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January 06, 2004

Wright State research biologist studies birds to learn how our stomachs convey thoughts of hunger

A research biologist at Wright State University is studying rhythmic cycles in birds to learn if we have a physiological clock in our stomach that determines when we get hungry.

Thomas Van’t Hof, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological sciences, recently returned from Japan, where he presented lectures and conducted research on circadian (24-hour) rhythms in birds. He visited Okayama University of Science, a sister university of Wright State, plus the University of Tokyo and Nagoya University.

“We often think of our stomachs as having a clock,” he said. “We anticipate food, and our gastrointestinal tract is prepared for food when it arrives. Our research investigates how this happens.”

Van’t Hof, who recently joined the Wright State faculty after nine years with the internationally-recognized Max-Planck Institute in Germany, said biological clocks in the brain, and maybe in the gut, guide hunger impulses and other daily activities in mammals and birds.

His research in Japan involved clock genes, or genes that cycle in a daily pattern, that are found in the gut. “We want to understand how the clock in the gut is sustained, the role of food and nutrition in sustaining the gut’s rhythm and the role of melatonin, a chemical in the brain, in organizing the activity of the gut,” he explained.

Van’t Hof said the goal of his research is “to increase our understanding of these clocks in the gut with respect to metabolic conditions, and also to shed light on why we get hungry when we do and why we often eat more than we should.”

The Wright State faculty member has presented several lectures on this topic in the past year in Japan and the U.S. and has been pursuing research on biological clocks for more than 10 years.

For more details on his research, contact Van’t Hof at 937-775-2163 or thomas.vanthof@wright.edu.