John Denu Appointed the Steenbock Professorship in Nutrition

University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry and School of Medicine and Public Health, John Denu, is named recipient of the Katherine Berns Van Donk Steenbock Professorship in Nutrition. Denu is also an affiliate faculty of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

Effective July 1, 2023, the 10-year term of the professorship offers ample opportunity for Denu to continue his groundbreaking research in epigenetics and metabolism. Denu earned this esteemed position due to his outstanding contributions to the field and the high regard he holds among his colleagues.

“I am honored and humbled to be in the company of such impressive past recipients of the Steenbock Professorship,” says Denu, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and MERIT award recipient. “Being recognized for one’s passion is an incredible, life-affirming endorsement.”

Endowed by the generous contribution of Mrs. Evelyn Steenbock, the Katherine Berns Van Donk Steenbock Professorship in Nutrition is considered one of the campus’s most prestigious and vital professorships for fostering research. The professorship honors Katherine Berns Van Donk, the sister of Evelyn Steenbock, and serves as a testament to the Steenbock family’s commitment to scientific exploration and advancements in nutrition.

The overarching goal of Denu’s work is to investigate how one’s diet, actions and surroundings can lead to chemical changes in your epigenome that affect the expression of your genes and impact disease susceptibility and aging processes. The epigenome sits on top of the genome and governs which genes a cell will express. While our DNA sequence remains stable throughout our lives, epigenetic changes are more malleable and altered through life experiences.

“Our research group has been at the forefront of these exciting new discoveries. Our more recent studies show how these epigenetic changes are impacted by dietary nutrients, microbiota and aging. While it is generally accepted that diet impacts life expectancy and the incidence of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer, the biological mechanisms underlying these effects are not yet well understood,” says Denu.

“The level and flexibility of this research support, as well as the rigorous selection process, places this professorship among the most prestigious awarded by our university,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education

The Steenbock Professorship will provide significant financial support to advance innovative research initiatives. Denu’s foundational discoveries have advanced the molecular understanding of several cellular pathways that are being translated to potential therapeutics for metabolic-based and age-associated diseases, cancer and pathological epigenetic states.

Denu is a dedicated mentor and educator. He has trained approximately 50 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who have gone on to successful careers in academia and industry.

“Research is a team sport and I want to thank all my outstanding students, postdocs and staff who made our research discoveries possible,” says Denu.

“The research funds will be used to support investigating new concepts, how alterations in nutrition affect the epigenome,” comments Denu. “New breakthroughs in our understanding of the potential links between dietary factors and alterations in chromatin and metabolic pathways are fundamentally changing the way we might intervene to improve human health and longevity.”

Congrats to John


Reception for John’s Steenbock Professorship

(Patricia Kiley, John Denu, Jo Handelsman, Cynthia Czajkokski)