Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Texas A&M University
Room 332 VMA
College Station, TX 77843-4466
I am an assistant professor within the department of veterinary physiology at Texas A&M University. Here, I serve as the instructor of record for two courses studying human embryology and the physiological events of pregnancy. My research program focuses on understanding the biochemical mechanisms by which chromatin structure is altered during development, and how these processes can be influenced by environmental factors. I have served as the PI for an R03, an R21, as well as a co-PI on several university- and NIH-funded grants examining epigenetics and developmental programming. I began my scientific career examining the role of failed epigenetic programming during the development of cloned embryos and have since pioneered studies examining epigenetic mechanisms regulating imprinted gene expression and developmental programming within mammalian embryonic, extraembryonic and neural precursor stem cells. I am interested in understanding the mechanisms that recruit epigenetic modifiers to specific cohorts of genes, identifying the biochemical machinery directing these processes, and determining how these events are impacted by environmental toxins and teratogens.
Epigenetic programming is an emerging field of research, the significance of which was born out of observations that environmental exposures early in development have a role in susceptibility to disease in later life. From studies using a diverse range of model organisms we now acknowledge epigenetic modifications to chromatin structure provide a plausible link between environmental teratogens and alterations in gene expression leading to the development of both birth defects and pediatric disease. However the specific molecular pathways and mechanisms by which environmental agents can disrupt epigenetic programming are very poorly understood. In order to make informed clinical recommendations and develop therapeutic interventions, we must determine how environmental exposures impact chromatin structure and alter developmental programming.
My laboratory focuses on defining the signaling processes and epigenetic mechanisms by which hormones control fetal development, and examine how environmental toxins interfere with these processes. For the past five years, my laboratory has focused on examining epigenetic defects arising as a consequence of prenatal alcohol exposure. These studies have demonstrated that multiple embryonic cell types are susceptible to alcohol-induced perturbation of the histone code and indicate that alterations to chromatin structure may represent a crucial component of alcohol teratogenesis.
My undergraduate and graduate courses explore the physiological processes of pregnancy and fetal development with a special emphasis on concepts related to developmental programming.
VTPP 452/652 Fetal & Embryo Physiology explores the physiological processes of pregnancy and fetal development. In this class we cover the processes of placentation and development of the major organ systems. We then use this information as a framework to better understand how birth defects arise and why.
VTPP 651 – Epigenetics & Systems Physiology examines the molecular mechanisms of developmental programming and the impact of nutrition & environmental toxins on the development of disease. The purpose of this course is to provide graduate level students with a journal club style seminar class focusing on the most current research in Epigenetics as it relates to systems physiology and disease. This course focuses on “big picture” concepts and requires students to focus their presentations on the scientific methods employed, rather than emphasizing an understanding of the specific biological systems being studied.
One of the main goals outlined in the Vison 2020 plan is to elevate the impact our teaching has upon students and therefore to advance the state, the nation and the world in meeting societal challenges and opportunities. Faculty at Texas A&M constantly endeavor to remain on the forefront of educational techniques and enhance the student environment in order to maximize learning. In my course, I utilize the high-impact-technique of service-learning to achieve this goal. Learn More
Within my university I have served on the committees of 38 graduate students across the Biomedical Sciences, Animal Science, Poultry Science, Genetics, and Scientific Journalism programs. Of these, 20 are non-thesis masters students while the other 18 are standard track Masters (8) and PhD (10) students. My scientific expertise has been recognized at a national level and I have been recruited to serve as a recurring reviewer for the National Institutes of Heath AA1 study section for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the ZES1 study section for National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). In both instances, I have been tasked with reviewing proposals examining aspects of fetal development and maternal health. I have serve as an ad-hoc reviewer for 16 peer reviewed journals, including the journal Development, which is the highest ranked journal in the field of developmental biology. In addition to my service on the NIH study sections, I have also been contracted by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) to co-develop an online course as part of their professional continuing education program. Along with four other faculty from the University of Guelph in Canada as well as Tufts University, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest University here in the United States, I co-designed an online course for veterinarians interested in learning more about genetics, stem cell biology and epigenetics as applied to everyday veterinary practice.
- Texas A&M University Center for Teaching Excellence – 2013 – 2014 Service Learning Scholar.
- Zoetis 2013 Award for Research Excellence
- Texas A&M University Center for Teaching Excellence – Montague Scholar 2012
- Texas A&M University – Richard H. Davis Teaching Award, 2012
- Perinatal Research Society – Early Career Award, 2010
- NIH Young Investigator Award, Perinatal Research Society, 2008
- Wyeth Award for Excellence in Research, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2007
- Ontario Women’s Health Council/Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Gender and Health, Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2006
- Dr. David Whaley Postdoctoral Fellowship in Maternal/Fetal/Neonatal Research, 2006