Jill Wallitschek, SWES Undergraduate Environmental Science Student

Jill Wallitschek

Jill Wallitschek is a senior in Environmental Science working on her undergraduate Honors College thesis with Dr. Ravi Palanivelu of the School of Plant Sciences. During her experience in SWES, she developed a strong interest in plant physiology and ecology. She began to specialize her environmental studies accordingly by taking courses that advanced her understanding of crops and sustainable agriculture. In order to spread this appreciation of plants, Jill became secretary for the School of Plant Science’s undergraduate club in 2014. She helped to teach plant propagation workshops and host faculty guest lectures for club members. After listening to one of those lectures presented by Dr. Ravi Palanivelu, Jill grew interested in pollen research and joined the Palanivelu Lab in the 2015.

The Palanivelu Lab uses the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to identify and characterize guidance signals generated by the pistil to direct pollen tubes to the embryo sac. For Jill’s Honors College thesis, she focuses on finding uncharacterized proteins expressed in pollen tubes and necessary for pollen tube reception. Her work uses a reverse genetics approach to screen potential candidates for reduced seed sets. After identifying these lines, Jill confirms the cause of the observed phenotype using a pollen tube stain. Understanding the process of pollen tube reception is agriculturally important as approximately 80% of the world’s staple food is derived from crop seeds. By increasing our molecular understanding of pollen tube biology, we equip ourselves with tools to improve seed yields, regulate inter species hybridizations, and to contain the spread of pollen in genetically altered crop species.

 

After graduation from the University of Arizona this May, Jill plans to enter a career in the field of agro-ecology. While pursuing this career, she wishes to continue her work in environmental outreach convinced that agricultural education is essential in adopting more sustainable farming practices. Her ultimate goal is to sustain our natural resource base by making drastic changes to how we practice agriculture.