Lincoln, Neb. —Car Reen Kok, a doctoral student studying complex biosystems at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was named as a co-recipient of the inaugural Glenn Gibson Early Career Researcher prize from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics in June.
As a rising star in the world of probiotic scientists, Kok’s research focuses on untangling factors leading to how individuals respond or don’t respond to prebiotics interventions based on the bacterial makeup of their gut microbiome. This line of research has great potential to personalize prebiotics, thereby increasing their effectiveness.
Originally from Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, Kok first found her way to Nebraska via the 2+2 program, and also because her older sister received her doctorate from UNL. Kok went on to earn her master’s in food science and studied as a Nebraska Food For Health Center Fellow.
As an undergraduate, she knew she wanted to gain research experience. She researched out to Robert Hudkins, a professor of food science and technology, to inquire about research opportunities. Hutkins directed her to the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program.
“In the UCARE program we could try something that we would not be able to in the classroom,” said Kok.
“That was definitely the first step for me to enter the lab. If it wasn’t for UCARE, I don’t think I would have been able to meet Hutkins and experience what it would be like to be a researcher.”
Kok’s UCARE project, which looked at the antibacterial properties of essential oil, was the beginning of a long relationship with Hudkins, who has remained her advisor throughout her master’s and doctoral work.
“He allows me to explore and carry out experiments that he might not necessarily agree with, but he gives me the flexibility and freedom to do so, which has allowed me to do a lot of self-learning, Kok said.
With a goal to develop a model to predict individual microbiome responses towards prebiotics, Kok is digging into to find answers and opportunities for personalized nutrition.
“When we don’t get the results we were expecting, Hutkins will tell me to keep trying,” Kok said.
“The curiosity mindset is something I learned from him. Always stay curious, and you’ll be able to succeed.”
Kok is set to graduate in December and plans to enter into an industry role where she can translate her research into developing prebiotic products for consumers in California.
For more information about the award, click here.
Natalie Jones | IANR Media