• summer party
    Lab party at the Zempleni residence, summer 2019.
  • Ezra
    Lab members in the obesity prevention center’s research core facility.
  • Ezra
    Potluck at the Zempleni residence.
  • Ezra
    Alice, Sonal, and Fang at the fellowship ceremony hosted by UNL’s Agricultural and Research Division.
  • Ezra
    Holiday Party 2017
  • Ezra
    Holiday Party 2019
  • Ezra

    Members of the Zempleni lab and families in 2009.

  • Announcing the NIH grant award for the Nebraska Center for Obesity Prevention!



Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Leverton Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0806, USA

(402) 472-3270


Our laboratory is interested in natural nanoparticles (“exosomes”, diameter ~100 nanometers) that play an important role in cell-to-cell communication and the regulation of metabolism. Communication is achieved by the exosome-dependent transfer of regulatory molecules such as microRNAs from one cell to another. For example, exosomes may travel from the adipose tissues to the liver and regulate genes therein. Traditionally, exosomes and their microRNA cargos were believed to originate exclusively in endogenous synthesis.

ECT mouse

We have pioneered a line of discovery in exosome research by demonstrating that exosomes and microRNAs do not originate exclusively in endogenous synthesis but may also be absorbed from milk. Current focus areas in our laboratory focus on the role of exosomes in human milk in the neurological development in infants, interactions between milk exosomes and the gut microbiome and the use of milk exosomes in the delivery of drugs to brain tumors.


Lab Members


Janos Zempeni, Willa Cather Professor of Molecular Nutrition
Director of the Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules

Janos Zempleni earned a Ph.D. in nutrition sciences from the Justus-Liebig University in Germany and received postdoctoral training in pediatric nutrition (University of Innsbruck Medical Center, Dr. Burkhard Mangold), nutritional biochemistry (Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Donald B. McCormick) and molecular and cell biology of biotin (Arkansas Children’s Research Institute and Medical Center, Dr. Donald M. Mock). Dr. Zempleni joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2001 where he rose through the ranks and now is a Willa Cather Professor of Molecular Nutrition and founding director of the NIH-funded Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules.


Peerzada Mumtaz, Postdoctoral Fellow
Tajamul (Taj) earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Jaipur National University, India. Taj studies the bioavailability of bacterial extracellular vesicles in mice, and factors conducive to the selection of genetic variants in gut bacteria.

He joined our group in April 2021.

Shu Wang, Postdoctoral Fellow  
Shu earned a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Zhejiang University, China. Shu studies the selection of genetic variants in Clostridiodes difficile and Enterococcus faecalis by bovine milk exosomes, and effects of milk exosome-defined diets on the colonization with pathogenic bacteria in mice. She also studies mechanisms of milk exosome uptake by gut bacteria.

Shu won a best poster award at NPOD's Annual Fall Symposium (September 14, 2020) and NPOD's Annual Spring Retreat (April 14, 2021).

John Wang, Senior Research Associate 
John earned a Ph.D. in Entomology/Integrated Pest Management from the Fujian Agricultural University, China. 
He utilizes genetics protocols to engineer cells that secrete milk exosomes with enhanced delivery of RNA therapeutics to brain tumors. He also plays an important role in training new laboratory members and editing draft manuscripts.

Anthony Delaney, Laboratory Manager  
Tony earned a M.S. in Agronomy (specializing in Plant Breeding + Genetics) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His primary responsibilities include laboratory maintenance and compliance and assisting in the delivery of a laboratory graduate class. Tony had developed an interest in assessing the RNA cargos in exosomes from human milk.
Alice Ngu, PhD Student 
Alice earned a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She utilizes genetics protocols to engineer cells that secrete milk exosomes with enhanced delivery of RNA therapeutics to brain tumors.

Alice received the John and Louise Skala Fellowship by the Agricultural Research Division, University of Nebraska-Lincoln ($5,000) in 2019 and 2020.

Afsana Khanam, PhD Student  
Afsana earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Dhaka. She investigates the uptake and lysosomal degradation of milk exosomes by macrophages.

