Ralph Green honored for major contributions to field of nutrition

Career has focused on the role of vitamins and minerals in both health and disease


Ralph Green has been inducted into the American Society for Nutrition's Class of 2021 Fellows. It is the highest honor ASN bestows, recognizing individuals for significant discoveries and distinguished careers in the field of nutrition.  

Ralph Green holds a copy of his study demonstrating that B12 deficiency causes significant neurologic changes in bats.
Ralph Green holds a copy of his study demonstrating that B12 deficiency causes significant neurologic changes in bats.

Green is a distinguished professor and emeritus chair in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UC Davis Health. He and the other recipients are being honored virtually during Nutrition 2021 Live from June 7 to 10. 

Throughout his more than 50-year career in academic medicine, Green has worked on three continents — Africa, North America, and Europe — and collaborated with investigators around the world. His research has focused on the role micronutrients and their metabolic pathways play in both health and disease.

“Dr. Green has a distinguished and inspiring record as a physician-scientist and is highly deserving of this recognition. His work is widely regarded as pioneering, with a considerable breadth that spans basic research, clinical and population-based studies,” said Lydia Pleotis Howell, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “His research and expert contributions in prominent advisory committees has had global impact and contributed to mandatory folic acid fortification of food in many parts of the world, among other accomplishments.”  

Green is a widely recognized expert in diagnosing and treating diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies, with a special emphasis on anemias due to B12 deficiency

His early-career research on iron is widely cited and considered a fundamental contribution to the understanding of iron nutrition. Green developed animal models for human nutritional diseases. In a landmark study in Nature, he demonstrated progressive degenerative neurologic changes in fruit bats fed a diet deficient in B12. Another significant and widely cited study looks at the role of B12, folate and homocysteine on vascular disease.

Green served as an expert on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committees that first recommended folic acid fortification of diet in the United States to prevent neural tube defects. He was also on the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) committee to define recommended daily intake and safe upper levels of B-vitamins, including folate and vitamin B12.

Recent research studies from Green’s lab have focused on how excess folic acid during pregnancy harms the brain development of mice, the identification of a biomarker, homocysteine, for early blood vessel damage due to sickle cell anemia, and how low levels of B12 may worsen walking and cognition in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to his research interests, Green is the director of the CLIA-approved lab for the campus’ innovative “pop-upsaliva-based asymptomatic COVID-19 screening program, which is operated by Healthy Davis Together for UC Davis and the Davis-area community.