CLEMSON – As a child, Jill Walton’s grandfather, a microbiology professor, introduced her to the array of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses that comprise the microbiome. Walton has been fascinated by it ever since.

Walton is an undergraduate researcher in professor Barbara Campbell’s lab.
Image Credit: College of Science

She joined Clemson University in 2016 as a freshman in microbiology, and soon after became an undergraduate researcher in professor Barbara Campbell’s lab in the department of biological sciences.

Walton’s research on the functional diversity of symbionts in the lucinid clam, Phacoides pectinatus helped her earn a 2018 Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology. The fellowship, in the amount of $4,000, will fund 10-12 weeks of Walton’s research as she works toward understanding the bacteria that live in symbiosis with Phacoides pectinatus.

“I am looking at the vitamin B12 pathway that is found only in one of the bacteria located in the clam tissue, which is significant because eukaryotic organisms aren’t able to produce vitamin B12 – it’s a limiting nutrient in marine environments,” Walton said. “By investigating the activity of this pathway, I can see if the bacteria that contain genes for the pathway are potentially transporting vitamin B12 to other bacteria in the clam tissue and the clam itself.”

It’s the problem-solving aspect of her undergraduate research, Walton says, that inspires her to continue working in the lab.

“I believe that microbes may hold the key to solving some of the major environmental issues impacting the world,” she said.

In Campbell's lab, Walton studies the functional diversity of symbionts in a lucinid clam.

In Campbell’s lab, Walton studies the functional diversity of symbionts in a lucinid clam.
Image Credit: Barbara Campbell

As her research unfolds in the 2018-2019 academic year, Walton will have the opportunity to submit her findings for presentation at ASM Microbe 2019, the society’s annual conference. If her abstract is accepted, Walton will receive up to $2,000 to attend the conference and other professional development workshops led by ASM.

Walton is quick to acknowledge all of the mentors and programs at Clemson that have contributed to the development of her studies.

“Last summer, I received Creative Inquiry funding and was able to work in Dr. Campbell’s lab, which was a wonderful learning experience. Jean Lim, the graduate student who is in charge of our Creative Inquiry, and Dr. Campbell have helped me learn valuable research and writing skills that will make me a competitive applicant when I apply for graduate school.”

After graduating, Walton hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology or environmental science to explore sustainability-related applications of microbiology.

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Katherine Floyd, a junior in biochemistry, also received a 2018 ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Read more here.