New faculty bring food safety expertise to Department of Food Science

Amy Duke
October 06, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Darrell Cockburn and Jasna Kovac recently joined Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences as assistant professors in the Department of Food Science.

"We are excited about our new faculty members and are confident they will advance our academic and research initiatives," said Robert Roberts, professor of food science and head of the department. "They have a wealth of experience and expertise, and we look forward to their contributions."

Cockburn received a bachelor's degree in microbiology and a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Guelph. He was selected for the prestigious H.C. Ørsted Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Technical University of Denmark before pursuing further postdoctoral studies at the University of Michigan.

At Michigan, he received a scientist development grant from the American Heart Association to examine resistant starch processing in obese individuals as compared to healthy-weight individuals. He has authored more than 20 publications including journals, reviews and book chapters.

Cockburn's research focuses on how the human gut microbiome processes dietary fiber. He is particularly interested in studying the organisms that are directly involved in breaking down resistant starch, how they differ between individuals, and how these differences influence community structure and metabolites.

Kovac received a doctoral degree in biosciences/biotechnology from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and served as a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University. She also spent time as a visiting researcher at several universities, including the University of Oxford and Iowa State University.

She has been published in 17 peer-reviewed journals, received the University of Ljubljana Jesenko Award for the most outstanding graduating doctoral degree candidate, and secured several research grants, among them the Federation of European Microbiological Societies research grant.

Kovac's area of expertise is precision food safety, including comparative genomics, to study antimicrobial resistance, virulence and epidemiology of foodborne pathogens. Her research is aimed at developing effective intervention strategies leading to a safer and more sustainable food supply chain.

More information about the Department of Food Science is available online at

  • Darrell Cockburn

    Darrell Cockburn, assistant professor of food science

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Jasna Kovac

    Jasna Kovac, assistant professor of food science

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated October 06, 2017