Core Ecophysiology Research

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

A key to understanding how human development and health will cope with environmental change must first come from an understanding of the general principles of organism x environment interactions. Our researchers working with insects and mammals have identified a general mechanism by which the environment influences an organisms’ physiology. Environmental signals are received, processed, and integrated by the central nervous system, which then controls developmental and metabolic processes throughout the body via neuroendocrine and endocrine factors that stimulate signaling pathways, which are the effectors of diverse patterns of gene expression, growth, and metabolism in target tissues.

The core aim of ERI is to elucidate the mechanisms by which temperature and nutrition 1) regulate hormone secretion, 2) affect how organs and body parts grow and metabolize proteins, lipids, and carbs, and 3) influence the manifestation of disease in some individuals but not others.

To address these questions, ERI scientists will work with insect and vertebrate model organisms. This will enable us to come to a general understanding of the organism x environment interface. We will collect embryonic, juvenile, and adult tissue samples for genomic, molecular, and metabolic measurements from our insect and vertebrate models to build an integrative model of ecophysiology. The acquisition of these data will shed light on how human biology at all stages of life may respond to extremes in temperature and nutrition in the future.

The figure above depicts a theoretical scenario of how we may be able to predict human health outcomes from our ecophysiology database. The left panel represents the relationship between expression of gene X and its effect on the trait value in different genetic backgrounds (genotype). Points A and B represent different individuals mapping to different genetic backgrounds (0.2 for A, 0.8 for B). For individual A, change in gene X expression has little effect on the trait. Conversely, in individual B, gene X has a tremendous effect on the trait value. In the right-hand panel, the expression of gene X is dependent upon the environment. Since expression variation in gene X has little effect on individual A’s trait, individual A is unaffected by environmental change. For individual B, the trait changes with gene X expression. Thus, individual B is more susceptible to disease with environmental change. Values on each axis are arbitrary

Publications by ERI scientists on Eco-physiological mechanisms:

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