Monica Dus (Milton E. Cassel Scholar) earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, and a Ph.D. in the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where she worked with Gregory Hannon, a 2000 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar and a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Greg Suh’s lab at the New York University School of Medicine, she became an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in 2015. In addition to being a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, Dus has received a Pathways to Independence K99/R00 Award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences.
One of the oldest debates in biology is that of nature versus nurture. Are our behaviors dictated by genes or by the environment? In the last decade it has become clear that neuroepigenetic processes play a key role in adult brain function by merging environmental information with ongoing brain processes to direct behavioral states. Disruption in these processes is linked to both normal and abnormal behaviors, such memory and addiction. However, the underlying mechanisms remain mysterious. In particular, we have no knowledge about the genetic loci of integration between the environment and behavior, or the identity of the neural pathways that control them in specific neural circuits. This presents a major roadblock to unlocking the molecular interface between brain and environment and the role it plays in brain function. To understand how the environment shapes and reprograms brain and behavior, the Dus lab exploits: 1) a simple behavior, eating, which is dependent on an experimentally controllable environment, diet; and 2) the fruit fly brain, which is orders of magnitude smaller than vertebrate brains, but shows conserved neurochemistry.