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Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Presenter: Steve L. Taylor, Ph.D.


Biography and Professional Background

Dr. Taylor is a Professor of Food Science & Technology in the Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. A native of the Willamette Valley of Oregon, he graduated from Cascade Union High School in rural Turner, Oregon, received his B.S. and M.S. from Oregon State University in food science and technology, and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at Davis. His postdoctoral research training in environmental toxicology and nutrition was also at the University of California-Davis. In 1978, after 3 years at an Army research laboratory at the Presidio-San Francisco, he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1987 he transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is now Professor and Head of the Dept. of Food Science & Technology and Director of the Food Processing Center. Dr. Taylor is married and has 2 children, aged 22 and 25.

Dr. Taylor's research on food allergies came about by a rather circuitous route. He decided to major in food science and technology allowing him to combine his interests in chemistry, biology, and engineering and to apply these basic sciences to food, which underpins our very survival. During his University training, he became intensely interested in food safety--especially the chemical aspects of food safety (the then fledgling field of food toxicology). Recognizing that additional training in basic science would be advantageous to his dream of an academic research career, he pursued a Ph.D. in biochemistry. His Ph.D. research provided him with fundamental experience in protein biochemistry. His stint with the Army refocused his interest on food safety because he worked in a research laboratory that supported the safety of food procured for the Army.

Dr. Taylor recognized that he could put his academic training in food science, biochemistry, toxicology and nutrition together in the pursuit of research on naturally occurring toxicants in foods. It was a farsighted choice since, at the time, most food toxicologists focused their attention on pesticide residues and intentional food additives. The Army allowed him to pursue independent research and he decided to study scombroid fish poisoning, a foodborne illness that occasionally occurred with certain fish (tuna, mackerel), and the symptoms of which mimick an allergic reaction. The causative agent was histamine, the same chemical that is released in the human body in allergic reactions. Histamine is formed in some fish by certain spoilage bacteria that act on the amino acid, histidine. Histidine occurs in large quantities in the tissues of certain fish species. Dr. Taylor identified some of the bacterial species capable of high levels of histamine production under spoilage conditions and demonstrated how histamine can cross the gastrointestinal barrier and enter the bloodstream thereby causing allergy-like symptoms following a meal of susceptible fish. Dr. Taylor's research on histamine poisoning was productive but research on fish became logistically difficult when he accepted a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin in 1978. Because of his work with histamine and his training in protein biochemistry, the development of a new focus on food allergens, naturally-occurring proteins that induce the body to release histamine in susceptible individuals, was a logical next step. Dr. Taylor has gone on to conduct research on food allergies and food allergens including peanut, almond, Brazil nut, soybean, milk, egg, and fish and on certain food ingredients capable of causing various food sensitivities including sulfites, monosodium glutamate (MSG), erythritol, and sorbitol. He has developed research collaborations with clinical investigators in the U.S. [Univ. of Wisconsin, Univ. of Arkansas, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (New York), Canada, France, Denmark, and South Africa].

Dr. Taylor has had numerous interesting and exciting opportunities because of his role as a food scientist conducting research that relates directly to clinical medicine. He is a member of the Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and was the first food scientist to join that medical society and speak at their annual meetings. He is often asked to speak at medical meetings and to medical groups seeking more understanding of foods and the practices of the food industry, and he is widely recognized by food science societies and the food industry for his knowledge of food allergies and sensitivities and his ability to bridge the gap between medicine and food science. For example, in 1998, he delivered the Bram Rose Memorial Lecture to the Canadian Society of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists, was the founder of the Toxicology & Safety Evaluation Division of the Institute of Food Technologists and received the 2002 Harold Macy Award. He has served the National Academy of Sciences on the Food & Nutrition Board, the Committee on Food Chemical Codex, and is currently on the Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health. Because food safety, food allergy, and the safety of genetically modified foods are issues of global importance, Dr. Taylor has had many interesting international experiences including serving on various expert committees for the World Health Organization and the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and as an advisor to the countries of Brazil, Mexico, and Australia.

But, food allergies affect individual consumers and their families so Dr. Taylor devotes considerable time to the support of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a non-profit organization that provides educational support and increases awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis. Dr. Taylor currently serves as a member of its Medical Advisory Board (its only non-physician) and is Chair of the Board of Directors. In 2002, he was honored with the Founders Award by FAAN (information on FAAN may be found at: www.foodallergy.org). In addition to his other academic assignments, Dr. Taylor is co-Director of the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program, an industry-funded consortium with 32 food industry members currently that supports research and outreach on food allergies and allergens. He is also the Executive Director of the Midwest Advanced Food Manufacturing Alliance, a 13-univeristy research consortium that sponsor an annual research competition funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Dr. Taylor has written over 200 scientific articles, book chapters, encyclopedia articles, and other publications. He was recently identified by the Institute for Scientific Research as one of the most highly cited researchers in the world. He serves as an Editor for Advances in Food & Nutrition Research and the Food Science & Technology Book Series for Academic Press and is on the editorial boards of J. Food Protection, J. Natural Toxins, J. Food Composition & Analysis, Food Chem. Toxicology, and Lebensmittel-Wissenschaft Technologie.

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