An online global symposium celebrating “The Life and Legacy of Wittko Francke,” a renowned organic chemist based at the University of Hamburg, Germany--and a frequent collaborator with several UC Davis scientists--brought out his humanity.
Professor Francke died Dec. 27, 2020 at age 80 of complications from COVID-19.
The 29 speakers praised him as a brilliant and pioneering scientist, a dedicated teacher and researcher, a kind and loyal friend, a connoisseur of good wine and good food, and a generous—and sometimes anonymous—humanitarian. They also lauded his mentoring, congeniality, sense of humor, “keen olfactory system” and his Ping Pong skills.
“Wittko was one of the great pioneers shaping chemical ecology and the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE),” said Leal, a member of the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology faculty and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Francke served as ISCE president in 1989-90, and Leal in 2000-01.
Panelist and former ISCE president John Hildebrand of the University of Arizona said: “Every encounter with Wittko was unforgettable.”
Former student Jan Bergmann of the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile, a past president of the Latin American Association of Chemical Ecology, said the scientific community lost “a very productive and passionate researcher, a great colleague, mentor and friend.”
Toward the end of the symposium, Wittko's two sons, Christian and Michael offered their remembrances. Christian disclosed that Daaks-Chemicals, a key sponsor at an ISCE annual meeting, was “a fake” business meant to disguise the real donor--his father.
Leal then announced a fundraising project for the International Society of Chemical Ecology: “The Wittko Francke's Daaks-Chemical Fund."
Leal related this week that "There was enormous support. ISCE has now received more than $23,000. In honor of Wittko, ISCE will be establishing the annual Wittko Francke's Daaks-Chemicals Memorial Lecture."
It was Seybold who introduced Francke when he was a guest speaker at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Dec. 8, 2010. Images of them, along with Leal, postdoctoral scholar Zain Syed, and doctoral student Leslie Saul-Gershenz, opened the April 3rd symposium.
The event concluded with chemical ecology icon Wendell Roelofs, emeritus professor of Cornell University, and his wife, Joanne, offering a toast to the late chemical ecology giant who cherished good science, good friends and good wine.
The symposium drew widespread praise.
“I received more than 40 emails from people I know very well and others I never had the pleasure to meet; they shared their thoughts about the celebration,” Leal related. “Perhaps, one comment captures the sentiment of all: ‘Contributions to chemical ecology like Wittko's are at the center of why our field is so rewarding.'”
One email was from a professor from Japan, Shigeru Matsuyama, who collaborated with Seybold. “He wrote me that he was surprised that Steve Seybold had passed,” Leal said. “He had visited Seybold and his family in Davis and mentioned he “had a wonderful time, seeing his laboratory, walking around Davis Farmers Market, and enjoying food at Guadalajara.”
Born Nov. 28, 1940 and raised in Reinbek, near Hamburg, Germany, Francke studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg, obtaining his doctorate there in 1973. His thesis: "The Aggregation Pheromone of the Bark Beetle, Xyloterus domesticus. He was appointed professor of the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the University of Hamburg in 1985 and had served there until after his retirement.
A colleague once called him "The Mozart of Molecules," which Jan Bergmann noted, "summarizes eloquently the admiration of many had for his work, which is documented in more than 450 scientific publications." Among Francke's many global honors: the 1995 ISCE Silver Medal.
Former Francke student Stefan Schulz, a professor at the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Germany, an ISCE past president, wrote on the symposium's registration page: "Even in his early years, he showed some characteristics many associates with him, such as energy, determination, imagination, and creativity. Despite several offers, he stayed his whole academic career at the University of Hamburg, where he finally became a Full Professor and served different functions, including Dean of Chemistry. He always liked to teach, which he did happily even in his later years."
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology tweeted Dec. 29, 2020: "Wittko Francke's death is a severe loss for the field of Chemical Ecology. He was not only a great chemist, but he also had a large influence on the development of our institute being a key member of the advisory committee that set up our institute."
France was not only an "outstanding, hard-working scientist" but a "loving husband, father of two children and grandfather of four grandchildren," Bergmann wrote. "He was also a person with incredible kindness and generosity....He enjoyed bringing people together and deeply cared about his students, many of which stayed in touch with him long after they left his research group. His legacy will live on in those of us he has inspired and guided in so many ways."
Seen any gray hairstreaks, lately?
No, not on someone's head.
This is the butterfly, Strymon melinus, from the Lycaenidae family, known as the gossamer-winged butterflies.
