Dr. Sheila Jacobi’s research in swine nutrition has long-term impacts for the swine industry, as well as human nutrition. Her research on gut health in piglets can have similar results for nutritional interventions for babies.
Dr. Jacobi grew up in rural southern Indiana, in the small town of Floyds Knobs. She grew up working on a small commercial produce operation. While her family grew their own vegetables and raised meat animals for their personal consumption, her interest in animal sciences and nutrition were piqued by her aunt and uncle’s small farrow to finish swine operation and mixed grain operation. Her parents and close family instilled in her a strong work ethic. “I grew up thinking everyone rose before dawn every day to do chores at home, then went to their day jobs, and came home and worked past dark. Those values are what drives my passion to keep learning and working hard,” said Jacobi.
Dr. Jacobi’s passion for agriculture and food production was something she grew up with, but did not really take hold as a career until she started doing research her freshman year at Purdue University. The combination of working cattle at the feedlot and taking samples to understand the molecular mechanisms of beef tenderness, took food production to an entirely new level for her. Her curiosity for nutritional regulation of the mechanisms underpinning the bioenergetics of growth and development in meat animals was fostered through undergraduate and graduate mentors who fueled her passion for research and teaching. Since those early experiences, she has learned how to use large animal models to understand human nutrition and attract students to Animal Sciences. After earning her B.S. in Animal Science at Purdue University, she went on to earn her M.S. in Nutritional Biochemistry/Ruminant Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Jacobi then returned to Purdue to earn her Ph.D. She would complete her post-doctoral research in nutrition/gastroenterology at North Carolina State University.
After joining the Department of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University in August of 2015, Dr. Jacobi has focused her research on swine nutritional immunology. “We are currently working on how a milk-fat globule membrane, a by-product of butter making in the dairy industry, may be used to enhance gut health of the neonatal piglet. Additionally, we have worked on dietary interventions that may enhance gut health at weaning in the swine industry,” said Dr. Jacobi. These early interventions can lead to better health, production, and performance early and later in life, and possibly product quality. In addition to feeding products to neonatal pigs to enhance gut health, her research team is also investigating how maternal diet impacts milk quality supplied to offspring, which could enhance piglet health during weaning stress.
The research that Dr. Jacobi is conducting is valuable not only to those in the swine industry, but also to human nutrition. According to Dr. Jacobi, “Piglet models for humans also allows research to be completed in live models that could not be conducted in human infants. This work is particularly important in developing formulas that provide vital nutrition to infants that cannot breast feed.”
Her success in research has led to professional recognition. Dr. Jacobi’s research group was recently awarded a Foods for Human Health metabolomics SEEDS grant to understand how the milk-fat globule membrane enhances gut health in the neonatal piglet. They are also in the process of publishing a weaning trial on the “Evaluation of Supplemental Dietary Organic Acid and Plant Extract on Piglet Weaning Stress”. Others have also benefitted from her research success. Ariel Taylor, an Honors student researching with Dr. Jacobi, presented a poster at the 2017 Fall Undergraduate Research Forum. Another student, Makenzie Thorpe, a senior Health Sciences major, placed second in the spring 2017 College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Research Forum in the Nutrition division. Dr. Jacobi and Thorpe went on to present at the Experimental Biology Meeting in April, 2017. "Dr. Jacobi was extremely helpful and supportive as I became accustomed to the lab and what research was really about. She was always there to help me and give me new ideas. Additionally, she opened up new opportunities for me and I was ultimately able to present a poster at Experimental Biology 2017 in Chicago and I also was able to present at the CFAES research forum," said Thorpe.
Dr. Jacobi has also opened up research avenues with fellow faculty. She and colleagues from the Department of Food Science and Technology, Drs. Joana Ortega-Anaya and Rafael Jimenez-Flores, presented at the Personalized Food and Nutritional Metabolomics for Health Symposium on their work, “Effects of Dietary Sphingomyelin on Neonatal Piglet Intestinal Health and Membrane Composition”.
Dr. Jacobi is utilizing her knowledge of animal science and nutrition to benefit not only food animal agriculture, but also human nutrition. Her research on piglets can be used for positive impacts for infant nutrition. Ohio State is a unique land-grant institution that has many Colleges that can work across disciplines for cross-disciplinary research. According to Dr. Jacobi, “Ohio State is one of the few land-grant institutions that has a Department of Animal Sciences, a vet school and a medical school. That environment was very exciting for me to be able to create a research program that could enhance food animal production, as well as, human health.”