Diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases, Rodriguez said. But in an individual, the exact effect of different components of food may depend on that person's genetic makeup.
"It's not a question of your genes being good or bad, but rather how they interact with your environment," Rodriguez said.
For example, a single letter change in DNA in people living in Scandinavia 10,000 years ago allows most Caucasian adults today to drink milk without getting sick due to lactose intolerance.
The center will seek to identify genes controlled by naturally occurring chemicals in food and study how some of these genes can tip the balance between health and disease, Rodriguez said. "Nutritional genomics will enable individuals to better manage their health and well-being by precisely matching their diets to their unique genetic makeup."
The director of the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), John Ruffin, said, "Programs like the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics lay the foundation for our nation's future efforts to eliminate the health disparities that plague so many populations within our country."
The nutrigenomics center will include researchers from UC Davis; Children's Hospital and Research Center at Oakland; Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute; and the Western Human Nutrition Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. The Western Human Nutrition Research Center is located at UC Davis.