Diet and the Gut
Diet is a principal determinant of animal health and fitness, affecting physiology, aging, metabolic disease, and reproductive output. With rising rates of obesity and correlations between weight and disease, understanding how diet affects physiology has broad societal implications. The digestive tract (gut), the site of digestion, acts as an interface between ingested food and an individual. Recent work has shown that diet can affect the structure and function of this interface and that there is strong variation among individuals in how the gut responds to diet. The consequences of gut plasticity and the mechanisms underlying the gut’s responses to diet remain largely uncharacterized.
Nicolas Buchon, Entomology, is working to understand how diet can change the physiology of an individual by taking a closer look at the gut of fruit flies as a model system. The Drosophila adult midgut has the capacity to resize itself depending on diet; with more nutrients, the midgut can expand to absorb them. These changes occur in a plastic manner, a phenomenon called adaptive growth. Buchon and his team are characterizing the molecular mechanisms that underlie adaptive growth and determining how it impacts physiology. In addition, the project aims to understand the genetic basis for the high degree of individual variation in gut adaptive growth.
The study will provide a new framework for understanding nutrition, including the gut as an active and variable interface. The work will pave the way for future work to optimize nutrition in agricultural applications and human nutritional interventions.