Stephen Watts headshot.

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
  • Post Doctorate, University of New Hampshire and State University of Utrecht, The Netherlands

Dr. Stephen Watts began his career in aquatic science in middle school, 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 animal science as it relates to marine and aquatic organisms. His interests include basic science, as well as applied science (aquaculture) and application of aquatic animal models in biomedical sciences.

He is widely known as an expert in aquatic animal nutrition, and has published over 170 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 Graduate Mentorship.

pdfDownload CV

Research Interests

The research interests of our laboratory are broadly in the areas of nutrition and animal health. We are very interested in nutritional factors leading to obesity, digestive disease, and associated behaviors related to nutritional stress. We use primarily comparative aquatic animal models and rodents in nutrition studies related to human health. Our leading outcomes include understanding growth, reproduction, physiology and biochemistry, genomics and transcriptomics, 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. To this end, we formulate and produce animal diets that vary in ingredient and nutrient content.

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 short-lived species and their use in aging research. We are also interested in nutrition as it relates to improving aquaculture of commercial species. We utilize the nutrition framework to better understand the ecology and evolution of nutrient requirements, and apply this information towards understanding the role of nutrition in regulating health as well as disease onset and progression. The laboratory is also committed to promoting issues related to global food 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 in finfish, or developing diets that promote growth and health in common aquaculture species, including shrimp and finfish.
  • Developing standard reference and experimental diets for zebrafish (Danio rerio), 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 in these important biomedical models.
  • Evaluating the link between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain leading to common digestive disorders and associated mental distress.
  • 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

  • Heflin, L.E., R. Makowsky, J.C. Taylor, M.B. Williams, A.L. Lawrence and S.A. Watts. 2016. Production and economic optimization of dietary protein and carbohydrate in the culture of juvenile sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus. Aquaculture 463, 51-60.
  • Koo, Hyunmin, J. Hakim, M. Powell, R. Kumar, P. Eipers, C. Morrow, M. Crowley, E. Lefkowitz, S.A. Watts, A. Bej. 2017. Metagenomics approach to the study of the gut microbiome structure and function in zebrafish Danio rerio fed with gluten formulated diet. J. Microbial Methods 135, 69-76 doi: 10.1016/j.mimet.2017.01.016
  • Taylor, J.C., L.S. Dewberry, S.K. Totsch, L.R. Yessick, J.J. DeBerry, S.A. Watts and R.E. Sorge. 2017. A novel zebrafish-based model of nociception. Physiology and Behavior 174, 83-88.
  • Heflin, L.E., D. Raubenheimer, S. Simpson, S.A. Watts. 2016. Balancing macronutrient uptake in cultured Lytechinus variegatus. Aquaculture 450, 295-300.
  • Fowler, L.A., L.N. Dennis, M.L. Powell, R.J. Barry, S.A. Watts and D.L. Smith, Jr. 2016. In vivo determination of body composition in zebrafish (Danio rerio) by quantitative magnetic resonance. Zebrafish 13(3), 170-176
  • Watts, S.A., C. Lawrence, M. Powell and L.R. D’Abramo. 2016. The vital relationship between nutrition and health in zebrafish. Zebrafish 13, S1 DOI: 10.1089/zeb.2016.1299
  • Hakim, J., Koo, Hyunmin, Kumar, Ranjit, Lefkowitz, Elliot, Morrow, Casey, Powell, Mickie, Watts, Stephen; Bej, Asim. 2016 The gut microbiome of the sea urchin, Lytechinus variegatus, from their natural habitat demonstrates selective attributes of microbial taxa and predictive metabolic profiles. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 92(9)
  • Williams, M. B., Powell, M. L., & Watts, S. A. 2016. Combined effects of Corexit EC 9500A with secondary abiotic and biotic factors in the rotifer Brachionus plicatilis. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology. 188, 39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpc.2016.06.005. Epub 2016 Jun 17
  • Li, F.J., R.N. Duggal, O.M. Oliva, S. Karki, R. Surolia, Z. Wsang, R.D. Watson, V.J. Thannickal, M.L. Powell, S.A. Watts, T.Kulkarni, H. Batra, S. Bolisetty, A. Agarwal, V.B. Anthony. 2015. Heme oxygenase-1 protects Corexit 2900A-induced respiratory epithelial injury across species. PLOS One 10(4): e0122275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122275
  • Powell, M.L., M.A. Pegues, A.J. Szalai, V. Ghanta, L.R. D’Abramo and S.A. Watts. 2015. Effects of dietary w3:w6 fatty acid ratio on body fat and inflammation in zebrafish (Danio rerio). Comparative Medicine 65(4), 289-294. PMID 26310458
  • Hakim, J.A., H. Koo, L.N. Dennis, R. Kumar, T. Ptacek, C.D. Morrow, E.J. Lefkowitz, M.L. Powell, A.K. Bej and S.A. Watts. 2015. An abundance of Epsilonproteobacteria revealed in the gut microbiome of the laboratory cultured sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus. Frontiers in Microbiology doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01047
  • Smith, D.L., R.J. Barry, M.L. Powell, T.R. Nagy, L.R. D’Abramo and S.A. Watts. 2013. Dietary protein source influence on body size and composition in growing zebrafish (Danio rerio). Zebrafish 10(3) 439-446. PMCID: PMC3760061
  • Heflin, L.E., V.K. Gibbs, W.T. Jones, R. Makowsky, A.L. Lawrence and S.A. Watts. 2013. Growth rates are related to production efficiencies in juveniles of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K. pp. 1-11 PMCID 4245032
  • Watts, S.A., J. B. McClintock and J.M. Lawrence. 2013. Lytechinus. In: Sea Urchins: Biology and Ecology (3nd Ed), J.M. Lawrence (ed.). Elsevier Press.
  • Watts, S.W., A.L. Lawrence and J.M. Lawrence. 2013. Nutrition. In: Sea Urchins: Biology and Ecology (3nd Ed), J.M. Lawrence (ed.). Elsevier Press.
  • Watts, S.A., M.L. Powell and L.R. D’Abramo. 2012. Fundamental approaches to the study of zebrafish nutrition. ILAR Journal 53(2), 144-160. PMC4064678

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • Graduate Program Director, Department of Biology
  • Senior Faculty, Nutrition and Obesity Research Center
  • Senior Faculty, Department of Surgery
  • 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