I conducted my Ph.D within the laboratory of Professor Tom Fleming at the University of Southampton. Here, my research focused on investigating the impact of mouse embryo culture and environmental conditions on long-term adult health. During my PhD I demonstrated that embryo culture and transfer procedures resulted in the development of hypertension and metabolic disorders in adult offspring. During my postdoctoral research I assessed the impact of maternal low protein diet (LPD) given exclusively during pre-implantation development (3.5 days) in mice. Here, I observed that maternal preimplantation LPD increased offspring growth and adiposity, induced adult hypertension and vascular dysfunction and altered behavioural characteristics.
In 2011 I was awarded a University of Nottingham Advanced Research Fellowship to investigate the impact of paternal nutrition on sperm quality and adult offspring cardiovascular and metabolic health. Under this 2 year fellowship I demonstrated that LPD fed to male mice prior to conception induced genome wide hypomethylation in sperm, offspring hypotension, vascular dysfunction, glucose intolerance and elevated adiposity. Data from these studies identified potentials roles for both sperm- and seminal fluid-specific mechanisms through which paternal diet can affect offspring health and development. In April 2014, I was awarded an Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing Research Fellow within Aston University to continue and develop his investigations into the impact of parental nutrition on offspring health.
Currently I am an Assistant Professor in Reproductive Biology at the University of Nottingham. His current research focuses on the impact of poor paternal diet on sperm quality and seminal fluid composition and the discrete effects these have on embryo development, fetal growth and skeletal formation and adult offspring cardiovascular and metabolic health in a mouse model.
I am a researcher who is interesting in understanding the impact of parental diet on the earliest stages of development (first few days after conception) and how this affects the growth of the fetus and ultimately the health of the offspring adulthood. My current research is focused on the importance of a father's diet for the quality of his sperm, the development of the early embryo, the growth of the fetus and the long-term cardio-metabolic health of his offspring.
To conduct my research I used a wide range of techniques including analysis of sperm quality, embryo and cell culture, analysis of bone health using X-ray synchrotron facilities (e.g. Diamond Light Source), analysis of placental function, next generation sequencing technologies and analysis of cardio-metabolic health.
Together, my research provides an insight into the biological mechanisms linking parental diet with the long-term health of their offspring.
I currently lecture on the University's MMedSci Assisted Reproduction Technology within the School of Medicine. On this course I am a module convenior for the Assisted Reproduction Technology Part 1… read more
Studies using human and animal models have revealed strong associations between the quality of maternal nutrition, as well as her physiology around the time of conception and the long-term, health… read more
WATKINS AJ, SIROVICA S, STOKES B, ISAACS M, ADDISON O and MARTIN RA, 2017. Paternal low protein diet programs preimplantation embryo gene expression, fetal growth and skeletal development in mice. Biochimica et biophysica acta. 1863(6), 1371-1381 DENISENKO O, LUCAS ES, SUN C, WATKINS AJ, MAR D, BOMSZTYK K and FLEMING TP, 2016. Regulation of ribosomal RNA expression across the lifespan is fine-tuned by maternal diet before implantation. Biochimica et biophysica acta. 1859(7), 906-13
WATKINS AJ, LUCAS ES, MARFY-SMITH S, BATES N, KIMBER SJ and FLEMING TP, 2015. Maternal nutrition modifies trophoblast giant cell phenotype and fetal growth in mice. Reproduction (Cambridge, England). 149(6), 563-75
I currently lecture on the University's MMedSci Assisted Reproduction Technology within the School of Medicine. On this course I am a module convenior for the Assisted Reproduction Technology Part 1 (A34AR1) and Biomolecular analysis for PGD and Research, and Biological Statistics (A34BIO) modules. In addition, I also lecture on the Assisted Reproduction Technology Part 2 (A34AR2) and Reproductive Biology and Comparative Reproductive Anatomy and Mechanisms (A34REP) modules.
Outside of the University, I also lecture on Oxford University's MSc in clinical embryology and on the University of Warwick's Postgraduate Graduate Certificate in Reproductive Medicine.
Finally, I am currently an external examiner for Imperial College London's MSc in Reproductive and Developmnental Biology course.
Studies using human and animal models have revealed strong associations between the quality of maternal nutrition, as well as her physiology around the time of conception and the long-term, health and development of her offspring. Whilst the role of maternal nutrition and physiology has received extensive investigation, the role of paternal nutrition in offspring development has remained a neglected area. In addition, the precise mechanisms linking parental peri-conceptional nutrition with the induction of altered offspring development and disease risk are still unknown. My current research is focused on understanding the discrete parental genomic, cytoplasmic and accessory material contributions to offspring health and development following parental low protein diet (LPD) in the mouse. These studies will look at the quality of the sperm and oocytes following parental LPD, the composition of the seminal fluid and the development of the offspring they generate. These studies will combine a range of experimental techniques to examine gamete development (DNA methylation and gene expression patterns, oocyte cytoplasmic and genomic roles in offspring programming using pronuclear transfer) as well as long-term assessment of offspring development and cardiovascular function.
Previous to taking up a University of Nottingham Advanced Research Fellowship in 2011 I conducted my Ph.D and 2 postdoctoral positions at the University of Southampton in the laboratory of Professor Tom Fleming. Here my research focused on understanding the impact of an altered mouse preimplantation embryo environment on the long-term health and development of the offspring. During my Ph. D I revealed for the first time that routine techniques associated with human assisted reproductive techniques (embryo culture and transfer) could significantly alter offspring cardiovascular and metabolic homeostatic mechanisms in the mouse. Similar findings have subsequently been observed in children derived from IVF.
During my first postdoctoral position my focus tuned to manipulating the mouse preimplantation environment in vivo through the feeding of a maternal low protein dirt (LPD) during discrete periods of development. Here we discovered that maternal LPD given exclusively during preimplantation development, just 3.5 days post conception, resulted in enhanced offspring growth, hypertension and altered cardiovascular homeostasis, elevated anxiety-related behaviour. Interestingly, when LPD was given for 3.5 days prior to conception no effects on offspring growth were observed however, elevated blood pressure and altered behavioural profiles were also observed. My second postdoctoral position then focused on investigating the mechanisms and pathways responsible in the development these observed changes postnatal phenotype.
I have just been awarded a BBSRC New Investigator Responsive Mode grant to study the impact of paternal diet on fetal growth regulation. Under this grant, and in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, I will define how poor paternal diet affects (i) sperm quality, (ii) embryonic metabolism and development, (iii) fetal skeletal formation and (iv) placental function.
This novel study will shed new insight into how poor paternal diet can influence the long-term health of his offspring.