Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology
University of California Santa Cruz
What are your previous training experiences, including your postdoc, graduate school, and undergraduate background?
B. S., University of Alberta
M. S., University of Alberta (with Dr. Tracy Raivio)
Ph.D., Cancer Research UK, Clare Hall Laboratories/University of London (with Prof. Simon Boulton)
Postdoctorate, University of California, San Francisco (with Prof. Keith Yamamoto)
Briefly describe your ongoing and expected research projects as your lab gets up and running.
Nestled in the redwoods of the stunning UC Santa Cruz campus, we are interested in how the remarkable complexity and noise of gene regulation is converted into the beautiful and precise cellular behaviors that drive animal development. We use genetics, molecular biology, microscopy, in vitro biochemistry, and genomics to study how individual, evolutionarily conserved transcription factors regulate distinct gene expression programs controlling cell division and differentiation and organ development in living animals. We focus on transcription factor regulation of two cellular processes: i) nematode spermatogenesis; and ii) the nematode molt, which is the shedding of the old skin (cuticle) and generation of a new one.
By extending our findings into the human parasitic nematode Brugia malayi, which causes the disfiguring disease lymphatic filariasis, we aim to understand how gene regulatory networks evolve in the context of a parasitic life cycle. We are motivated by the public health implications of this work: parasitic nematodes infect over 1.5 billion people globally and also threaten food availability by infecting crops and livestock. There are a small number of drugs currently available to fight parasitic nematode infections, so novel approaches are desperately needed. Molting is a good target as it is essential, involves nematode-specific molecules, and is regulated by many druggable targets (proteases, nuclear hormone receptors, etc.). Similarly, if we can specifically modulate nematode fertility, we could prevent transmission of parasites. By characterizing key developmental processes in parasites, we aim to develop new approaches to combat helminthic infections.
If your position involves teaching, which subjects or courses are you expecting to teach?
I teach undergraduate molecular biology and a graduate class in the critical analysis of scientific literature.
How has being a member of GSA helped you advance in your career? Why do you think societies like GSA are important?
GSA-sponsored meetings have been crucial for developing and maintaining my professional network, and for providing a platform for presentation of my work. Additionally, GSA journals like Genetics have been an important venue for dissemination of my work. The connections that I’ve made at C. elegans meetings were really important in my search for a faculty position.
Are you looking to recruit students and/or postdocs? If so, please describe and be sure to also post the opportunity to GeneticsCareers.org.
We are interested in recruiting talented technicians, project scientists, students and postdocs to keep the Ward lab rolling!
What is your favorite thing about science or about your work?
The opportunity to come into work and learn something new every day and to work with an amazing collection of really brilliant people.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Hang out with my wife and trail run, work in our garden, or eat and drink delicious things.