UC Davis is among nine universities singled out for their work in this category. The others are Cornell University, Rutgers University, Virginia Tech, Pennsylvania State University,University of Massachusetts, Louisiana State University, University of Delaware, and North Carolina State University.
Under the category, “Researchers studied chemical cues that mediate interactions among plants, pests, and predators,” UC Davis (Karban) is credited with identifying “the sagebrush cues that trigger resistance against chewing herbivores” and also finding that “plant cue effectiveness is affected by the geographic proximity of the source of the cue.”
Under the category, “Researchers used chemical ecology to protect pollinators from pesticides and disease,” UC Davis (Vannette) is credited with identifying “floral chemistry traits and microbial communities that affect the patterns or preferences of hummingbirds, honey bees, and carpenter bees.”
The Multistate Research Fund supports agricultural innovation and sustainability by providing federal funds to collaborative research projects led by State Agricultural Experiment Stations and land-grant universities. These projects bring together scientists, Extension educators, and other university, federal, and industry partners to tackle high-priority regional or national issues in agriculture, a spokesman said.
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication, is the author of the landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
“Plants responded more effectively to volatile cues from close relatives than from distant relatives in all four experiments and communication reduced levels of leaf damage experienced over the three growing seasons,” they wrote.
Karban is a fellow of Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Michael Pollan featured him in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker: “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Vannette, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology andNematology in 2015 and a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2018, seeks to unlock the mysteries of flower microbes: how do plants protect against them, and can bees benefit from them?
The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms too). “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil,” according to her website. “We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?).
All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants, Vannette explains. “I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“Much of the work in my lab focuses on how microorganisms affect plant defense against herbivores and plant attraction to pollinators. For example, we are interested in understanding the microbial drivers of soil health, which can influence plant attractiveness to herbivores and the plant's ability to tolerate or defend against damage by herbivores. In addition, we are working to examine how microorganisms modify flower attractiveness to pollinators. This may have relevance in agricultural systems to improve plant and pollinator health.”
Vannette, a former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology (2011) from the University of Michigan. Her recent research grants include two from the National Science Federation (NSF). One is a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award, titled “Nectar Chemistry and Ecological and Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Plant Adaptation to Microbes and Pollinators.” The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
“Nature is more a world of scents than a source of noise.”
So said renowned organic chemist Wittko Francke (1940-2020) of the University of Hamburg, Germany, when he presented a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar at Briggs Hall on Dec. 8, 2010.
He was quoting Jacques Le Magnen (1916-2002), who pioneered research on olfaction and taste.
Professor Francke said that insects communicate in a chemical language or chemical signals. Scientists have long known that methods that can attract or repel insects have important applications for agricultural pests and medical entomology.
He told the crowd how a queen bee secretes compounds that regulate development and behavior of the colony, and how an orchid releases the scent of a female wasp to attract male wasps—activities that result in pollination. He also touched on the “calling cards” of a number of other insects, including bumble bees, wasps, pea gall midges, stingless bees, bark beetles and leafminers, and pointed out that plants, too, send chemical signals.
Sadly, Francke passed away Dec. 27, 2020 at age 80.
"The scientific community loses a very productive and passionate researcher, a great colleague, mentor and friend," wrote former student Jan Bergmann of the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile, a past president of the Latin American Association of Chemical Ecology. Bergmann's tribute appears on one of @ALAEQ2 tweets.
And sadly, the chemical ecologist who introduced Francke at the UC Davis seminar--Steve Seybold of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--died Nov. 15, 2019 at age 60.
No stranger to UC Davis, Francke collaborated with chemical ecologist Walter Leal, a UC Davis distinguished professor of molecular and cellulary biology and former chair of the entomology department, on attractants for navel orangeworm. In his talk, Francke mentioned Leal's discovery of a sophisticated mechanism for the isolation of the chemical communication channels of two species of scarab beetles.
To celebrate the life and legacy of Francke and his work, Leal is organizing an online symposium set for 10 a.m. (Pacific Time) on Saturday, April 3. Register to participate or attend at https://tinyurl.com/3jsfcub7
Francke was one of the great pioneers shaping chemical ecology and the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE), said Leal, an ISCE past president.
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 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.
Francke was not only an "outstanding, hard-working scientist" but a "loving husband, father of two children and grandather 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."
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."
On April 3, the scientific and personal world of Professor Francke will come together to remember his life and legacy and pay tribute to "The Mozart of Molecules."
Chemical ecologist Anjel Helms of Texas A&M University will share information on that topic from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28, in a virtual seminar hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Access this site for the Zoom link.
Host and the fall seminar coordinator is Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"The research in our lab focuses on understanding how chemical compounds mediate interactions among microbes, plants, herbivores, and herbivore natural enemies," Helms says. "We combine analytical chemistry and behavioral ecology in laboratory and field-based research to investigate how organisms use chemistry to navigate, communicate, and defend themselves. This seminar will discuss some of our ongoing projects examining how plants and insect herbivores use chemical information from their environment to assess their risk of attack and how herbivore natural enemies use such information to find potential prey."
