The Woodruff lab will explore how mammalian oocytes maintain their quality even after decades spent awaiting fertilization. Female mammals are born with a stockpile of oocytes that must survive in a dormant state until they are activated and released during a menstrual cycle. During this prolonged waiting period, oocytes can accumulate damaged proteins or develop metabolic imbalances that ultimately interfere with their ability to produce a healthy embryo. Although the ramifications of oocyte aging are well known, the molecular mechanisms that preserve oocyte quality are less clear. In my laboratory, I have determined that a structure within the oocyte, called the Balbiani body, offers some protection. Now, using techniques in cell and molecular genetics, synthetic biology, and materials engineering, I will identify the proteins that direct Balbiani body assembly in the oocytes of both worms and mammals and determine whether elimination of these factors triggers premature activation of protein synthesis or metabolism—events that could deplete oocyte quality and longevity. Our lab’s findings could lead to therapeutics for preserving oocyte quality and reversing age-related decline in female fertility.