Professorship honors pioneering microbiologist and longtime UNL food scientist Khem Shahani
A newly established professorship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) honors the life of scientist and professor Khem M. Shahani while helping to continue his acclaimed research in healthy food bacteria.
The Khem M. Shahani Professorship in Food Science and Technology was established with lead gifts of $200,000 from Shahani’s wife, Leona Shahani of Walnut Creek, Calif., and $25,000 from the American Dairy Association of Nebraska to the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Annual income from the endowment provides the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Sciences (IANR) with a stipend to assist a professor engaged in research and academic programs focused on dairy foods and their nutritional benefits.
“We are delighted with the generosity of the Shahani family and the American Dairy Association of Nebraska,” said John Owens, the Neal and Leone Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR. “It is our honor to recognize Professor Shahani’s pioneering work while supporting other faculty who follow in his footsteps.”
The first Shahani professorship has been awarded to Robert Hutkins, professor of food science and technology. His research involves the study of bacteria important in food fermentations and that play a role in human health. The goal of his research team is to understand the molecular basis for how these so-called probiotic bacteria metabolize sugars and other nutrients, how they grow and interact with their competitors in the intestinal track and how they promote gastrointestinal health.
“Research on probiotic bacteria was pioneered more than 40 years ago by Dr.
Khem Shahani,” Hutkins said. “Now, this field is regarded as one of the most important research areas in all of microbiology.”
About receiving the Shahani Professorship, Hutkins said, “This award is not only an important personal honor for me, but it is also evidence of the university’s commitment to research on the biology of these important bacteria.”
Hutkins joined UNL in 1987. He received a doctorate in food microbiology at the University of Minnesota in 1984 and then served as a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine and as research scientist at Sanofi Bio Ingredients.
The late Khem Shahani enjoyed a long career in food and dairy microbiology and was one of the world’s leading researchers in the area of probiotic bacteria. He came to UNL from Ohio State University in 1957 and served as professor of food science and technology until his death in 2001.
“It is very meaningful for my family and me to honor my husband at the University of Nebraska,” Leona Shahani said. “He enjoyed more than 40 years of teaching and research there, and it is rewarding to see his important work and high teaching standards continue there.”
Widely regarded as one of the world's leading research authorities on the role of Lactobacilli and gastrointestinal bacteria, Shahani published more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles related to microorganisms and health. During his tenure at UNL, he isolated, developed and optimized the exceptional DDS-1 strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Shahani founded Nebraska Cultures based in Walnut Creek, Calif., where he developed strains of friendly flora for use as dietary supplements. He also served as consultant to the World Health Organization and received numerous awards for his work.
The University of Nebraska Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization established in 1936 to supplement support for students, faculty, facilities and programs at the University of Nebraska’s four campuses through gifts from alumni, friends, corporations and other foundations.
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Director of Public Relations