The insects Helms researches include the striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) and squash bug (Anasa tristis).
Helms, an assistant professor, holds two degrees from Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., both awarded in 2009: a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in biochemistry. She received her doctorate in ecology in 2015 from The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn. While in the John Tooker lab, Helms studied the chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, especially how plants defend themselves against insect herbivores. She investigated how plants use olfactory cues to predict impeding herbivore attacks and the molecular mechanisms involved.
In addition to the general field of chemical ecology, Helms' research interests include plant-insect interactions, tritrophic interactions, belowground chemical ecology, chemical communication, and plant defense.
Her most recent publications:
Helms, A.M., Ray, S., Matulis, N.L.*, Kuzemchak, M.C.*, Grisales, W.*, Tooker, J.F., Ali, J.G. Chemical cues linked to risk: Cues from belowground natural enemies enhance plant defences and influence herbivore behaviour and performance. Functional Ecology. 33, 798-808 (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.13297
Acevedo, F.E., Smith, P., Peiffer, M., Helms, A.M., Tooker, J.T., Felton, G.W. Phytohormones in fall armyworm saliva modulate defense responses in plants. Journal of Chemical Ecology. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-019-01079-z
Yip, E.C., Sowers, R.P.*, Helms, A.M., Mescher, M.C., De Moraes, C.M., Tooker, J.F. Tradeoffs between defenses against herbivores in goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 13, 279-287 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11829-019-09674-3
For any technical issues regarding the seminar, contact Grettenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So says noted chemical ecologist Walter Leal, newly selected recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching from the UC Davis Academic Senate.
The award recognizes outstanding teaching and dedication to student success. Leal will be honored with other Academic Senate and Academic Federation award recipients at a ceremony in the spring.
"When I started teaching chemistry in high school--while I was a sophomore in college--students were only one to two years older than me," said Leal, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology). "Now they are younger than my sons and daughter! My goal remains the same--not only to excite students about the content of my lectures, be it high school chemistry, insect physiology, or biochemistry, but also to trigger their curiosity.
"I don't teach because I have to; I teach because it is a joy to light the way and to spark the fire of knowledge," Leal said. "Teaching is, and out to be, the raison d'etre of a university professor. It is really an honor to receive the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award. Many thanks to my peers, all students, and teaching assistants, particularly Fran Keller and Silvia Hilt who teamed up for insect physiology and biochemistry, respectively, for more than three years."
Nominator J. Clark Lagarias, distinguished professor of biochemistry in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology described Leal as an exemplary, innovative and highly respected teacher. “Walter excels in developing new courses, programs and teaching methods. He is a trendsetter whose passion, innovation, dedication and outstanding contributions to teaching inspire us all.”
Distinguished professor James R. Carey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--and the recipient of four teaching awards including the Academic Senate's top teaching award--praised Leal's innovative and dedicated teaching.
"I consider Professor Leal as an exceptional instructor," Carey wrote in the nomination packet. "His exceptionalism is derived from his dedication to student learning, his innovation in content delivery, his engagement with students (including his always-clever touches of humor), and his ability to both motivate them and incentivize their investment in studies. All of these efforts rest on the deep foundation of the disciplinary authority that he brings to the classroom as an eminent basic and applied biochemist, a stature that his students clearly recognize...Walter is a natural teacher who not only speaks with a voice of great authority in the classroom, but with the voice of a person who cares deeply about student learning."
Stanford graduate student Garrison Buss, who studied with Leal ("my research mentor at UC Davis"), said the professor "consistently encouraged active learning at a high level through a variety of modalies. Among these, the most novel and beneficial included having students solve equations by writing them out on an iPad and projecting what they wrote in real time—similar to having a portable overhead projector that any student in the lecture hall could use. This way, the whole class could see and provide feedback by critiquing the problem and solutions together with Dr. Leal. The lecture material itself was also innovative. Dr. Leal would show videos of real life experiments and interviews that he had made with prominent scientists who were subject matter experts in the topic that we were discussing."
"The lecture material itself was also innovative," Buss related. "Dr. Leal would show videos of real life experiments and interviews that he had made with prominent scientists who were subject matter experts in the topic that we were discussing. As an instructor, he challenged the way that I understood my academic performance and through his extra effort showed me that I could achieve much more than I had previously believed. As a mentor, he gave me opportunities and responsibilities that were out of reach for many of my fellow researchers."
A native of Brazil, Leal was educated in Brazil, Japan and the United States in the fields of chemical ecology, biochemistry, insect physiology and olfaction. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2000, and chaired the Department of Entomology from 2006 to 2008.
The veteran teacher, a member of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology faculty since 2013, has taught insect physiology for 13 years and biochemistry for six years. In his classrooms, he employs the strategic use of digital technology, which has led to such unsolicited comments on the “Rate My Professors” website as “best professor at UC Davis.” His tools include Camtasia, PowerPoints, podcasts, e-reviews and Skype for ease of learning and knowledge retention. He generates animated e-reviews by recording a narrative summary of each of his lectures with Camtasia software. In place of a verbal narrative, his students watch videos--featuring animations and illustrations--to review major concepts.
