Talk by Professor Ian Baldwin – University of Copenhagen

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Talk by Professor Ian Baldwin

On 27 May Professor Ian Baldwin from Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany will give a talk with the title: "Timing is everything in ecology".

Plants are rooted literally and figuratively at the base of most food chains on this planet, but being passive food for the rest of planet’s heterotrophs is not the role they have chosen. This talk will describe two decades of research into how a native tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata, that lives in the Great Basin Desert of the SW USA has been developed into a model system for the study of all types of plant-ecological interactions, particularly those biotic interactions that dominate  the agricultural niche.

This plant recognizes attack from specific herbivore species by the particular chemistry of the herbivore’s saliva, and uses this recognition to tailor and time the expression of a complicated 5-layered defense response that requires a remodeling of the plant’s transcriptome, metabolome and proteome, as well as some of its life history traits. This signaling network appears to have hijacked components of the plant’s circadian clock to enact developmental changes that are part of the defense response.

The science writer, Michael Pollan, inverted the relationship between humans and their domesticated plants to argue that it was plants that domesticated humans, and not vice versa. Nicotiana attenuata has had designs more Machiavellian than domestication for the heterotrophs that feed on it, but it also appears that some of the plant’s heterotrophs have responded with tricks of their own and this talk will also show how a seed feeder turns the tables on plants in the game of apparency.

Ian Baldwin studied biology and chemistry at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and graduated in 1989 with a PhD in chemical ecology from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

He was an Assistant (1989), Associate (1993) and Full Professor (1996) in the Department of Biology at SUNY Buffalo.

In 1996 he became the Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology where he heads the Department of Molecular Ecology.