Johanna defends her master’s thesis defense!

Johanna Holman passed her Master’s of Science these defense (we knew she would succeed)!! Johanna has worked incredibly hard over the last two years to broaden her research skills and conduct several experiments, and her defense presentation was a wonderful way to see that progression all at once. She has also earned the designation of “first Ishaq Lab grad student to defend”. The defense was attended by her thesis committee, students in the Ishaq lab, collaborators on this project, and friends and family (who brought her a flower and broccoli bouquet that can be seen in the picture below). She will officially pass after a few revisions to her thesis and a formal acceptance by the committee members, which is standard for graduate defenses.

Johanna Holman standing at a wooden podium with a white board and a projection screen behind her. Johanna is presenting her master's thesis, and the title slide of the presentation is showing on the screen.
Johanna Holman beginning her master’s defense presentation.

Johanna has been accepted to the Nutrition PhD program at UMaine, and will continue working with Dr. Li and I, as well as the full research team. Based on those preliminary results, Johanna’s doctoral work will focus on developing that new mouse model, synthesizing information from both models, and using those results to develop diet intervention trials in human patients. After her PhD, Johanna intends to conduct research at an institution here in Maine, and to continue her work connecting the biochemistry of nutrition with gut microbiology and human health.

Prevention of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases by Broccoli Sourced and Microbially Produced Bioactives.

  • Johanna Holman at her ASM Microbe 2022 poster
  • Person in a research facility holding up their arm with a mouse on it. Person is wearing a hairnet, nitrile gloves, surgical mask, and a surgical gown. They are holding their left arm up to the camera to show off a mouse with dark brown fur sitting on their arm. In the background is a metal shelf with containers of research materials.

Johanna sets a date for her master’s thesis defense!

Prevention of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases by Broccoli Sourced and Microbially Produced Bioactives.

Presented by Johanna Holman in fulfillment of her Master’s of Science in Nutrition degree at the University of Maine. Jul 25, 2022 09:30 – 10:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance to attend this presentation over Zoom, which will also be held in person in 206 Rogers Hall at the University of Maine (no RSVP required). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

About Johanna

I met Johanna in the fall of 2019, when I was just establishing myself as a new Assistant Professor at UMaine and she was looking for an advisor for a graduate degree.  Right away, she impressed me with her background and enthusiasm for research.  I learned that Johanna began her undergraduate study as an art student before transitioning fluidly to science.  The ability to design visual aids and graphical representations of data is hugely important to science and sadly, not always a skill that scientists are trained to do, and Johanna has made some incredible art for her research.  

Once she became a science student during her undergraduate study, she worked in the laboratories of Drs. Yanyan Li, previously an Associate Professor (of nutrition) in the College of Science and Humanities, and Tao Zhang, Assistant Professor of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, both of Husson University in Bangor.  There, she performed nutritional biochemistry, worked with mouse models, and developed an idea of what she wanted to study in graduate school and pursue as a career.  Johanna continues to work closely with both researchers, especially now that Dr. Li has taken a position at UMaine. 

Johanna and I continued to plan her graduate work and career goals, she officially joined my lab as a Master’s Student of Nutrition at UMaine in fall 2020, and immediately got to work.  Not only did she begin preparations for the massive undertaking that is part of her project, but she began mentoring several undergraduates on and off campus, and started as a first time teaching assistant for the Chemistry department, which required navigating virtual labs.  She served as a chemistry TA for academic year 20/21 and 21/22, with up to 60 students per semester. For the last year and a half, she has been coordinating a large-scale research project with investigators at 4 different institutions and undergraduate researchers from 3 different institutions, involving hundreds of samples – while being a masters student, a graduate teaching assistant, and mentoring undergrads in the lab, and all during a pandemic!  She managed that all so well, that despite being a first-year graduate student, she was awarded a 2020-2021 University of Maine Graduate Student Employee of the Year award, and the 2022 Norris Charles Clements Graduate Student Award from the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture. 

Johanna’s project focuses on whether consumption of specific broccoli sprout preparations will elicit changes in the gut microbiota, to the effect of improving the production of microbiota-specific bioactives that have local anti-inflammatory effects, and promoting intestinal homeostasis by reducing dysbiosis. Broccoli sprouts represent an effective, and accessible way to add dietary intervention to existing treatment and prevention strategies for IBD patients. This project is a continuation of previous research on bioactive compounds in broccoli, completed in the labs of Drs. Yanyan Li and Tao Zhang at Husson University in Bangor.  While some of the work may be similar, the skill set she has gained in her graduate work is entirely new.  For the 2020/2021 winter break, Johanna was managing a 40-mouse study looking at DSS-treatment and different preparations of a broccoli sprout diet for 5 weeks, which resulted in hundreds of samples collected, hundreds of data time points, and enough follow-up laboratory and analysis work to keep her occupied for an entire year.  She has learned how to culture bacteria in an anaerobic chamber, which is a notoriously fussy machine that requires regular attention, as well as to grow them under different conditions for biochemical analysis and enzyme activity.  She is currently learning additional histology skills, DNA extraction, DNA sequencing library preparation, DNA sequence analysis, and more. Recently, she has participated in a pilot study to develop an immunological model of IBD, using IL-10 knockout mice. While IL-10 mice have been used to study IBD, they have never been applied in this way to study the interaction of diet, microbes, and disease.

She has presented this work at the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting, and at the UC Davis Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) symposium, and has several conference presentations planned for 2022. Johanna has an author on a paper in early 2022 for work she contributed to as an undergraduate, and is preparing 3 manuscripts generated from her masters work which will be submitted for peer review at a scientific journal in 2022.

