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Jennifer Watts Lab School of Molecular Biosciences

Welcome to the Watts Lab

Fat Metabolism, Ferroptosis and Oxidative Stress

Our lab studies how the physical properties and regulatory actions of specific lipids impact the cell biology and physiology of animals. The implications of this research extend from understanding how specific fatty acids affect cell signaling to dissecting the fat regulatory pathways involved in obesity and cancer. We use the nematode model Caenorhabditis elegans and a combination of genetic, lipidomic, genomic and biochemical approaches to understand the regulation, function and biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids.

C. elegans EM photo

Caenorhabditis elegans

C. elegans are round worms that are a popular model for studies of developmental biology, aging, and neurobiology. We find they are a great model to study fat metabolism too, especially for studies of the functions of polyunsaturated fats.  These worms synthesize a wide range of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). We have generated mutations in genes in this pathway, allowing us study what happens during growth and development when PUFA synthesis is disrupted.

pathway of ferroptosis


Ferroptosis is a regulated form of cell death defined by the iron-dependent accumulation of oxidized lipids in the cell. Ferroptosis is induced by metabolic imbalances within the cell, rather than by induction of pro-death apoptotic proteins. Using the model nematode C. elegans, we discovered an astonishing reduction in fertility upon dietary ingestion of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. We found that the omega-6 fats caused death of germ cells, but not somatic cells, throughout development.

Lipid droplets in C. elegans

Lipid Droplets

Lipid droplets are cytoplasmic organelles that store neutral lipids for membrane synthesis and energy reserves. We characterized the lipid and protein composition of purified C. elegans lipid droplets. Lipid droplets undergo rapid turnover and remodeling, and are implicated in many processes beyond energy storage.

Plant Parasitic Nematodes

In collaboration with the Gleason lab at WSU, we are studying methods to alter lipid metabolism pathways in Meloidogynes incognita as a novel treatment to control these destructive worms.