Afsana was named a finalist for the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Abstract Recognition Award Program, a program of the American Society for Nutrition which recognizes the highest quality research presented by students and young investigators at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE. More than 800 abstracts were submitted by students and postdoctoral fellows and the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Abstract Recognition Award Program aims to recognize the top 15% highest scoring abstracts. Abstracts were rated by more than 450 nutrition scientists.

Mojisola Ogunnaike, M.S. Student  
Mojisola earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta in Nigeria . She utilizes bovine mammary alveolar MAC-T cells as a model to study the tissue distribution of bovine milk exosomes in mice.

Moji received the Elinor Kerrey Excellence Fellowship ($800) in June 2020. 

Mariah McCashland, M.S. Student  
Mariah earned a B.S. in Neurobiology from the University of California Los Angeles. She investigates the effects of bovine milk exosomes on the metabolomics and transcriptomics of bacteria from murine ceca in cultures defined by their content of bovine milk exosomes. She also studies the effects of bovine milk exosomes on bacterial communities in fecal cultures from adult milk drinkers and milk avoiders.
Tesha Kerr, M.S. Student 
Tesha earned a B.S. in Human Nutrition from Southern Utah University. She investigates the effects of storage on the content of exosomes and their microRNA cargos in human milk, and studies the effects of human milk exosomes on bacterial communities in fecal cultures from breastfed and formula-fed infants.

Former Lab Members (Postdoctoral Fellows)

  • Rocio Rodriguez-Melendez (3/1/2002 – 2/28/2005 & 2/1/2007 – 8/31/2010)
  • Anna M. Oommen (1/15/2004 – 6/30/2005)
  • Subhashinee “Samudra” K. Wijeratne (5/8/2006 – 3/2013)
  • Gabriela Camporeale (6/1/2006 – 10/15/2006)
  • Baolong Bao (9/10/2007 – 9/30/2009)
  • Toshinobu Kuroishi (10/1/2008 – 04/01/2011)
  • Mahendra P. Singh (6/1/2010 – 5/31/2012)
  • Sridhar Malkaram (6/28/2010 – 7/14/2012)
  • Yong Li (7/1/2010 – 8/30/2012)
  • Zhongji Han (10/1/2011 – 9/30/2013)
  • Wenlei Zhuo (2/1/2012 – 4/30/2012)
  • Sonia Manca (7/8/2015 – 12/31/2017)
  • Deborah Fratantonio (8/3/2016 – 7/31/2018)
  • Bijaya Upadhyaya (8/22/2016 – 7/15/2019)
  • Wei “Vivien” Zhao (4/16/2018 – 7/31/2020)

Former Lab Members (Doctoral Students)

Nagarama Kothapalli (3/2003 - 5/2006)
PhD: "Roles of histone biotinylation in the cellular response to DNA breaks"

Current position: Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma

Gabriela Camporeale (8/2003 - 5/2006)
PhD: "Identification of amino acid residues in human histones that are targets for biotinylation by holocarboxylase synthetase and biotinidase"

Current position: Research Scientist at CONICET in Argentina 

Yap Ching Chew (5/2005 - 8/2008) 
PhD: "Repression of long terminal repeats by histone biotinylation"

Current position: Director of Epigenetics Technologies at Zymo Research, Inc. in Irvine, CA.

Yousef Hassan (7/2005 - 8/2009)
PhD: "Identification of proteins interacting with holocarboxylase synthetase in human cells"

Current position: Staff Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Department: Guelph Food Research Centre

Jing Xue

Jing Xue (8/16/09 – 8/15/2013)
PhD: "Epigenetic synergies among holocarboxylase synthetase, biotin, and methyl donors"

Current position: Data Scientist with Goodyear in Akron, OH

Dandan Liu (8/16/10 – 5/7/2014)
PhD: "From histone modifications to gene repression – epigenetic regulation by holocarboxylase synthetase-containing repression complex and FAD-dependent lysine-specific demethylase"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.

