Physiological processes are intimately connected to environmental cues, and resolving these connections is an important challenge for biology and medicine. The intestine is a tissue under constant environmental stress, since animals ingest harmful pathogens or chemicals often during their lives. Not only does the intestine provide a barrier to handle these stresses, it must also absorb nutrients needed for survival. Both functions are critical, and the intestine has evolved to respond to environmental damage very effectively.
The intestine has an incredibly high turnover of cells, perhaps the fastest of any tissue in the body. Cells need to be constantly replaced since digestion itself puts stress on cells lining the digestive tract. But this can be further increased. Following injury, the intestine transitions from normal homeostasis, where cell turnover is steady, into a state of acute regeneration, where damaged cells are replaced very quickly. This incredible cell turnover is driven by a population of stem cells, which divide to produce all intestinal epithelial cells.
Intestinal regeneration provides a rich and fascinating area of research, since cells rapidly transition from stable to activated states. We are interested in studying the intestine as a model of how physical and environmental cues are propagated in the body.