Texas Tech University

Spotlight on Innovators

Whitney Watson 

Senior, Microbiology

"Being in research has made me want to learn a never-ending amount of new things."

Whitney Watson, from Georgetown, Texas, is currently conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Robert Bradley, in the Department of Biological Sciences, to determine the origin and phylogenetic distribution of the zonadhesin gene in five suborders of rodents.

Watson's research focuses on a reproductive protein called zonadhesin, which is crucial in species to species fertilization. According to their hypothesis, this particular protein molecule may prevent hybrid species from forming during the mating between two genetically unrelated species.

Watson Smile

Watson has chosen to study this protein in rodents because rodent species are known to rapidly evolve and develop a variety of isolating mechanisms. Zonadhesin's ability to radiate quickly may facilitate its function of preventing genetically different species from hybridizing.

Watson's undergraduate research role is to investigate the five suborders within the order Rodentia, each of which displays sufficiently variable zonadhesin sequences, allowing for a comparative molecular study. Using known genomic data, Watson will compare her findings to determine if this zonadhesin protein is phylogenetically informative in rodents. This research is helping to enhance the scientific community's understanding of the mammalian reproductive system and could allow for a greater understanding of the processes of evolution.

One of the reasons that Watson chose Texas Tech University was because of the excellent reputation of our Biological and Health Science programs. She has always loved science and biology, specifically mammology, a branch of zoology that focuses on mammals. Watson had this to say about her studies in the College of Arts & Sciences,

"I'm here to learn and experience. I take pride in being a part of Texas Tech biology research and know that it is an honor to contribute to an incredible program".


When asked who has inspired her as a scientist, Watson named Emma Roberts, fellow Texas Tech student and doctoral candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences. Roberts has been mentoring Watson and had this to say about her mentee, "In my humble opinion, she [Watson] embodies the perfect scholar. With her interests and passion in medicine and research, she shines and excels as a scientist".

Watson presented this research at the Fifth Annual Scholar Research Forum, where she was a recipient of the Christopher Rodriquez Research Presentation Award. In addition to being a stellar scientist and student, Watson is the president of Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) and is a member of the Center for the Integration of STEM Education & Research (CISER). Watson hopes to attend Physician Assistant school after completing her Bachelor of Science degree this December. 

March 2016
By: Emalee Nelson

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