I. A Short Biased History of an Interdisciplinary Field
II. Nicotiana attenuata’s Responses to Attack from a Nicotine-tolerant Herbivore
III. Plant’s Perspective on Seeds, Sex, and Microbes
Part I: A Short Biased History of an Interdisciplinary Field
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Although plants cannot move, they have developed mechanisms to defend themselves and avoid predators. In his first talk, Dr. Ian Baldwin provides a historical perspective on the study of metabolites in plants and the benefits of combining different disciplines to study how metabolites are used by plants to solve ecological problems. Using this interdisciplinary approach, Baldwin and collaborators reveal the mechanism by which the native tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata, uses floral metabolites to attract and guide its favorite pollinator, a moth, Manduca sexta.
Nicotiana attenuata generates toxic levels of nicotine, which protects this plant from predation by most animals. In his second talk, Baldwin outlines the evolutionary responses that this plant has to fight a nicotine-tolerant herbivore, the moth’s caterpillar. The caterpillar is not only able to feed on this nicotine-rich plant, it also uses the nicotine it consumes to protect itself from predators. But the plant has evolved a few mechanisms to confront this problem. For example, Baldwin and colleagues found that when the plant “senses” the presence of a caterpillar, it turns on signaling pathways that decrease its nicotine content and activates a 6-layered suite of responses that includes attracting the caterpillar’s predators, tolerating the damage caused by caterpillars, and switching its sexual system to avoid future caterpillar attack.
In his third talk, Baldwin addresses two different mechanisms by which Nicotiana attenuata can rapidly adapt to the extreme desert environment and survive the long wait before the next post-fire germination opportunity. The first mechanism involves a rapid haploid selection that occurs during mating. The plant relies on pollinators to transfer pollen from plant to plant and it selects pollinators by producing different types of flowers. It even has the capacity to increase a pollinator’s outcrossing rate by producing flowers with different levels of nicotine, from moderate to toxic levels, pressing the pollinator to visit multiple flowers from different plants while nectaring. The second process involves the recruitment of beneficial microbes from the soil after germination
Dr. Ian Baldwin is a professor and director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology where he studies the Nicotiana attenuata as a model organism to understand how plants solve ecological problems. Baldwin received his AB in Chemistry and Biology from Dartmouth College in 1981 and started his graduate studies at Cornell University where he joined the Section of Neurobiology and Behavior. After graduating in 1989, he became a professor in the Department of Biology at SUNY Buffalo. He foresaw the importance of combining multiple disciplines to study plant ecology and in 1996, he co-founded the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, a multi-disciplinary center to study the chemically-mediated interactions of plants.
For his scientific contributions, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2013), and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2016). Learn more about Dr. Baldwin’s research here.
- Richard Amasino iBioSeminar: How do plants know when to flower?
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- Uma Ramakrishnan iBioSeminar: Biogeography: Studying the Distribution of Species Across Space
Karban, R., and I.T. Baldwin (1997) Induced Responses to Herbivory. Chicago University Press
Kessler, A. & I.T. Baldwin (2002) Plant responses to insect herbivory: The emerging molecular analysis. Annu Rev Plant Biol. 53:299-328
Baldwin, I.T., et.al. (2006) Volatile signaling in plant-plant interactions: “talking trees” in the genomic era. Science 311: 812–815
Wu, J. & I.T. Baldwin (2010) New insights into plant responses to the attack from insect herbivores. Annu Rev Genet 44: 1-24
Schuman, M.C. & I.T.Baldwin (2016) The layers of plant responses to insect herbivores. Annu Rev Entomol 61: 373-394
Selected Research papers:
Baldwin, I.T. & J.C. Schultz (1983) Rapid changes in tree leaf chemistry induced by damage: Evidence for communication between-plants. Science 221: 277-279
Kessler, A & I.T. Baldwin (2001) Defensive function of herbivore-induced plant volatile emissions in nature. Science 291: 2141-2144
Kessler, A., et.al. (2004) Silencing the jasmonate cascade: Induced plant defenses and insect populations. Science 305: 665-668
Kessler, D., et.al. (2008) Field experiments with transformed plants reveal the sense of floral scents. Science 321: 1200-1202
Allmann, S. & I.T. Baldwin (2010) Insects betray themselves in nature to predators by rapid isomerization of green leaf volatiles. Science 329: 1075-1078
Schuman, M.C., et. al. (2012) Herbivory-induced volatiles function as defenses increasing fitness of the native plant Nicotiana attenuata in nature. eLife: 1: e00007
Santhanam, R., et. al. (2015) Native root-associated bacteria rescues a plant from a sudden-wilt fungal disease that emerged during continuous cropping. PNAS 112: E5013-E5020