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Nathan Law Investigating Germline Stem Cells

Posted by jennifer_michal | July 29, 2021
Nate LawNathan Law is a true Coug, having spent the entirety of his academic career so far in the Palouse! Law received his BS in biochemistry and molecular biology from WSU in 2010. While completing his undergraduate degree, a job as a research assistant in the School of Molecular Biosciences propelled his career into research.

“The most exciting part of research are the questions we try to answer,” Law said. “How does a biological process work? Can we devise a way to better understand the complexity of something? And can we use our new knowledge to cure disease, improve lives, or benefit someone or something?”

CHOOSING A CAREER IN RESEARCH

Law’s advisor encouraged him to apply to graduate school because career opportunities in research are more abundant with an advanced degree. He agreed with her advice and decided to stay at WSU, earning a PhD in molecular biosciences in 2016 before serving for the next four years as a postdoctoral research associate in the Center for Reproductive Biology in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Spokane native began his career as an assistant professor in the department in July 2020. Dr. Law’s research program centers on stem cell biology. Stem cells are special cells that perform two especially important functions that are essential to tissue longevity. They can self-renew and can also develop into mature cells that function as an internal repair system, replacing cells lost due to aging or injury.

STUDYING SSCs

Law is interested in a special subset of stem cells called germline stem cells. While germline stem cells are unipotent, meaning they differentiate into only one cell type, either sperm in males or eggs in females, they have the unique ability to transmit genetic and epigenetic information to the next generation. Male germline stem cells are also known as spermatogonial stems cells (SSCs).

Interestingly, Law discovered that only a select few cells become stem cells or SSCs during fetal development and the ability to become an SSC (i.e., stem cell fate) is determined before birth. However, the mechanisms that drive their selection remain largely unknown. Law’s research program is structured to uncover how cells are selected to become SSC, how the SSC pool forms, and how these decisions affect overall inheritance in humans and livestock. Furthermore, a robust understanding of the mechanisms behind these fate decisions may consequently have important ramifications on male fertility, leading to treatments for infertility or identification of druggable targets for male contraceptives.

RESEARCH TEAM

Law’s research group currently includes two graduate students and a lab technician. They use transgenic mice and complex molecular assays as well as techniques such as fluorescent microscopy, computational biology and bioinformatics, and histology to explore the origins and fate of SSC.

This spring, Dr. Law taught a graduate level seminar course, which lays the foundation for a student’s future professional career as they learn to interpret and present research and in the fall semester, he will be teaching Physiology of Domestic Animals, a core course required of all Animal Science majors.

PERSONAL INTERESTS

Law is married with two young children, who keep his life busy but incredibly fun! In his spare time, he enjoys mountain biking, paddle boarding, and surfing wherever he can catch a wave. He also takes pleasure in building and repairing things, which comes in handy on his house projects and renovations.