Nutrigenonics is the term for a relatively new area of nutrition science: working out and isolating which chemicals in foods have the ability to turn on and off certain genes that are responsible for disease prevention.
Clemson's funding comes from the South Carolina Research Centers of Economic Excellence Review Board, and is intended to facilitate the effects of certain plant foods and dietary supplements on gene expression in obesity. It represents an opportunity businesses to enter an area that is already garnering interest from industry, academia and governments around the world.
Obesity is a pressing problem in the US, where around 127m adults are overweight, 60m are obese, and 9m severely obese, according to the American Obesity Association. In the South Atlantic region, (Carolinas, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) 19.52 percent of the adult population was obese in 2000, the latest year for which the AOA has statistics.
And demand is certainly there for products to help make weight loss easier. According to Euromonitor International, the US slimming products market is worth $4.34bn at retail, and the world market $6.84bn.
Clemson's endowment chairs program was set up by Southern California legislature was set up to attract top academics to the state's research universities.
The field of nutrigenomics may be in its infancy, but some within the nutrition industry are demonstrably excited by the possibilities. For instance in April DSM Ventures topped up its initial investment in personalized nutrition company Sciona with a follow-on grant of $6.5m.
New Jersey-based biotech WellGen is has already got off the starting blocks over nutrigenomics and obesity, securing $3 million in series B financing at the beginning of this year to fund human clinical trials of its ingredients developed through nutrigenomics to target obesity and inflammation.
If Clemson is able to attract the funding it needs to establish a nutrigenomics program it will join several other hallowed US universities already conducting research in the area, including the University of California, Davis and Pen State University.
The importance and potential of the area is already recognized by some countries, which have begun nutrigenomics projects to get a head start in the field. New Zealand and the Netherlands both have national programs, while the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO) is funded by the EU.