It's an ashy gray butterfly with a white border. You'll also see orange spots on the ends of its hindwings and one on its head, in between the eyes.
One's been hanging around our fava beans, and what a welcome sight.
UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro of the Department of Evolution and Ecology says on his website:
"This is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known, recorded on host plants in many families. Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
"Early spring specimens," he says, "are small and very dark with reduced red markings; 'albinos,' with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Sadly, Shapiro, who has been monitoring the butterfly populations of central California since 1972, has been seeing very few butterflies this spring in his transects. Let's hope the butterflies get back on track and give us a winning streak.
Meanwhile, check out his newly renovated website, Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site.
A first-generation college student, Rajarapu holds two biochemistry degrees from Osmania University, India: her bachelor's degree (2006) and her master's degree (2008). She obtained her doctorate in entomology in 2013 from The Ohio State University, working with Professors Daniel Herms and Larry Phelan. Her dissertation: "Integrated Omics on the Physiology of Emerald Ash Borer."
Spring Seminar Schedule
Here's the seminar line-up for the spring quarter. All are scheduled from 4:10 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays.
University of Idaho, Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology
Title: "Understanding Aphonopelma Diversity Across the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands Hotspot by Integrating Western Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)"
Host: Jason Bond
University of Wyoming, Department of Geology and Geophysics
Title: "Ancient Bug-Bitten Leaves Reveal the Impacts of Climate and Plant Nutrients on Insect Herbivores"
Host: Emily Meineke
Pennsylvania State University, Department of Entomology
Title: "Ecoevolutionary Consequences of Crop Domestication on Plant-Pollinator Interactions"
Host: Rachel Vannette
For any questions, email Ian Grettenberger (firstname.lastname@example.org).
So here you are, a honey bee seeking nectar from an unopened citrus blossom.
And then your tongue (proboscis) becomes all sticky with pollen, nectar and other particles.
What to do: you, the worker bee, take a brief break and clean your tongue.
This "B" gets an "A" for good grooming and multi-tasking on "C" (citrus).
- The non-native honey bee, Apis mellifera, which European colonists brought to the Jamestown colony (now Virginia) in 1622
- The non-native Satsuma mandarin, Citrus unshiu, is of Chinese origin and named after Unsyu (Wenzhou), China, but introduced to the West via Japan.
What to do:
- Thank the honey bee for pollinating the citrus blossoms! Note that National Pollinator Week is June 21-27.
And when the 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day goes virtual on Saturday, April 17, the insects will go virtual, too.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be participating with virtual cockroach races and a series of talks. Among them: Bohart Museum associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas will present a pre-recorded video on Gulf Fritillary butterflies and entomologist Jeff Smith, the Bohart's volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection, will deliver a live (Zoom) talk from 1 to 2 p.m. on butterfly and moth mimicry.
"For my presentation on mimicry within Lepidoptera, it will briefly mention camouflage and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense--mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces," Smith said.
More events are pending.
The Bohart Museum, temporarily closed, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building. Directed by Professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum includes nearly eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewlery, hoodies, books and posters.
The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association is selling t-shirts on its website (including shirts featuring Roach Races), and soon will be offering face masks and stickers.
Discovering Silver Linings
This year's theme is “Discovering Silver Linings.” Despite all that has happened this year, the UC Davis community has continued to find silver linings everywhere, the Picnic Day officials reported on their website. "Our campus always strives to inspire hope and works towards a better and brighter tomorrow."
It all began, according to the UC Davis Picnic Day website, "when the University Farm invited the surrounding community to view their new dairy barn. Two thousand visitors attended, bringing picnics to complement the coffee, cream, and sugar provided by the University. Following the success of the 1909 picnic, the faculty of the University Farm continued to plan and sponsor the event until a student committee took over the task in 1912. Through the years of Picnic Day history, the event has only been canceled five times. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease among the cowherds caused the first cancellation. In 1938, delayed construction of the gymnasium, which was needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of participants, led to a second cancellation. During World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus, and Picnic Day disappeared from 1943 to 1945. Since 1946, Picnic Day has been growing strong and now boasts an annual attendance of more than 70,000 people. This year, there will be more than 200 events on campus and an estimated 75,000 visitors attending this special event. Since 1959, the parade was extended to include downtown Davis to celebrate the fact that Davis became a separate UC campus and not just the Farm School for UC Berkeley."
This year's Picnic Day won't look like the traditional Picnic Day, but it will include insects!