Duke University School of Medicine
Animal physiology is directed by complex interactions between factors encoded in the animal genome and those encountered in their environment. The impact of these interactions on animal health is most evident in the intestine, where digestion and absorption of dietary nutrients occur in the presence of complex communities of microorganisms (microbiota). Dr. Rawls’ research interests are focused on understanding how environmental factors such as the intestinal microbiota and diet interact with host genome-encoded processes to influence host physiology and pathophysiology. His team has used the zebrafish as a vertebrate model system for this research. The small size and optical transparency of the zebrafish facilitate high-resolution in vivo imaging as well as genetic and gnotobiotic manipulations that complement the technical limitations of mammalian models. They are currently using zebrafish and mouse models to investigate how microbial communities are assembled in the intestine and how microbes and dietary nutrients regulate host metabolism and immunity.