Zika virus (ZIKV) causes fetal microcephaly. It remains unknown how the timing of infection during pregnancy affects severity of defects, because most studies have focused on later stage infection. Jennifer hypothesizes that earlier ZIKV infection during preimplantation stages could cause more severe effects than infection at later stages due to effects on early cell lineage formation. In an effort to understand the consequences of earlier infection, Jennifer used ex utero embryo culture techniques to infect mouse embryos. She found that ZIKV infection at the two-cell stage can cause developmental arrest, whereas infection at the blastocyst stage has shown reduced fetal proper (SOX2-expressing cells) fate. These results suggest that preimplantation ZIKV infection causes embryonic demise or cell fate defects depending on when infection occurred.
Frum T , Watts JL, and Ralston A. TEAD4, YAP1 and WWTR1 prevent the premature onset of pluripotency prior to the 16-cell stage. Development vol. 146,17 dev179861. 6 Sep. 2019, doi:10.1242/dev.179861
Watts J, Lokken A, Moauro A, and Ralston A. Capturing and Interconverting Embryonic Cell Fates in a Dish. Cell Fate in Mammalian Development, Hadjantonakis AK and Plusa B, Eds. Book Chapter (2018).
Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) at MSU is a 10-week research-intensive experience where students from the US and its territories receive training at an R01 institution. Jennifer has mentored 47 students during 2017, 2019, and 2020 from disciplines in the Social/Behavior Sciences (SBS) and STEM. As a graduate mentor, she conducts weekly meetings to assist students on science communications in forms of chalk talks (SROP talks), formal presentations, and written deliverables. Additionally, Jennifer participates in the MSU Girls’ Math and Science Day hosted by the Graduate Women in Science organization. Jennifer performs enthusiastic demonstrations and presentations to encourage middle school aged girls about STEM.