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ISU Panorama. Photo by Chuck Peterson.


Heather Ray Portrait

Heather Ray, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Developmental Biology

Office: Life Sciences 204 & 305

(208) 282-5766


Curriculum Vitae


The process of embryonic development, encompassing the time from fertilized egg to birth, is a beautiful and complex series of intricately coordinated events. My research interests lie in uncovering the molecular events that drive this process. In particular, I focus on development of cell populations (neural ectoderm and neural crest) that arise during neurulation, the time when the central nervous system takes its shape. This time in development is highly sensitive to both genetic and environmental perturbations and indeed, disruption in the development of the neural ectoderm and neural crest lead to a large proportion of the total birth defects that occur in the United States and across the world. By identifying how these tissues develop at the molecular level, we not only learn the fundamental biology of normal developmental processes, but learn about how specific genetic mutations identified in patients can lead to the appearance of birth defects.


2016 PhD Cell Biology Stem Cells and Development, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
2010 MS Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio
2006 BS Biology, Honors College, Oregon State University

Biographical Sketch

My love for Biology and the natural world started from a young age. My dad is an avid outdoorsman and much of my childhood was spent exploring the wonders of the various environments we lived in, from the woods of the Sierra Nevada range to the geothermal wonders of Iceland to the majesty of Oregon's Pacific coastline. My love of the embryo came much later, when I took an undergraduate Developmental Biology course. I watched through a microscope as a frog embryo took shape in front of my very eyes and I was hooked. Indeed, I use frog embryos to perform the research in my own lab today. This started me on a great educational journey that took me from Texas to Colorado, Alabama and finally here to ISU in 2019. I look forward to sharing my love of the embryo with others here and hope to spark the same excitement in my students that I experienced years ago. While my research interests have turned me into a "lab rat", I have never lost my love for the outdoors. I am thrilled to be back in the mountain west and when I'm not peering through the oculars of a microscope, I can be found in the mountains with my husband, my dog, and my backpack.


BIOL 1101 Introductory Biology
BIOL 3324 Developmental Biology

Selected publications

1. Ray, H.J., Chang, C. (2020) The transcription factor Hypermethylated in Cancer 1 (Hic1) regulates neural crest migration via interaction with Wnt signaling. Dev. Biol. 463: 169-181
2. Popov, I.K., Ray, H.J., Skoglund, P., Keller, R., Chang, C. (2018) The RhoGEF protein Plekhg5 regulates apical constriction of bottle cells during gastrulation. Development 145:dev168922
3. Alkobtawi, M.*, Ray, H.J.*, Barriga, E. H., Moreno, M., Kerney, R., Monsoro-Burq, AH., Saint-Jennet, JP, Mayor, R. (2018) Characterization of Pax3 and Sox10 transgenic Xenopus laevis embryos as tools to study neural crest development. Dev. Biol. 444: S202-S208 *Authors contributed equally
4. Ray, H.J., Niswander, L (2016) Dynamic behaviors of the non-neural ectoderm during mammalian cranial neural tube closure. Dev Biol 416 (2): 279-85
5. Ray, H.J., Niswander, L. (2016) Grainyhead-like 2 Downstream Targets act to suppress epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition during neural tube closure. Development 143 (7): 1192-204
6. Ray, H.J., Niswander, L. (2012) Mechanisms of tissue fusion during development. Development 139: 1701-1711