Monica Dus

Monica Dus, PhD

Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Accepting new students?
Trainings and Identities:
Implicit Bias Training, Anti-Racism Training, Intergroup Relations (IGR - through OHEI), Intercultural Training, Bystander Training, Rackham Faculty Ally, Gilliam HHMI Mentor, Immigrant-Identified.
Research Interests:
Nutriepigenetics, metabolism, processed food, feeding behavior

My long-term goal is to make STEM education at the undergraduate and graduate levels more inclusive and equitable so that it is welcoming to individuals from different identities and backgrounds. In 2020-2021 I was the Rackham Faculty mentor for Diversity and the MCDB DEI Officer and chair of the DEI committee. I also organize the NextProf workshop for our department and I am a HHMI Gilliam Fellowship mentor, and the founder and faculty advisor of FIRST, Future in Research, Science, and Teaching, the first pre-science undergraduate club on campus. FIRST engages students in the life sciences to demystify the process of becoming a scientist, supports their academic growth, and prepares and guides them through summer research and PhD applications. At the graduate level, I have lectured and participated in several panels on how to become involved in science communication and increase participation in the process of science.

Imagine your favorite food. Posed with this question, most of us will conjure images of a chocolate cake adorned with fruit, a velvety pizza, or a juicy steak with crispy fries. Few people, if any, will picture a plate of steamed broccoli or a bowl of lettuce. The answer to why some foods are more appealing than others lies in our genes. We are genetically programmed to like the taste of salt, sugar, and fat because the receptors that recognize these qualities on the tongue are connected to brain regions that are rewarding (Beauchamp and Jiang, 2015). This connection presumably developed because salty, sugary, and fatty foods are nutrient-rich, which helped our ancestors survive in a world where food was scarce. Today, however, this genetic asset has become a liability. The wide availability of processed, energy-dense, and palatable foods, together with our innate liking for them, makes us eat more than needed (Hall et al., 2019), increasing the risk of obesity and disease. How does a food environment high in sugar, salt, and fat make us eat more? Answering this question is the major goal of my lab and has critical implications for public health.

Specifically, we aim to: 1) understand how diet-derived nutrients inform and regulate the gene expression programs of sensory and reward circuits and 2) define the impact of these changes on neural responses and feeding behavior. To achieve these goals, we use a multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of neurobiology, epigenetics, and metabolism that includes techniques such as electrophysiology, in vivo 2-photon imaging, optogenetics, cell-specific RNA and chromatin profiling, behavioral assays, metabolic measurements, and neurogenetic manipulations.