USDA honors

Scientist recognized for work in genetics and nutrition

Discoveries about how genetic inheritance provokes biochemical responses to diet and nutrition have garnered an Agricultural Secretary’s Honor Award for Jose M. Ordovas, director of the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Jose M. Ordovas © MELODY KO

Ordovas’ work “has significantly advanced the emerging field of nutritional genomics and provided a foundation for developing targeted dietary and lifestyle recommendations for given populations based on genetics,” said Edward B. Knipling, administrator for the Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief intramural scientific research agency. “These research findings ultimately are aimed at providing knowledge to help prevent chronic diseases and promote healthy aging.”

Ordovas, a professor at the Friedman School, received the award from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns at ceremonies at the USDA in Washington, D.C., on October 20.

He began his career more than two decades ago, researching genes that control blood levels of fats, which affect the risk of heart disease. Ordovas is currently leading investigations into how nutrients regulate the actions of genes that are involved in metabolism and genes that are related to obesity.

Along with colleagues, Ordovas found that several common mutations in perilipin, a gene known to be protective during famine, actually modulate body weight in women. His team also has found that other variations in the perilipin gene predict the response of obese people to very low-calorie diets. That finding defines a group of individuals who are genetically resistant to traditional weight-reducing diets and for whom other alternatives are needed.