Leon Avery, Ph.D., has made a career of studying how genes determine behaviors. He joined the faculty last August as a professor of physiology and biophysics to run his lab alongside a former student of his from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center — Young-Jai You, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.
Avery studies feeding behavior in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. “Worms have a simple nervous system of 302 neurons and very good genetics,” he says, which makes them an ideal model with which to study how food and nutrition regulates behavior. Humans, in contrast, are a much more complicated system, but findings in the worm can inform research in higher animals, he said. “What it does is gives you a place to look.”
For instance, the molecule TGF-beta is involved in satiety, the signal that says “I’m full. Stop eating.” This molecule is important in human feeding as well and may contribute to the wasting syndrome in some cancer patients.
Avery finds the MCV Campus a good fit for the way he likes to do research. Its size and convenience allow him to spend more time at the lab bench.