New faculty profile: Gulustan Ozturk explores health-promoting components of milk

Gulustan Ozturk joined the UW–Madison faculty in August 2022 as an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science. Funding for this position comes from the Dairy Innovation Hub, which has supported over a dozen faculty positions so far at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
My hometown is Gulnar, which is a beautiful small town in the Mersin Province of Turkey. I lived in multiple places in Turkey growing up and then moved to the U.S.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food engineering from Ankara University in Turkey. I then received my Ph.D. in food science with a designated emphasis in biotechnology from UC Davis. After my Ph.D., I was a postdoctoral researcher in the food science and technology department at UC Davis.

How did you get into your field of research?
As the child of two educators, I had an innate connection to science and education from an early age. Growing up on my grandparent’s farm and helping them to prepare the food for winter, I was drawn into the question of how I could make the food system more sustainable and nourishing. So, I continued my education and earned BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in food engineering/food science. During my postdoctoral research, I had an opportunity to work with a top interdisciplinary team focused on milk bioactive compounds, inspiring me to build my own research program in next-generation dairy foods that improve human health.

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
My main goals are to apply bio-guided processing to isolate bioactive compounds from milk or dairy streams, and design and develop microbiome-centered therapeutic interventions with application in personalized nutrition and precision treatments to improve human health. As a teacher and mentor, I aim to stoke my students’ curiosity about dairy science and promote diversity through equity and inclusion.

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit was in June 2022 for an in-person interview. At the end of the first day, I walked downtown and went to the Memorial Union Terrace. It was a beautiful summer night, and I immediately loved the campus/Madison. UW-Madison is a unique and special campus.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope students will come away with enthusiasm and vision for scientific inquiry and critical thinking.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Absolutely – my work aligns with the Wisconsin Idea in many ways. I am passionate about providing knowledge to guide agriculture and food through a disruptive revolution to become sustainable, nourishing, and an engine of biodiversity. UW–Madison is one of the world’s great universities, and dairy-related research is particularly famous. My goal is to extend and complement dairy-related research and inspire and educate future food scientists to become future academic and industry leaders in the field.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
Relationships are an essential resource for our mental and emotional well-being. So, connecting with my family and friends – even remotely – was vital for me throughout the whole pandemic.  

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise that you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Milk has unique health-promoting bioactive compounds such as prebiotics (which promote the growth of beneficial bacteria) and antimicrobials (which can selectively eliminate pathogens).

What are your hobbies and other interests?
Hiking, working out, traveling, music and food. Since I am here, I would like to get into kayaking and cross-country skiing.