze their field of interest also in context of other relevant disciplines. Such strategic thinking might facilitate developing novel agricultural, scientific and industrial concepts and approaches. Ultimately leading to more efficient usage of resources, reducing food loss and waste, and improved public health and welfare.

Good luck to everyone!