CSU nutrition graduate student earns awards for presenting microbes research

Raj Trikha presenting his research poster to a man reading about his research

Raj Trikha, a graduate student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University, has competed in statewide and regional graduate research competitions presenting his research about gut microbes. His project entitled “Eating for Two—Your Microbes and You” is focused on studying the relationship between diet and heart disease.

“Our lab believes that the microbiota, the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestines, plays a significant role in the development of this disease,” Trikha said in his 3-Minute Challenge presentation, a research competition where graduate students at CSU can present their research findings in 3 minutes. The winners of the 3-Minute Challenge are named Graduate Fellows in the Vice President for Research’s cohort.

Inspiration for his research

While working on his undergraduate degree, Trikha worked with Christopher Bell, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and director of the Integrative Biology Lab. This research involved investigating the effects of exercise and dietary counseling on the body’s composition. Trikha studied how the exercise and dietary modifications positively affected each individual. But variations in the effectiveness at the individual level of these changes were large.

“This variability intrigued me,” said Trikha. “I wanted to research why some individuals responded well to diet and exercise, while for others, results weren’t as impactful.”

Trikha is currently studying the signs of CVD by transferring the microbiota from one lean, healthy human and one obese, unhealthy human into an animal model that lacks a microbiota (germ-free model). He is working with Associate Professors Tiffany Weir in the Intestinal Health Laboratory and Christopher Gentile in the Integrative Cardiovascular Physiology Laboratory. Their current research project is in collaboration with Assistant Professor Sarah Ardanuy Johnson, the director of the Functional Foods and Human Health Laboratory. The study is currently still in progress, but Trikha has found that those who received the microbiota from the obese individual are showing early signs of CVD.

“Results from our work are potentially very meaningful because they may establish the underlying link between diet, obesity, and CVD, and open up new therapeutic opportunities targeting the gut microbiota,” said Trikha.

Presenting his research

Trikha has participated in numerous research competitions. He presented his findings as a research poster at the 2019 CSU Graduate Student Showcase last November and received an honorable mention in the Great Minds in Research category. As an award winner at the Grad Show, Trikha was invited to participate in the 3-Minute Challenge for a chance to compete for a spot in the VPR Fellows Program. In February, Trikha presented his lab’s research with a speech at the 3 Minute Challenge.

The research pitches were judged, and Trikha was one of 16 participants who were selected to be a part of the cohort for the VPR Graduate Fellows Program at CSU. This cohort gives graduate students opportunities and workshops for professional development, leadership, and mentoring for the 2020-2021 school year. Trikha also received $4,000 for travel and research expenses.

“I have always enjoyed presenting my research in front of others,” said Trikha. “I had never competed in a speaking competition prior to the 3 Minute Challenge and to be quite honest, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience participating.”

Success in competitions

Raj Trikha and other award winners at the 2019 Graduate Student Showcase
Raj Trikha (first on the left) and other award winners at the 2019 Graduate Student Showcase.

After presenting his research at the CSU’s 3 Minute Challenge, Trikha was also awarded the People’s Choice Award, in addition to being named a VPR Fellow. As the People’s Choice Award winner, he was invited to present his research in Denver along with other graduate students from several universities in Colorado at the Colorado Competition of Graduate Schools on March 6.

“I was pleasantly surprised to be sitting in Dr. Chris Gentile’s office when he received the email saying that I had won the People’s Choice Award at the 3 Minute Challenge,” said Trikha. “It was quite an honor to be given the chance to represent CSU against students from schools throughout the entire state!”

Trikha’s presentation at the Colorado Competition of Graduate Schools was a huge achievement as he won a first-place award. His success in Denver enabled him to move on and compete at the Western Association of Graduate Schools competition held in Albuquerque, New Mexico just before the stay-at-home orders for the COVID-19 pandemic were issued.

“Although I did not win the Western States competition, listening to other graduate students present their research was an incredible experience. I was very humbled to be considered a competitor alongside these exceptional presenters,” said Trikha. “Getting to spend additional time with fellow Colorado graduate students, I got to learn more about their research, and see how graduate school can facilitate a community of very interesting people.”

The Department of Food Science and Nutrition is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.