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Deans and administrators from each college suggested two faculty members who deserve special “kudos” during Faculty Appreciation Week.

Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa

Naïma Moustaïd-MoussaIn the U.S., nearly one-third of adults are obese and the percentage of obese children and adolescents has tripled over the past three decades. Tennessee has the second-highest rate of adult obesity in the nation.

While these facts about figures would be disheartening for some, Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, UT animal science professor and co-director of the Obesity Research Center, is taking this heavy news head-on.

“Human obesity is a complex problem, and it can only be addressed by merging and translating findings from various disciplines and approaches, ranging from cell and molecular studies to experimental animal and clinical population research,” she said.

Like many researchers, Moustaïd-Moussa is working with mice, but she’s doing more than just monitoring their cheese intake.

“The discovery of Angiotensin II in fat cells suggests a potential role of fat cells in high blood pressure associated with obesity,” she said. “We are using mouse models to further characterize this relationship to changes of diet, hormones and disease states.”

For her work in the area, Moustaïd-Moussa has been elected to serve on the Council of the Obesity Society and serves as an active member of a statewide committee charged with developing and implementing a state plan for obesity. Her research also has been recognized through multiple research awards, including the 2007 UT Chancellor’s Award for Research and Creative Achievement, and a yearlong Fulbright Scholarship and Invited Professorship at the University of Bordeaux, France, in 2004-2005.

Originally from Morocco, Moustaïd-Moussa completed her graduate research in nutrition and metabolism and received her Doctor of Endocrinology degree from the University of Paris, France. After a postdoctoral training in molecular nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, she joined UT’s nutrition faculty.

Annette Wszelaki

Annette WszelakiAnnette Wszelaki has always enjoyed eating vegetables, and now she focuses on growing her own and teaching others how to do the same.

Wszelaki is the UT vegetable extension specialist and has statewide responsibilities for developing a comprehensive educational program in commercial vegetable production.

“There is nothing like that home-grown, fresh-picked tomato from your own back yard. The closer you are to your food source, the more nutritious it is and the better it is going to taste,” Wszelaki said.

The main focuses of her extension program include production and variety recommendations, diversifying production, developing alternative crops, organic and sustainable production and postharvest handling.

“This research is important because it’s our food,” she said. “We need food to live, and creating that food in a local, sustainable manner is becoming more important to producers as well as consumers. The goal is to help Tennessee farmers produce the highest quality vegetables possible with the plant characteristics and yield that the growers will appreciate and the flavor characteristics that consumers will appreciate.”

Wszelaki also has co-coordinated the design and implementation of research at the Organic Crops Unit, a farm of the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center that was dedicated to organic production in 2007 and received organic certification on 10 acres in 2010. She also coordinates the Tennessee Organic Agriculture Outreach Initiative.

“The intent of this initiative is to involve more Tennessee farmers in organic production in order to increase farm income and to provide an alternative to keep the family farm in the family,” said Wszelaki.

You can see a short video about her work with organic vegetables here:

Wszelaki received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and her doctorate from the University of California Davis. After completing her graduate work, she returned to Ohio State as a postdoctoral researcher. Prior to joining the UT faculty, she was an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.