We are interested in the plasticity of adult organs; how and why organs that we commonly regard as fully developed change in size or function in response to environmental or internal challenges.
We use the intestine and its neurons to explore these questions because they allow us to explore organ plasticity from an integrated perspective; how an organ senses and integrates signals from both its internal milieu and the environment (e.g. nutrients, microbiota), how its adult progenitors respond by either maintaining or resizing the organ, and how different cell types within the organ (epithelial, muscle, neural) communicate to achieve coordinated, organ-level remodelling.
Our work is at the interface of developmental biology and physiology; we use genetic approaches to interfere with specific gene or cell functions using genome editing and/or genetically encoded tools such as thermo/optogenetics to interfere with neuronal activity. We assess the consequences at the levels of molecules (transcriptomics, metabolomics), cells (imaging), organ (peristalsis, modelling), and whole animal (behavioural assays and physiological readouts).
We typically use Drosophila melanogaster for discovery; since the identification of adult somatic stem cells in the Drosophila intestine, there has been a surge of studies using this invertebrate organ to investigate various aspects of physiology. Like its mammalian counterpart, the digestive tract of Drosophila is functionally regionalised. It harbours a resident microbiota, and consists of cell types similar to those found in the human gastrointestinal tract, including digestive/absorptive enterocytes and hormone-secreting enteroendocrine cells.
Informed by our Drosophila work, we sometimes explore specific questions in mice (in vivo or using intestinal organoids) and/or humans – for example, when our Drosophila research suggests new or unexpected explanations for certain aspects of mammalian physiology, such as contributions of cell-intrinsic mechanisms to sexual dimorphisms in the intestine.
I received a D.Phil. in Genetics from the University of Oxford, UK, where I developed invertebrate models of human disease with Prof. Dame Kay E. Davies. My postdoctoral work with Prof. Stefan Thor, first at Harvard, USA and then Linkoping University, Sweden, identified the first genetically defined enteric neurons in Drosophila. I was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship to undertake further postdoctoral work with Prof. Alex Gould at NIMR, London, where I uncovered similarities between the specification of gut-innervating insulin-producing neurons in flies and pancreatic beta cells in mammals. In 2008, I obtained an independent Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship to capitalize on the study of the enteric nervous system in Drosophila, first at the University of Cambridge and now in London. I was elected to the EMBO YIP programme in 2012 and to EMBO in 2017. I also received an ERC Starting Grant and, more recently, an ERC Advanced Grant. I am currently a Programme Leader and Section Chair (Genes and Metabolism Section) at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, and Professor of Genetics and Physiology at Imperial College London.
Honours and Awards
(2019) Elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci). (2018) Suffrage Science Women In Science Award. (2018) ERC Advanced Grant. (2017) Elected to EMBO. (2015) Featured in the Physiological Society’s “Women Physiologists” book, and by the Journal of Cell Science as one of four “cell scientists to watch”. (2012–2014) Elected to EMBO Young Investigator Programme (EMBO YIP). (2008–2014) Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship. (2008) Royal Society University Research Fellowship (turned down in favour of RCDF). (2005–2007) EU Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship. (1998) University of Oxford Goodger Scholarship. (1997-1998) “La Caixa”-British Council award. (1997) Spanish Ministry of Education and Science prize: Best National Academic Record and UAB Prize for the best academic record. (1996) Spanish Ministry of Education and Science Studentship.
(2018-2023) ERC Advanced Grant. “IntraGutSex”.
(Reviewed every 5yrs) MRC core grant “Gut Signalling and Metabolism”.
05/2019 Lab contribution to Pint of Science 2019 event: “Tomorrow’s medicine, today!".
04/2018 Imperial Festival. We contributed an interactive installation to demonstrate the use of Drosophila to replace and reduce animal experimentation.
10/2016 “Brainy Tongue: The Sensory Logic of the Gastronomic Brain" workshop (San Sebastian, Spain), featuring world-renowned chefs and neurobiologists. Included open session featured by media worldwide (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37800097).
02/2016 BBC Radio 4 interview (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0713p30).
02/2016 Hudry et al. featured by The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Medical News Today, i (the paper for today), Press and Journal (Scotland), Medical Xpress, Yahoo! News, BT.com, Irish Examiner, The Conversation.
02/2016 Lab stand at the “Imperial Fringe: Food of Tomorrow” public engagement event.
01/2016 My lab contributed a talk to the University of the Third Age visit.
10/2015 Hosted Minister for the Life Sciences George Freeman during his visit to the LMS. In the lab, we showed him how flies can be used to study obesity and cancer.
07/2015 Reiff et al. featured by New Scientist, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Evening Standard, Metro, CBS News, Irish Independent, SBS and 9 News (amongst others).
03/2014 Contributed video to New York Imagine Science Films Festival (http://imaginesciencefilms.org/).
01/2014 Joint MRC / University of the Arts London workshop “Fabrics of Life” (http://csc.mrc.ac.uk/fabrics-of-life-2014-big-data/).
Since 2013 Microscopy demonstrations (Drosophila life cycle) to primary school children.
07/2012 Contributed images to “The Cell: An Image Library” (www.cellimagelibrary.org/).
03/2012 My lab contributed a video to the University of Cambridge “Under the microscope” series, accessible on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDg2Keu3HT8).
03/2011 BBC audio slideshow (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12686745).
03/2011 Cambridge Science Festival. Organiser of the event “Playing with the entrails of fruit flies”.
01/2011 Cognigni et al. featured by New Scientist, Times Higher Education, CBS News, Le Point, Discover Magazine, Times of India (amongst others).
01/2010 Contributed images to the University of Cambridge’s 800th anniversary light show. One of them was also the exclusive image used for the posters and flyers advertising the event.
01/2010 Interviewed by ITV Anglia (800th anniversary feature).
2001/02 Freelance writer (press releases) for the scientific journal Neuron.
et al., 2021, Female-blase upregulation of insulin pathway activity mediates the sex difference in Drosophila body size plasticity, Elife, Vol:10, ISSN:2050-084X
et al., 2020, Enteric neurons increase maternal food intake during reproduction (vol 587, pg 455, 2020), Nature, Vol:588, ISSN:0028-0836, Pages:E36-E36
et al., 2020, Enteric neurons increase maternal food intake during reproduction, Nature, Vol:587, ISSN:0028-0836, Pages:455-459
et al., 2020, Food, microbes, sex and old age: on the plasticity of gastrointestinal innervation, Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Vol:62, ISSN:0959-4388, Pages:83-91
et al., 2020, An intestinal zinc sensor regulates food intake and developmental growth, Nature, Vol:580, ISSN:0028-0836, Pages:263-268