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Research : The genomics of complex physiological functions and behaviour

Complex genomic traits are determined by a large number of genes, which influence each other and can each contribute to various degrees to the phenotypic trait. Several groups in the CIG are studying complex functions.

The group of Walter Wahli and Liliane Michalik study the role of the family of nuclear receptors called the Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors (PPARs), originally co-discovered By W. Wahli and colleagues. They focus on their role in general metabolism, inflammation, and tissue repair. In recent work, they have shown that PPARs are important actors of skin healing via the control of inflammatin and cell survival, and they have described functions of PPARs as regulators of energy balance during fasting and formation of fat tissue.

Béatrice Desvergne and colleagues are tracking the dynamics of PPARs and their partners in living cells. They study how, at the organism level, PPARs participate in the transduction of signals in different organs, in particular during development and upon wounding, two processes that lead to similar signals. They have recently uncovered a regulatory seuence of events linking intestinal epihelial cell differentaition and PPARs.

Bernard Thorens and colleagues study the mechanisms by which the organism senses variations in internal energy stores such as glucose, and the mechanisms by which the sensors control glucose homeostasis, feeding, and energy expenditure, thus unralelling the complexity of the regulatiory mechanisms for insulin secretion.

Sleep is a complex behavior that is crucial for our day-time functioning and well being. Through the use of genetic approaches the group of Mehdi Tafti and Paul Franken aim at identifying the genes that regulate physiological sleep and the factors that contribute to sleep disorders. Their recent work shows that the gene encoding the retinoic acid receptor B is a major regulator of deep sleep, thus linking vitamin A to sleep quality.

All organisms derive vital information from chemical signals in their environment that indicate the presence of food, warn of dangers or mediate social interactions. Richard Benton's group studies the sense of smell in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, a powerful genetic model organism that displays sophisticated odour-evoked behaviours under the control of a nervous system significantly simpler than our own. In addition to gaining fundamental insights into mechanisms of sensory perception, his work has application in the development of novel repellents to control the odour-guided behaviours of insect vectors of human diseases.

Walter Wahli

Liliane Michalik

Béatrice Desvergne

Bernard Thorens

Mehdi Tafti

Paul Franken

Richard Benton

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