Stephen Watts headshot.

Stephen Watts

Professor; Graduate Program Director
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Campbell Hall 375
(205) 934-2045

Research and Teaching Interests: Aquatic and Marine Science, Aquaculture

Office Hours: By appointment


  • B.S., Auburn University, Marine Science
  • M.S., University of South Florida, Zoology
  • Ph.D., University of South Florida, Biology

Dr. Stephen Watts began his career in aquatic science in the 9th grade, when he became enthusiastically interested in all things aquatic. Having completed degrees in marine and aquatic biology, he joined UAB in 1987, and has developed a strong program in aquatic and marine science. His interests include basic science, as well as applied science (aquaculture) and subsequently medical application of aquatic animal models.

He is widely known as an expert in aquatic nutrition science, and has published over 150 articles in the field. He currently teaches Cellular Biology to juniors and seniors at UAB. He is the only faculty at UAB to win the prestigious Caroline and Charles P. Ireland Award for Scholarly Distinction, the Presidential Award for Teaching, and the Graduate Dean’s Award for Outstanding Mentorship.

Download CV

Research Interests

The research interests of our laboratory are broadly in the areas of nutrition, health, obesity and longevity. We use primarily comparative aquatic animal models in studies related to human health. Our leading outcomes include understanding growth, reproduction, physiology and biochemistry, endocrinology, and immunological responses of aquatic models to nutritional and environmental stressors. We are particularly interested in those outcomes related to changes in body composition and the mechanisms therein as related to obesity and other comorbidities.

We are very interested in the zebrafish and sea urchin models for their value in biomedical research. Killifish models are also very important, particularly those of short-lived species and their use in aging research. We are also interested in nutrition as it relates to improving aquaculture of new species. The laboratory is committed to promoting issues related to sustainability.

The major topics of research in our laboratory include:

  • Understanding the effects of nutrition and the environment on the body composition and physiological function of aquatic organisms. Primary emphases involve mechanisms leading to or preventing obesity.
  • Developing standard reference and experimental diets for zebrafish Danio rerio, killifish Nothobranchius furzeri, and sea urchins (Lytechinus variegatus). These studies will lead us to understand the role of specific nutrients affecting development, growth, and health of parental and offspring populations.
  • Evaluating causative factors, including nutrition and environmental toxicants, affecting longevity in short-lived models.
  • Evaluating the nature and role of the microbiome in aquatic models, with emphasis in the response of the gut microbiome to nutrients and bioactive food components.
  • Using nanotechnologies to develop nutrient and drug delivery systems in aquatic animals.
  • Investigating the environmental physiology, growth, nutrition, and digestive physiology of species important in aquaculture, including sea urchins, tilapia, crayfish, penaeid shrimp, and freshwater prawns. Increased knowledge of these economically important organisms can lead to enhanced aquaculture practices.
  • Resource sustainability.

Select Publications

  • Allison DB, Antoine LH, Ballinger SW, Bamman MM, Biga P, Darley-Usmar VM, Fisher G, Gohlke JM, Halade GV, Hartman JL IV, Hunter GR, Messina JL, Nagy TR, Plaisance EP, Roth KA, Sandel MW, Schwartz TS, Smith DL Jr, Sweatt JD, Tollefsbol TO, Watts SA, Yang Y, Zhang J, Austad SN, "Aging and Energetics’ ‘Top 40’ Future Research Opportunities 2010-2013," F1000Research 3:219 (2014), doi: 10.12688/f1000research.5212.1.
  • Challener RC, Watts SA, McClintock JB, "Effects of hypercapnia on aspects of feeding, nutrition and growth in the edible sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus held in culture," Marine Freshwater Behavior and Physiology 47 (No. 1, 2014): 41-62.
  • Heflin LE, Gibbs VK, Jones WT, Makowsky R, Lawrence AL, Watts SA, "Growth rates are related to production efficiencies in juveniles of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus," Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (2013): 1-11, PMCID 4245032.
  • Smith DL, Barry RJ, Powell ML, Nagy TR, D’Abramo LR, Watts SA, "Dietary protein source influence on body size and composition in growing zebrafish (Danio rerio)," Zebrafish 10 (No. 3, 2013): 439-46, PMCID: PMC3760061.
  • Prado P, Carmichael RH, Watts SA, Cebrian J, Heck KL, "Diet-dependent δ13C and δ15N fractionation among sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus tissues: implications for food web models," Marine Ecology Progress Series 462 (2012): 175-90.
  • Watts SA, Powell ML, D’Abramo LR, "Fundamental approaches to the study of zebrafish nutrition," ILAR Journal 53 (No. 2, 2012): 144-60, PMC4064678.
  • Heflin LE, Gibbs VK, Powell ML, Makowsky R, Lawrence JM, Lawrence AL, Watts SA, "Effect of dietary protein and carbohydrate levels on weight gain and gonad production in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus," Aquaculture (2012): 358-59, 253-61, PMC4076750.
  • Heflin LE, Gibbs VK, Powell ML, Makowsky R, Lawrence JM, Lawrence AL, Watts SA, "Effect of diet quality on nutrient allocation to the test and Aristotle's lantern in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus (Lamarck, 1816)," Journal of Shellfish Research 31 (No. 3, 2012): 1-8, PMCID 4243522.
  • Gibbs VK, Powell ML, Hammer HS, Jones WT, Watts SA, Lawrence AL, Lawrence JM, "Evaluation of menhaden oil and soybean oil levels in purified diets on growth and gonad production in the adult sea urchin, Lytechinus variegatus," North American Journal of Aquaculture 75 (2013): 277-84.

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • Senior Faculty, Nutrition and Obesity Research Center
  • Director, Aquatic Animal Research Core (Animal Models Core, NORC)
  • Co-Director, Animal Models Core (NORC)
  • Co-Director, Zebrafish Research Facility, RSB
  • Co-Director, Sustainable Smart Cities

Student Groups