Daniel Camara Teixeira (8/16/10 - 12/23/2014)
PhD: "Developing novel research tools for biotin research"

Current position: Professor of Practice in Nutrition and Metabolism in the Health Sciences Center, University of Fortaleza, Brazil

Scott Baier (1/1/11 - 5/15/2015)
PhD: "Bioactivity of cow’s milk microRNA in humans"

Current position: Clinical Research Coordinator at Children's Health in Dallas

Elizabeth Cordonier (1/1/11 - 8/15/2015)
PhD: "Bioactive compounds in grape products"

Current position: Anatomy and Physiology Instructor in the community college system in Houston, TX


Ezra Mutai (1/1/15- 8/30/19)
PhD: "Bioavailability and biological effects of cow’s milk microRNAs in mammals"

Current position: Postdoctoral Teaching & Research Fellow in Nutrition and Biology in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University
Starting Fall 2021: tenure-track Assistant Professor of Food & Nutrition at Purdue University Northwest 


Mahrou Sadri (1/1/15 - 8/15/20)
PhD: "The intestinal processing of dietary exosomes and phenotypes of exosome depletion"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California-San Diego, Department of Anesthesiology (Neuroscience Program)


Fang Zhou (8/15/15 - 12/18/2020)
PhD: "Milk exosomes and microRNAs alter the gut microbiota and affect gut health and spatial learning in mice"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (Ryan Flynn laboratory)


Sonal Sukreet (1/1/15 - 5/31/2021)
PhD: "Technologies to purify exosomes form bovine milk and alteration of milk exosome bioavailability in humans and rodents

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California-San Diego, Department of Neurosciences (Roberrt Rissmann laboratory) 


Di Wu (8/15/15 - 5/8/2021)
PhD: "Function and metabolism of mRNA and microRNA cargos in bovine milk exosomes in non-bovine mammals"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Medicine-Oncology (William Y. Kim laboratory)  


Former Lab Members (Master Students)

Rachel Daberkow (2001 – 2003) - Rachel Daberkow is currently employed with a health center for patients with eating disorders in Arizona.
Gabriela Camporeale (2001 – 2003) - After completing her Master’s thesis, Gabriela Camporeale continued her studies in my laboratory and received a Ph.D. degree (see above).
Sarah Scheerger (2001 – 2003) - Sarah Scheerger is currently enrolled  in the OD program.
Alice Kueh (2004 - 2005) - Alice Kueh is currently a Research Associate with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Yap Ching Chew (2004 - 2005) - After completing her Master’s thesis, Yap Ching Chew continued her studies in my laboratory and received a Ph.D. degree (see above).
Karoline Manthey (now Baldus) (2003 – 2005) - After completing her PhD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, she is now a Lecturer at Coastal Carolina University. 
Keyna Kobza (6/05 – 5/07) - Keyna practices medicine in the Seattle, WA area.
Erin Smith (6/05 – 5/07) - Erin is currently the Supervisor of the Food Analysis Laboratory at Midwest Labs (Omaha, NE).
Valerie Pestinger (now Somani) (01/08 – 12/09) - Valerie obtained her PhD degree in Nottingham (UK). After working as a Biomarker Validation Scientist at the University of Birmingham (UK), she is now a Scientist at Bioglobe in Hamburg. 
Gaganpreet Kaur Mall (01/08 – 12/09) - unknown
Luisa Rios Avila (8/1/08 – 8/13/10) - Luisa is Staff Scientist in the Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH).
Dipika Singh (1/5/09 – 12/23/10) Dr. Angela Pannier (co-adviser) - Dipika for her M.S. studies. Dipika is employed as a Technician at the University of Nebraska for Medical Sciences.
Shingo Esaki (8/16/09 – 8/15/11) - unknown.
Wei Kay Eng (8/16/10 – 8/15/12) - Wei Kay is working as a Dietitian in the Kearney area, NE.
Jie Zhou (8/16/11 – 12/20/2013) - Jie enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Human Nutrition and Food Science at The University of Florida-Gainesville.
Rio Jati Kusuma (8/16/13 – 8/15/2015) - Rio accepted a position as a Lecturer at Yogyakarta University in Indonesia.
Katherine Howard (8/16/13 – 5/15/2015) - Kat has accepted a position as Dietitian at the Yankton State Hospital, Human Services Center in Yankton, South Dakota.

