Dr. Meredith Schuman

   Department of Molecular Ecology
 Phone:+49 (0)3641 57 1116Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
 Fax:+49 (0)3641 57 1102Hans-Knöll-Straße 8
  emailD-07745 Jena

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Current Research:

Herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) are emitted by plants within minutes to days after an herbivore begins to feed and can provide spatiotemporal information about an herbivore’s identity and presence to its predators and parasitoids. These natural enemies can disable or completely remove herbivores before the plant suffers further damage.

My group is working on the ecological roles of volatile emission in the wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata. The perspective from which I am asking questions is a diurnal perspective as part the Clockwork Green project. The core question I am working on as part of Clockwork Green is how the plant's diurnal rhythm and circadian clock regulates the emission of volatiles, or the interactions they mediate. In order to answer this question fully, we can investigate several levels. The broadest is the level of ecological interactions: how are plants' ecological interactions mediated by volatiles? How important is the timing of volatile emissions in these interactions, and in what way? At the level of mechanism, we can ask: how are plant volatile emissions controlled, by signal cascades, hormones, and localization in tissues, and to what extent by the plant's internal clock or diurnal cues? Finally, at the level of genetics, we can ask: what are the genetic mechanisms of biosynthesis and regulation underlying plant volatile emission, including natural variation of emission patterns in populations?

Populations of the native tobacco Nicotiana attenuata are genetically diverse and individuals produce strikingly different HIPV blends which may vary quantitatively and qualitatively. Some of the more common HIPVs (green leaf volatiles, GLVs and the sesquiterpene trans-alpha-bergamotene) have been shown to attract predatory insects of the genus Geocoris. Furthermore, GLVs have been shown to prime defense responses in other plant species, and regulate gene expression and some defenses in N. attenuata.

I am interested in how HI-VOC bouquets mediate both tritrophic plant-insect interactions and plant-plant interactions. We are conducting glasshouse and field studies with plants genetically engineered to alter their emission of GLVs and terpenoid HIPVs, including trans-alpha-bergamotene. Plants in our experiments are placed in different controlled communities consisting either of two neighboring plants, or of more than two plants. We observe the genetic, chemical, phenotypic, and ecological responses of plants in these communities. In addition, we are using lines silenced in single signaling genes to dissect the mechanism of elicitation of HIPVs. In the future we would like to determine the mechanisms by which Geocoris insects perceive and associate particular HIPVs with their preferred prey. More information about my current research is available here: Molecular Ecology Project Groups.

I have developed in interest in evolutionary game theory thanks in part to a wonderful course led by Dr. Christian Kost (group leader in the Department of Bioorganic Chemistry) Prof. Stefan Schuster and Sabine Hummert (Department of Bioinformatics, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena). I am interested in the application of evolutionary game theory to questions in chemical ecology, and perhaps plant chemical diversity and plant-insect interactions.
last updated on 2013-11-15