Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Heather Harter | College of Science
November 16, 2022

Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Heather Harter

Meet Heather Harter, a UNT undergraduate who is double majoring in Biology and Criminal Justice with a minor in Chemistry. Heather is working in the lab of biological sciences professor and researcher Dr. Jagadeeswaran alongside PhD graduate student Sanchi Dhinoja. The lab uses CRISPR technology, which is used to locate a specific piece of DNA within a cell and edit genes, giving it the potential to knock out certain genes that may cause genetic diseases.

"I am fascinated with DNA and genetics," said Heather, who is a 2022 McNair Scholar. "I just finished one experiment where I was experimenting if temperature played a role in the survival of par2a deficient zebrafish embryos. My hypothesis was that at 30 degrees I would have more survive than at the normal 28 degrees, my hypothesis proved wrong. It was determined by my experiment that temperature does not play a role in zebrafish par2a deficient embryos. My next experiment will begin in November where I will be performing adult characterization of the par2a mutants."

Heather finds the experience of being a part of research very rewarding.

"Being in the lab and doing research on zebrafish is an experience of a lifetime," she said. "I have already learned so much on the science of zebra fish as a model organism and have performed various duties with the zebrafish in the lab; the learning experiments with zebrafish is never ending and we can learn to cure so many genetic diseases and disorders with these magnificent fish that hold 70% the same DNA as humans."

Heather, who chose UNT because of its Tier One Research University status, conducts her research under the guidance of Dr. Jagadeeswaran and PhD graduate student Sanchi Dhinoja. Dr. Jagadeeswaran oversees the lab's experiments, and the student researchers report their findings to him weekly. "I work most closely with Sanchi who has been amazing to me," said Heather. "I am the first deaf McNair Scholar at UNT, and she is so patient with me and her knowledge of zebrafish and the duties we perform in the lab are extraordinary. I have learned so much from Sanchi already and look forward to continuing working with her until I graduate."

"Heather is highly motivated, inquisitive, and very communicative," said Dr. Jagadeswaran. "She is my first deaf student, but we have never had any difficulty communicating. She is passionate about her research and makes science enjoyable for everyone in the lab."

One of the most important things Heather feels she has learned during her time at UNT is the knowledge she acquired in her Cell Biology and Genetics classes. "I have had amazing professors," she said. "I now take that knowledge I learned from them and use it hands on in the lab. It is one thing to learn it and take exams on the subjects but to do undergrad research and have the hands-on experience in the lab is an amazing experience."

To learn more about Dr. Jagadeeswaran's lab, visit: https://zfin.org/ZDB-LAB-980303-1