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Remembering Jim Joseph – Author, Scientist, Originator of the Power of Pigment

James A. Joseph, Ph.D., author and respected scientist and researcher, died suddenly this month. Joseph was a valued associate and friend of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, and he will be sorely missed. A distinguished scientist with an outstanding record of achievement, Joseph contributions have had a major impact on agricultural research. His considerable body of work earned him deep appreciation by his peers in the scientific community, and his extraordinary leadership will long be remembered.

Joseph joined the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University as the Director of the Neuroscience Laboratory in 1993. He served as a Research Physiologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service and an affiliate member of the Tufts faculty, where he was engaged in research involving oxidative stress in brain aging. Prior to coming to Tufts, he served in various other positions in federal government at the National Institutes of Health, the Armed Forces Radiobiological Laboratory, and as well as in the pharmaceutical industry at American Cyanamid, which was later acquired by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. His contribution to science and agricultural research is evident in the 250 scientific publications that he authored or co-authored during his lifetime.

Joseph’s exceptional achievements have been recognized by numerous prestigious awards and fellowships, and have included recognition for his work in the fields of brain aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and nutritional neuroscience. In 2005, he was presented with the International Award for Modern Nutrition from the Swiss Milk Producers, and he is the recipient of the 2007 North Atlantic Area USDA Agricultural Research Service Scientist of the Year Award. Most recently, he received the 2009 SmithKlineGlaxo award for his commendable work in the field of polyphenol research.  Additionally, he served in many roles in the American Aging Association, including many years on the Board of Directors as President of the association in 2003.

Joseph maintained a personal and professional passion for colorful plant-based foods, and his interest extended to his widely celebrated book The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health. In The Color Code, Joseph explains how vibrantly colored food rich in phytochemicals provide protection against diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and memory and vision loss. The book has been translated into five languages, and many nutrition programs around the world have used its principles of eating colorful foods in advocating a healthier diet. While “5 A Day the Color Way” has been an often repeated nutritional catchphrase, Joseph actually recommend consuming nine to ten small servings of colorful foods per day rather than the heavily promoted five. This “pigment power” principle, which promotes good health and healthy aging through fruits and vegetables, has since become the cornerstone of controlling America’s health and obesity epidemic.

Joseph was also a valued member of the Bar Harbor Group, a group of scientists which regularly meet in Bar Harbor, Maine at the Wild Blueberry Research Summit to share research findings and explore opportunities for future collaboration. The Summit has met for twelve years, and has provided a valuable collaborative environment that encourages the excitement building around clinical trials and their successes.

Some of Joseph’s recent work includes collaboration with Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D, a colleague at USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and member of the Bar Harbor Group. The study investigated whether polyphenols in blueberries can reduce the effects of inflammation in the brain and improve cognitive performance. Results of the study were published in Nutritional Neuroscience in August 2008 and indicated that blueberry polyphenols succeeded in boosting brain function by acting as an anti-inflammatory, a result that may be a product of the alteration of gene expression. Joseph had extended research focusing on the antioxidant properties of blueberries to begin identifying their effects on signaling pathways that cells use to enhance their protection against a variety of stressors.

While we mourn Jim’s death, we also acknowledge his truly amazing legacy. His outstanding contribution to nutrition research will continue to be appreciated throughout the scientific community, and his kind, gentle presence as a friend and colleague will be fondly remembered.

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