New CALS faculty member Federico Rey studies gut microbiome

Federico Rey  joined the faculty in the Department of Bacteriology as an assistant professor in August.

Briefly describe your career path—up to this point.
My initial steps in science were at Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit) studying the role of free radicals from vascular cells in the modulation of vascular tone and atherosclerosis.  In graduate school, I worked in the laboratory of Carrie Harwood (University of Washington), where I studied the metabolically versatile photosynthetic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris, which generates H2 gas (biofuel) from sunlight and green-plant derived material. I focused on defining the signaling and metabolic networks that lead to the production of H2.  Attracted by the metabolic potential encoded in our distal gut microbiome and all its possible applications to human health, I joined Jeffrey Gordon’s lab in the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University to apply both aspects of my training in exploring how human gut microbes interact with each other and their impact to the host. I used gnotobiotic mice colonized with defined synthetic microbial communities composed of dominant bacterial species from the human distal gut to study how specific microbial functions affect host physiology.


What is the main focus of your research program?
We study the interactions that occur between the trillions of microbes that inhabit our intestine and the food that we eat. Many components from our diet are first tasted by our gut microbes before they are absorbed by our body. These diet-microbial interactions are mostly beneficial to us, but they can also be detrimental. We are initially focusing on gut microbes that metabolize dietary compounds that modulate the development of atherosclerosis, a leading cause of death and morbidity worldwide. The lessons from these studies will have immediate implications for identifying potential strategies for therapeutic manipulation of the gut microbiota to enhance host health.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
Great science and nice people: it was an easy decision to join such a collaborative research environment. I was also attracted by its top-ranked Microbiology training program, which brings amazing students.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to spend time with my family; we like to go camping and do hikes.