SMB Faculty Profiles

 Jennifer Watts

Jennifer Watts

Room: BLS 433
Office Phone: 509-335-8554
Room: BLS 440
Lab Phone: 509-335-8995

Lab Website



Research & Interests

Our lab is interested in the mechanisms through which 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 related diseases. We use the nematode modelCaenorhabditis elegans and a combination of genetic, genomic and biochemical approaches to understand the regulation, function and biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids.

Genetic pathways of fat storage

Animals deficient in stearoyl-CoA desaturase have reduced fat content. We are currently using C. elegans mutants to examine how fatty acid desaturase pathways interact with other metabolic pathways that regulate fat storage. We have identified transcriptional regulators of stearoyl-CoA desaturase, including several nuclear hormone receptors and SREBP (sterol repeat element binding protein). These important regulators of lipid homeostasis are involved in the end-product feed-back regulation of transcription of lipid metabolism genes in mammals. Studies of these proteins in C. elegans contribute to the understanding, and possibly the future manipulation, of fat regulatory pathways involved in obesity and related diseases.

Functions of polyunsaturated fatty acids

Unsaturated fatty acids play vital roles as structural components of membranes and as signaling molecules. We have isolated C. elegans mutants with altered capacity to synthesis unsaturated fatty acids. These mutants provide new tools to understand the roles unsaturated fatty acids in membrane biology and cell function. We discovered that dietary supplementation with an omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, DGLA (20:3n-6), causes defects in the development and maintenance of germ cells. Nematodes feeding on DGLA, but not other long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids become sterile, partly due to excess apoptosis of germ cells. Our molecular, genetic, and biochemical studies of this process promise to shed light on the roles of polyunsaturated fatty acids in reproductive processes.

