Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Integrative Life Sciences

First Advisor

Amanda Dickinson

Second Advisor

Rob Tombes

Third Advisor

Rita Shiang

Fourth Advisor

Greg Walsh

Fifth Advisor

Maria Rivera


Among the most prevalent and devastating types of human birth defects are those affecting the mouth and face, such as orofacial clefts. Children with malformed orofacial structures undergo multiple surgeries throughout their lifetime and struggle with facial disfigurements, speech, hearing, and eating problems. Therefore, facilitating new research in cranio- and orofacial development is paramount to prevention and treatment of these types of birth defects in humans. Xenopus laevis has emerged as a new tool for dissecting the mechanisms governing facial development. Thus, molecular analyses accompanied by quantitative assessment of morphological changes during orofacial development of this species could be very powerful for understanding how these defects arise. In this dissertation, I present such a study. I first establish a quantitative protocol to describe size and shape changes in facial morphology of wild-type Xenopus embryos. I then utilize this method on embryos in which retinoic acid signaling or folate metabolism have been disrupted to correlate morphological changes with their underlying mechanisms. Finally, I demonstrate the utility of Xenopus as a system for chemical genomics to uncover other regulators of orofacial development.


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