Tovah Wolf (1/3/14 – 8/15/2015) - Tovah is now an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Department of Health Sciences.
Ana Aguilar Lozano (8/15/15 – 12/15/2018) - Ana is a Research Scientist with Pfizer, Inc. in Mexico City.
Amy Leiferman (8/15/16 – 4/30/18) - Amy is now an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Bryan College of Health Sciences, University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Pearl Ebea (8/15/17 – 8/13/2019) - Pearl entered the Ph.D. program in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida-Gainesville



Amy Leiferman

Visiting Faculty

Jeff Schwehm, PhD (6/1/03 - 8/31/03) - Concordia University, Seward, NE
Petra Rust, PhD (9/20/07 – 11/19/07) - University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Patricia Huebbe (6/19/2013 - 7/30/2013) - University of Kiel, Germany
Lanfang Wang (9/2016 – 8/1/2017) - Institute of Nutrition and Healthy Food, Department of Preventive Medicine, Tongji University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
Daniel Teixeira Camara (06/23/2018 - 08/03/2018) - University of Fortalzea, Brazil


Langfang Wang

 In the News

Nebraska research aims to boost milk as infection fighter (April 2020)

Smart cookies: Media day puts food-related experts at forefront (January 2020)

Center earns $11 million to continue obesity-prevention research (October 2019)

 Selected Publications


Mutai E, Ramer-Tait AE, Zempleni J. MicroRNAs in bovine milk exosomes are bioavailable in humans but do not elicit a robust pro-inflammatory cytokine response. BMC exRNA 2:2, 2020; DOI: 10.1186/s41544-019-0041-x


Zhou F, Paz HA, Shu J, Sadri M, Cui J, Fernando SC, Zempleni J. Dietary bovine milk exosomes elicit changes in bacterial communities in C57BL/6 mice. Am J. Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 317:G618-G624, 2019; DOI: 10.1152/ajpgi.00160.2019

Leiferman A, Shu J, Upadhyaya B, Cui J, Zempleni J. Storage of extracellular vesicles in human milk, and microRNA profiles in human milk exosomes and infant formulas. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 69:235-238, 2019; DOI: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000002363

Zempleni J, Sukreet S, Zhou F, Wu D, Mutai E. Milk-derived exosomes and metabolic regulation. Ann Rev Anim Biosci 7:245-262, 2019; DOI: 10.1146/annurev-animal-020518-115300


Manca S, Upadhyaya B, Mutai E, Desaulniers AT, Cederberg RA, White BR, Zempleni J. Milk exosomes are bioavailable and distinct microRNA cargos have unique distribution patterns. Sci Rep 8:11321, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-29780-1

Aguilar-Lozano A, Baier SR, Grove R, Shu J, Giraud D, Mercer KE, Cui J, Badger TM, Adamec J, Andres A, Zempleni J. Concentrations of purine metabolites are elevated in fluids from adults and infants and in livers from mice fed diets depleted of bovine milk exosomes and their RNA cargos. J Nutr 148:1886-1894, 2018 [Editor’s Choice]; DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxy223


Wolf T, Baier SR, Zempleni J. The intestinal transport of bovine milk exosomes is mediated by endocytosis in human colon carcinoma Caco-2 cells and rat small intestinal IEC-6 cells. J Nutr 145:2201-2206, 2015 [Teresa A. Davis, Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Nutrition, has selected this article as the Editor’s Pick for Volume 145 Issue 10 of the journal. The article was featured on the journal website at http://jn.nutrition.org, and in the member newsletter.; DOI: 10.3945/jn.115.218586


Baier SR, Nguyen C, Xie F, Wood JR, Zempleni J. MicroRNAs are absorbed in biologically meaningful amounts from nutritionally relevant doses of cow’s milk and affect gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, HEK-293 kidney cell cultures, and mouse livers. J Nutr 144:1495-1500, 2014; DOI: 10.3945/jn.114.196436