Select Publications
  • Watts JL, Ristow M (2017) Lipid and Carbohydrate Metabolism in Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 207(2):413-446. doi: 10.1534/genetics.117.300106. PMID: 28978773 PMCID: PMC5629314
  • Watts JS, Morton DG, Kemphues KJ, Watts JL (2017) The biotin-ligating protein BPL-1 is critical for lipid biosynthesis and polarization of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. J Biol Chem pii: jbc.M117.798553. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M117.798553. PMID: 29158261 PMCID:
  • Watts JL (2016) Using Caenorhabditis elegans to Uncover Conserved Functions of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids. J Clin Med 5(2). pii: E19. doi: 10.3390/jcm5020019. PMID: 26848697 PMCID: PMC4773775
  • Shi X, Tarazona P, Brock TJ, Browse J, Feussner I, Watts JL. (2016) A Caenorhabditis elegans model for ether lipid biosynthesis and function. J Lipid Res 57(2):265-75. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M064808. Epub 2015 Dec 18. PMID: 26685325 PMCID: PMC4727422
  • Deline M, Keller J, Rothe M, Schunck WH, Menzel R, Watts JL (2015) Epoxides Derived from Dietary Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid Induce Germ Cell Death in C. elegans. Sci Rep. 5,15417 PMID: 26486965 PMCID: PMC4614016
  • Ding W, Smulan LJ, Hou NS, Taubert S, Watts JL, Walker AK (2015) s-Adenosylmethionine Levels Govern Innate Immunity through Distinct Methylation-Dependent Pathways. Cell Metab/ 22(4), 633-45 PMID: 26321661 PMCID: PMC4598287
  • Vrablik TL, Petyuk VA, Larson EM, Smith RD, Watts JL (2015) Lipidomic and proteomic analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans lipid droplets and identification of ACS-4 as a lipid droplet-associated protein. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1851(10), 1337-45 PMID: 26121959 PMCID: PMC4561591
  • Hou NS, Gutschmidt A, Choi DY, Pather K, Shi X, Watts JL, Hoppe T, Taubert S (2014) Activation of the endoplasmic reticulum unfolded protein response by lipid disequilibrium without disturbed proteostasis in vivo. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 111(22), E2271-80 PMID: 24843123 PMCID: PMC4050548
  • Deline M, Vrablik TL, Watts JL (2013) Dietary Supplementation of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Visualized Experiments 81 PMID: PMCID:
  • Shi X, Li J, Zou X, Greggain J, Rødkær SV, Færgeman NJ, Liang B, Watts JL (2013) Regulation of lipid droplet size and phospholipid composition by stearoyl-CoA desaturase. J Lipid Res. 54(9), 2504-14 PMID: 23787165 PMCID: PMC3735947
  • Vrablik TL, Watts JL (2013) Polyunsaturated fatty acid derived signaling in reproduction and development: Insights from Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster Mol Reprod Dev. 80(4), 244-59 PMID: 23440886 PMCID: PMC4350910
  • Webster CM, Deline ML, Watts JL (2013) Stress response pathways protect germ cells from omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid-mediated toxicity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Dev Biol. 373(1), 14-25 PMID: 23064027 PMCID: PMC3508147
  • Vrablik TL, Watts JL (2012) Emerging roles for specific fatty acids in developmental processes. Genes Dev. 26(7), 631-7 PMID: 22474257 PMCID: PMC3323873
  • Lim MA, Selak MA, Xiang Z, Krainc D, Neve RL, Kraemer BC, Watts JL, Kalb RG (2012) Reduced activity of AMP-activated protein kinase protects against genetic models of motor neuron disease. J Neurosci. 32(3)m 1123-41 PMID: 22262909 PMCID: PMC3742882
  • Walker AK, Jacobs RL, Watts JL, Rottiers V, Jiang K, Finnegan DM, Shioda T, Hansen M, Yang F, Niebergall LJ, Vance DE, Tzoneva M, Hart AC, Näär AM (2011) A conserved SREBP-1/phosphatidylcholine feedback circuit regulates lipogenesis in metazoans. Cell. 147(4), 840-52 PMID: 22035958 PMCID: PMC3384509
  • Liang B, Ferguson K, Kadyk L, Watts JL (2010) The role of nuclear receptor NHR-64 in fat storage regulation in Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS One 5(3) PMID: 20360843 PMCID: PMC2845610
  • Walker AK, Yang F, Jiang K, Ji JY, Watts JL, Purushotham A, Boss O, Hirsch ML, Ribich S, Smith JJ, Israelian K, Westphal CH, Rodgers JT, Shioda T, Elson SL, Mulligan P, Najafi-Shoushtari H, Black JC, Thakur JK, Kadyk LC, Whetstine JR, Mostoslavsky R, Puigserver P, Li X, Dyson NJ, Hart AC, Näär AM (2010) Conserved role of SIRT1 orthologs in fasting-dependent inhibition of the lipid/cholesterol regulator SREBP. Genes Dev. 24(13), 1403-17 PMID: 20595232 PMCID: PMC2895199
  • Brooks KK, Liang B, Watts JL (2009) The Influence of Bacterial Diet on Fat Storage in C. elegans PLoS One 4(10) PMID: PMCID:
  • Watts JL (2009) Fat Synthesis and Adiposity Regulation in Caenorhabditis elegans Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism 20, 58-65 PMID: PMCID:
  • Brock TJ, Browse J, Watts JL (2007) Fatty Acid Desaturation and the Regulation of Adiposity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 176, 865-875 PMID: PMCID:
  • Schroeder LK, Kremer S, Kramer MJ, Currie E, Kwan E, Watts JL, Lawrenson AL, Hermann GJ (2007) Function of the Caenorhabditis elegans ABC transporter PGP-2 in the biogenesis of a lysosome-related fat storage organelle Mol Biol Cell. 18(3), 995-1008 PMID: 17202409 PMCID: PMC1805080
  • Kubagawa HM, Watts JL, Corrigan C, Edmonds JW, Sztul E, Browse J, Miller MA (2006) Oocyte signals derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids control sperm recruitment in vivo. Nat Cell Biol. 8(10), 1143-8 PMID: 16998478 PMCID:
  • Yang F, Vought BW, Satterlee JS, Walker AK, Jim Sun ZY, Watts JL, DeBeaumont R, Saito RM, Hyberts SG, Yang S, Macol C, Iyer L, Tjian R, van den Heuvel S, Hart AC, Wagner G, Näär AM (2006) An ARC/Mediator subunit required for SREBP control of cholesterol and lipid homeostasis. Nature. 442(7103), 700-4 PMID: 16799563 PMCID:
  • Brock TJ, Browse J, Watts JL (2006) Genetic Regulation of Unsaturated Fatty Acid Composition in C. elegans PLoS Genet. 2(7) PMID: 16839188 PMCID: PMC1500810
  • Watts JL, Browse J (2006) Dietary manipulation implicates lipid signaling in the maintenance of C. elegans germ cells Dev Biol. 292(2), 381-92 PMID: 16487504 PMCID: PMC1584401

List of Publications

Washington State University