Claire de La Serre, an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, studies the mechanisms that trigger overeating while also keeping her students up-to-date on the latest research findings in foods and nutrition.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I am originally from France and earned an M.S. in nutrition and an M.S. in life sciences engineering at the Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences in Paris (AgroParisTech). As a Ph.D. student in nutrition, I entered an exchange program to conduct my dissertation research at the University of California, Davis. I then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
I am currently an assistant professor in the department of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, where I teach undergraduate and graduate courses. I am also the seminar series director for my department. My laboratory investigates the mechanisms triggering overeating and focuses on diet-driven abnormal communication between the gut and the brain and the role of microbiota.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I joined UGA in 2012, first as a lecturer than as an assistant professor. My department was looking for a “basic scientist” in the field on energy homeostasis. I was a good match!
What are your favorite courses and why?
I really enjoy teaching the undergraduate/graduate course on the physiology of obesity (FNDS 4590/6590) because this is my area of research and expertise, and it is usually fairly new to our students. I like explaining to them how the brain rewires with weight gain and weight loss and go beyond the idea of the “eat less and exercise” solution for obesity.
I also teach a seminar course to our graduate students centered on how to give an effective presentation. All of the graduate students in our department take this course, which allows me to get to know students I don’t otherwise work with directly.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Receiving my first National Institutes of Health grant was a very special moment and a big validation of my research work. Once in a while, I receive an email from a student telling me that my course made a difference in their life; knowing that I had a positive impact on a student is very humbling and rewarding.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
I usually describe my research like this: “I study how the gut and the brain talk to each other to control how much we are eating and how, based on our diet, sometimes that line of communication doesn’t work very well anymore, which results in overeating. If you’re thinking about this as a phone line, I am especially interested in how the microbes that live in our gut play interference. If we understand the role of gut bacteria in this process, then we may be able to restore gut-brain communication by promoting or inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria.”
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I want to ensure that my students have access to the latest research findings, so I make it a priority to stay up-to-date with the scientific literature. I also encourage students to carefully analyze research papers and to form their own interpretation of the data.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope students learn about the intricacy of neuronal control of feeding and how the body adapts to food abundance or deprivation. For the students who will become practitioners, I would expect them to integrate their knowledge of physiology into their practice.
I try to encourage critical thinking and emphasize oral communication throughout my courses, and I hope my students develop skills that will serve them throughout their academic career and beyond.
Describe your ideal student.
Curious, motivated, and wants to know how and why things work the way they do in biology.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I honestly spend most of my time on campus in my lab! But I really like going to football and basketball games.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Explore the outside with my husband and sons; they like biking, running, swimming … anything that involves movement and adventure!
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I am a big Harry Potter fan. I have read the books many, many times. I started reading them when I was in middle school, and I waited eagerly for the next one to come out. I began reading in English because the English versions were released a couple months before the French ones.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
It is a tie between my first class and my first football game!
(Originally published on Nov. 11, 2017)