Johanna has been accepted to the Nutrition PhD program at UMaine, and will continue working with Dr. Li and I, as well as the full research team. Based on those preliminary results, Johanna’s doctoral work will focus on developing that new model, synthesizing information from both models, and using those results to develop diet intervention trials in human patients. After her PhD, Johanna intends to conduct research at an institution here in Maine, and to continue her work connecting the biochemistry of nutrition with gut microbiology and human health.

Johanna receives a UMaine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture Graduate Student Award for her research!

Johanna Holman received the 2022 Norris Charles Clements Graduate Student Award from the University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture (NSFA), for her research and academics over the last two years for her Master’s of Science in Nutrition!! This award highlights the achievements and potential for positive impact of graduate students in agriculture, is more often awarded to doctoral students who have had more years of graduate work in which to accomplish their research, give presentations, mentor undergraduates, and otherwise develop their professional skills.

Person in a research facility holding up their arm with a mouse on it. Person is wearing a hairnet, nitrile gloves, surgical mask, and a surgical gown. They are holding their left arm up to the camera to show off a mouse with dark brown fur sitting on their arm. In the background is a metal shelf with containers of research materials.

Despite the setbacks and challenges of the pandemic, Johanna has been extremely productive and has done an extraordinary amount in just a year and a half (from start to the time of application submission) for her masters work. Johanna is currently writing up the results of her masters work into three manuscripts that we plan to submit to scientific journals for peer review this summer. She will defend her thesis at the end of the summer, just in time to start in September as a PhD student working with Dr. Yanyan Li and I!

Artwork by Johanna Holman
Artwork by Johanna Holman

From the NSFA award page: “The Norris Charles Clements Graduate Student Award was established in the University of Maine Foundation in May 1997 for the benefit of the University of Maine, Orono, with a bequest from Laurel Clements ’48 in honor of her father, Norris Charles Clements, a distinguished Maine poultry farmer who in 1953 was honored by the University of Maine as Maine’s Outstanding Farmer. Income shall be used to provide financial assistance for rewarding outstanding graduate students in agricultural sciences and to recognize the accomplishments of graduate students whose studies have the potential to make a significant contribution to Maine agriculture. Candidates should have training and be doing research in disciplines related to Maine agriculture, such as agronomy, soil science, animal and veterinary sciences, agricultural economics, entomology, plant pathology, agricultural engineering and other disciplines the dean deems contribute significantly to the well being of Maine agriculture. Students will be chosen for awards on the basis of their high academic standing, the quality of their research and their personal integrity.”

Johanna Holman is awarded UMaine Grad Student Employee of the Year!

Johanna Holman, Master’s of Nutrition student in the Ishaq Lab has been awarded the 2020-2021 University of Maine Graduate Student Employee of the Year!!!!

I met Johanna in the fall of 2019, when I was just establishing myself as a new Assistant Professor in the School of Food and Agriculture, and she was looking for an advisor for a graduate degree.  Right away, she impressed me with her background and enthusiasm for research.  I learned that Johanna began her undergraduate study as an art student before transitioning fluidly to science.  I see this is an asset – the ability to design visual aid and graphical representations of data is hugely important to science and sadly, not always a skill that scientists are trained to do. Johanna also had a number of service industry jobs, and initially in that first meeting, she was somewhat apologetic for not having been devoted to science jobs from the start.  I countered that I was pleased to see that she has worked in other industries, specifically in difficult service-related jobs.  It is often more important to have patience, dedication, and strong interpersonal skills, such as those gained by working in customer-facing jobs.  I believe that Johanna has and will continue to succeed because of her varied education and experience.

Once she became a science student during her undergraduate study, she worked in the laboratories of Drs. Yanyan Li, Associate Professor (of nutrition) in the College of Science and Humanities, and Tao Zhang, Assistant Professor of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, both of Husson University in Bangor.  There, she has performed nutritional biochemistry, worked with mouse models, and developed an idea of what she wanted to study in graduate school and pursue as a career. 

Johanna officially joined my lab and started as a Master’s Student of Nutrition at UMaine in fall 2020, and immediately got to work.  Not only did she begin preparations for the massive undertaking that is part of her project, but she began mentoring several undergraduates on and off campus, and started as a first time teaching assistant for the Chemistry department, which required navigating virtual labs.

Johanna’s project focuses on whether consumption of specific broccoli sprout preparations will elicit changes in the gut microbiota, to the effect of improving the production of microbiota-specific bioactives that have local anti-inflammatory effects, and promoting intestinal homeostasis by reducing dysbiosis. This project is a continuation of previous research on bioactive compounds in broccoli, completed in the labs of Drs. Yanyan Li and Tao Zhang at Husson University in Bangor.  While some of the work may be similar, the skill set is entirely new.  For the winter break, Johanna was managing a 40-mouse study for 5 weeks, which has resulted in hundreds of samples collected, hundreds of data time points, and enough follow-up laboratory and analysis work to keep her occupied for an entire year.  She has learned how to culture bacteria in an anaerobic chamber, which is a notoriously fussy machine that requires regular attention, as well as to grow them under different conditions for biochemical analysis and enzyme activity.  She will be learning DNA extraction, DNA sequencing library preparation, DNA sequence analysis, and will lead the generation of a large manuscript on the results.

It might seem too early to recommend a graduate student for this award after just one semester, but it is remarkable that a new master’s student could achieve all of this in their first semester during a pandemic.  I have informally mentored graduate and undergraduate students for years, and it is easy to spot the ones who will go far in science. Johanna has a highly successful career ahead of her, and I am honored to be one stop on that path.  This award will not only acknowledge the incredible amount of work she has accomplished, but it will support an early career researcher who has every quality to make research a hospitable and collaborate place.