Lehigh News Article

Researchers explore nutrition, resource politics
Sophia Dent explored the connection between people’s nutritional disorders and the eating habits of their ancestors.
Two students who are double-majors in the College of Arts and Sciences are sharing the 2013 Student Research Prize given by the Lehigh libraries.

Sophia Dent ’13 won for a paper titled “The Applications of Archaeogenetics: Assessing the Nutrition Profiles of Native American Groups.”

Bridget Joyce ’14 was cited for her paper, which was titled, “Muddied Waters: The Crisis of the Legal Regime of the Caspian Sea, the Actors, and Its Impact on the Global Oil and Natural Gas Industry.”

More than 40 students entered the contest. Dent and Joyce will split a $1,000 prize.

Dent wrote her 15-page paper for a course in North American archaeology taught by her research adviser, Cameron B. Wesson, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. The paper explored the application of archaeogenetics to the studies of nutrition in past Native American groups to see if it could help contemporary groups understand their nutritional preferences.

Native American populations who have high rates of diabetes, says Dent, could have that tendency because their ancestors lived in desert regions where food was scarce and difficult to break down. After these groups were introduced to simple sugars, she says, their bodies didn’t know how to accustom to or digest them. This in turn has affected current Native Americans because their genes are predisposed for certain types of foods, and the change in diet has caused the increased rate of diabetes.

“It’s kind of like ‘you are what your ancestors ate,’” says Dent, who majors in biology and archaeology.

The team of librarians and faculty who judged the contest cited Dent for the strong sources in her bibliography, especially her use of primary resources, and for demonstrating an excellent understanding of both her disciplines.

Dent chose her topic because of her interest in nutrition. She came across a book on archaeogenetics that discussed how people’s nutritional disorders are due to what their ancestors ate. She was intrigued because it was a convergence of her two interests.

Lehigh’s Inter Library Loan system, says Dent, played a crucial role in her research as she required books and journal articles to support her work.

“Some of the more recent studies were not available at Lehigh,” she says. “But you can get them from universities as far away as Alabama in less than two days through the electronic delivery service.”

Dent has been accepted as a graduate student the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she will begin studying biological anthropology next fall. She says her research paper has piqued her interest in studying archaeogenetics.

“I would definitely like to delve into archaeogenetics,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll become a professor.”

Joyce, a double-major in international relations and economics, wrote her paper for a class in the international politics of oil taught by Henri Barkey, the Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor of International Relations.

Her paper was praised by judges as a “sophisticated but readable analysis of historical and legal issues…[Her] strong conclusion includes insightful predictions for the future. A substantive bibliography of current and historical resources highlights the wealth of materials available to researchers in the University Libraries.”