Skip to main content

Exploring New Research Avenues For Neural Tube Defects

Physiology & Developmental Biology Featured Grad Student

Micah Ross poses for picture in the Life Sciences Building

“I was the weird kid who went to the library to watch documentaries and read National Geographic,” says Physiology and Developmental Biology PhD student Micah Ross. “I remember very vividly watching this movie on the nine months it takes a baby to develop— I was probably ten or eleven at the time—and I just remember being fascinated that we could start as two single cells . . . and as I went on studying science, I just found everything involving human health and development really interesting and intriguing.”

After serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ross decided she wanted to pursue medicine and studied physiology at the University of Wyoming. Coming from rural Wyoming, Ross never saw herself attending Brigham Young University. Aside from the football rivalry with her alma mater, she just wasn’t sure BYU was right for her. But after meeting the faculty and learning about BYU’s collaborative research environment, Ross discovered that here she could combine developmental research with physiology, something she was unable to do in her undergraduate program.

While attending BYU, Ross got involved with a range of studies and eventually decided on working with Dr. Michael Stark on neural tube defects and how they arise. The neural tube is one of the first structures to form in the embryo, giving rise to the brain and spine. When it doesn’t close properly it can result in birth defects including spinal bifida and anencephaly, where babies are born missing parts of their brains and skull caps.

Chicken embryo held up with forceps in a lab

In the lab, Ross has tested three environmental toxicants to see if and how they cause defects within the first few weeks of fetal development. With so many graduate students and faculty having different perspectives and areas of expertise, BYU researchers are able to not only ask important questions, but also have the resources and support to answer them. “It really is an environment that facilitates bringing people together with various areas of expertise to address the questions that we have, and I love that,” Ross says.

Ross has had the opportunity to present on her research at several conferences. She explains just how important presenting is for the development of a study: “You get a lot of different eyes with a lot of different filters looking at your research.” These perspectives can really make a difference in ongoing research. Ross talks about what she has learned as a presenter: “You have to take what you’ve learned and dial it back to a story that everyone can understand.”

In addition to her research, Ross has been activity involved in creating community amongst fellow students and helping female graduate students connect with mentors. She has served as president of the Graduate Student Society as a representative for the College of Life Sciences PDBIO program. She also helped organize the Graduate Women and Student’s Forum, inviting female alumni from several fields.

Ross has many career options, but as she decides, one thing that guides her is her love of teaching. She knows there are bright kids with backgrounds like hers who need some guidance and inspiration as they decide to pursue higher education and navigate college.