The e-reviews can be time-consuming to produce but he considers them—and rightfully so—valuable for increased student engagement and comprehension. With Skype, Leal also brings noted guests into his classroom: researchers, textbook authors and colleagues who have made landmark discoveries in the field.
Known as a leader and inventor as well as a noted scientist and teacher, Leal co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology and also served as president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology. He is a fellow of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America, which selected him to deliver the Founders' Memorial Lecture at its recent meeting in St. Louis, Mo. His topic chronicled the life of Tom Eisner, the father of chemical ecology and a role model: “Tom Eisner: an Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence.” Leal also is a newly selected fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors and encourages academic inventions that benefit society.
Teaching, however is the raison d'etre.
"I don't teach because I have to; I teach because it is a joy to light the way and to spark the fire of knowledge."
Jordan, the second-highest-scoring NBA player scorer (5,987 points), "wasn't good enough" to make his high school varsity basketball team (at first). And the late Tom Eisner, the renowned Cornell University professor who went on to be known as "the father of chemical ecology," just "wasn't good enough" to be accepted at Cornell as an undergraduate student.
"Sorry, you didn't make it!" probably rang in their ears.
So when chemical ecologist and distinguished professor Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, delivers the Founders' Memorial Award Lecture on Tom Eisner (1929-2011) at the Nov. 17-20 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in America's Center in St. Louis, Mo., the Jordan-Eisner comparison will surface amid all of Eisner's incredible accomplishments, including his National Medal of Science award in 1994 from President Bill Clinton for his "seminal contributions in the fields of insect behavior and chemical ecology, and for his international efforts on biodiversity."
Leal will speak on "Tom Eisner--An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence" at the Founders' Breakfast meeting that begins at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 19. His presentation, at 8:15, promises to be inspirational, educational and entertaining. (And it's free to all ESA meeting registrants.)
ESA established the Founders' Memorial Award in 1958 to honor the memory of scientists providing outstanding contributions to entomology.
Eisner is known as an exemplary scientist, teacher and leader whose research discoveries focused on how insects use their chemical substances as friends or foes: to attract mates or to defend from foes. He discovered how "a bombardier beetle creates a chemical reaction within its body and then ejects a boiling hot chemical from its abdomen." As Joe Rominiecki, ESA communications manager, said: “Notable among them was deciphering how the bombardier beetle defends itself with an internal exothermic chemical reaction, explosively sprayed at attackers. That discovery topped a lengthy list of revelations about the complex and often surprising biochemicals insects produce, from the bitter, predator-deterring taste of the cochineal scale's brilliant red pigment to the sticky foot secretions that allow the palmetto beetle to cling so tightly to leaf surfaces.“
Leal, whose career spans three decades (see Bug Squad blog) built his career on Eisner's work. So we asked Leal to name 10 interesting facts about Tom Eisner. He obliged.
- Tom Eisner was born in Nazi Germany, moved to Spain, grew up in Uruguay, moved to the United States, and lived the rest of life here.
- In 1969 Tom delivered the Founders' Memorial Lecture to honor Robert Snodgrass. This year he is being honored by the same memorial lecture.
- Tom was an excellent musician; he owned three Steinway Grands (two remain with his daughters and the other he gave to the Cornell Music Department
- Cornell University rejected his undergraduate application in 1947.
- After being rejected by Cornell, Tom attended community college and received both his bachelor's degree and doctorate from Harvard.
- Ten years after Cornell rejected his undergraduate application, Cornell hired him as an assistant professor. Tom kept a framed copy of his rejection letter from Cornell on his office wall, all during his career.
- Tom is considered one of the founding fathers of chemical ecology but he joked that this cannot be proved "without a paternity test."
- Tom humbly said he had no good ideas, but that he "got good data to support other people's ideas."
- One of Tom's many covers of Science appeared on 4th of July (1969) to highlight the “fireworks” from bombardier beetles.
- For an unknown reason, Tom never traveled by air. He loved to drive long stretches to allow time to connect thoughts and relive experiences.
Leal, whose distinguished career includes co-chair of the 2016 International Congress of Entomology (ICE), serves as a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and is a past chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology). In his research, Leal investigates the molecular basis of olfaction in insects and insect chemical communication. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.)
And another factoid: Leal is the first UC Davis scientist selected to present the Founders' Memorial Lecture. (Medical entomologist Shirley Luckhart of the University of Idaho, formerly of UC Davis, delivered the lecture in 2018.)
One other factoid: Tom Eisner, born in Berlin, was multi-lingual in German, French, Spanish and later English. Leal, born in Brazil, speaks Portuguese, Japanese and English fluently.
(Editor's Note: Listen to Walter Leal's presentation on YouTube)