New faculty profile: Jill Wildonger

Jill Wildonger

Jill Wildoner joined the biochemistry department as an assistant professor early this year, and kindly agreed to share some information about herself with eCALS. This is the first in a new occasional series of eCALS Q & As with new faculty members.

Please describe your career path up to this point.
As an undergrad at Swarthmore College I lucked into a position in the lab of Mark Jacobs the summer after my sophomore year, studying how plants respond to light (our model was young zucchini). Working in the lab was great experience, and started me thinking about a career in basic research. The following semester I took a Neurobiology course and was hooked! I was fascinated by how neurons connect to and communicate with each other. I pursued my interest in nervous system development as a graduate student at Columbia University in the lab of Richard Mann, where I started using fruit flies as a model system, and then as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Yuh Nung Jan at the University of California, San Francisco.1

What is the main focus of your research program?
Every animal behavior, from the simple to the complex, relies on the communication of signals from neuron to neuron via signal-receiving dendrites and signal-sending axons. Dendrites and axons have unique and essential functions, yet we know very little about how these specialized compartments are established and maintained in vivo. We’re using fruit flies as an in vivo model system to identify mechanisms that create axons and dendrites, and to characterize how neuronal function is affected when these cellular compartments are not properly formed or maintained.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
The scientific community: I love that I can walk down the hallway and enter an RNA world, walk up a couple flights of stairs and talk fruit fly genetics, go across the street and chat about neurons, hop over to the neighboring building and learn about protein structures… the list goes on and on. It’s amazingly rich and diverse group of researchers, all of who have been extremely welcoming. It is so much fun to be scientist here, and I hope that I can contribute to the community in return.