Francis is an assistant professor at Berkeley. She heads her own basic research laboratory and holds cross appointments in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Public Health. She received her doctorate in neurobiology from McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Francis’s research program explores how biological, psychological, and social processes interact over a lifetime to influence health and vulnerability to disease. Her laboratory employs basic animal models to explore how these processes are causally related. The historic belief that information only flows in one direction, from the genome, is simply incorrect. Francis has data demonstrating that organisms with identical genotypes can manifest dramatically different phenotypic profiles in response to different environmental and social conditions. It appears that epigenetic processes may provide the missing link which will allow us to understand how social and political conditions, along with individual subjective experiences, can directly alter gene expression and thereby contribute to observed social inequalities in health. This level of multidisciplinary research can only be conducted with multiple collaborations that span many fields, from molecular epigenetics through to social epidemiology. In sum, Francis’s research explores how experience and social factors are transduced into biology.