National Nurses Week Faculty Spotlight, Ji Youn Yoo

Tell me a little bit about your background:

I was born in Seoul, South Korea. I moved to London in 2007 after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and I stayed there until 2014. During London life, I learned what diversity cultures are and made many international friends, which was the best part of my life. I traveled to more than 13 European countries to visit friends. It was the most memorable and valuable time of my life. After all the exciting journey, I moved to Japan for 6 months to study Japanese afterward, I moved back to Korea to finish my doctoral degree. However, I was still trusty to gain new knowledge in microbiome research, so I decided to come to the USA.

Why did you choose UT College of Nursing?

I wanted to join the College of Nursing for several reasons. Firstly, it is a great school to teach at because it is well recognized for comprehensive educational programs, integrating education, innovative simulation practice, and interprofessional collaboration. The college also supports clinical and translational research, which fits perfectly with my career goals. I also was very attracted to the college because it is a community outreach college. I believe that being a nurse is very special and that we nurse all have a mission to help society. One of my primary missions is to contribute to improving community health. Therefore, the University of Tennessee was the right place for me to settle down.

Tell me about your research:

My research focuses on how alterations of the gut microbial compositions and diversity (gut dysbiosis) affect the host immune dysregulation, leading to critical adverse health outcomes. The microbiome is essential for human development, immunity, and nutrition. Therefore, understanding the microbiome is crucial for our health.

What current research projects are your working on?

Currently, I am exploring the gut microbial diversity and the presence of specific microbes in healthy firefighters. Although firefighters have a high risk of colorectal cancer, possibly due to occupational circumstances, there is limited evidence on the characteristics of their gut microbiome diversity and the alternation. Recently, our pilot study suggested that firefighters have a different gut microbial richness and diversity pattern than the non-firefighter group. The firefighter group has a higher abundance of an antibiotic-resistant bacterial group and some bacteria which are predominantly in colorectal adenoma and carcinoma tissue. In comparison, the abundance of short-chain fatty acids producing bacteria, as know probiotics, were lower in firefighters. This indicates an important message to us that firefighters need help to improve their health. In the long term, my focus on the firefighter gut microbiome and colorectal cancer signature taxa may lead to the identification of specific risk profiles in U.S. firefighters that inform diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of colorectal cancers.

One of my studies identifies factors related to gut dysbiosis that alters growth and development in a preterm infant. Delaying growth and neurodevelopmental deficits is the biggest concern in pediatric health. This study is a vital topic for advancing preterm infant long-term health.

I also collaborate with the Center for Renewable Carbon to elucidate the link between novel plant-derived substrates and the promotion of intestinal inflammation through the modulation of the gut microbial community.

Why is this research important?

With this research, by describing the microbial changes associated with the occupational risks assumed by firefighters, we can begin to better protect the health of the individuals who serve our communities. Firefighters perform vital services in societies across the world. In the process, they are exposed to both chemical and psychological stressors that impact their long-term health. The threat of injury, long 24-hour shifts, exposure to trauma, and realistic fear of death have led to early retirements, divorces, suicides, post-traumatic stress disorders, and the adoption of risky behavior. Therefore, evaluating the factors of health risk and applying health intervention is vital. As a short-term goal, my research projects will explore and identify potential biomarkers for the early prediction of diseases such as inflammation, chronic metabolic disorders, and cancers. I hope to better understand the critical relationship between gut microbiome mechanisms and human immune functions in the long term.

What is one thing you hope your work can offer humanity by the end of your career?

I am a nurse scientist. This title gives me motivation and the opportunity to make a healthier and happier society. I will never stop improving our quality of life through my research and educating new nurses.

What has been your most memorable moment at UT?

Since I came to UT in August 2021, every day has been enjoyable and memorable for me. But if I had to pick just one, I would choose the ‘Walking with Dean’ days. I walk around the campus with Dean every month, and I get introductions from the Dean and colleagues about our campus and the history of the campus. I also can see the change of color on the campus and feel the seasons. It has been very enjoyable, and I always look forward to walking.

What advice would you give current or future nursing students who are interested in research?

Research can be both fun and challenging. You may face constant study, questions, attempts, and failures. If you want to do research, first find out what field of research you really like and go to a professor in that field to learn. This will let you know if you really like the field of study.

Tell me about what is next for you? What other projects or partnerships would you like to pursue to continue to improve health care?

We intend to expand our dataset in other US states by incorporating additional samples and clinical measures, easing the identification of microbial risk patterns. We will also consider longitudinal sampling for the construction of predictive risk models, for example, whether each year of being a firefighter confers a decrease in intestinal health. Furthermore, we will also incorporate other high risk and high stress occupations such as police officers, nurses, EMTs.

CONTACT: Kara Clark Cardwell (, 865-974-9498)