Faculty by Research Area

Coevolutionary Interactions

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Maybe Berenbaum,  May

216A Morrill Hall / 318B Morrill Hall
217-333-2910 / 217-333-7784

Professor & Head, Swanlund Chair
Entomology, PEEC

Dietrich Dietrich,  Christopher

282 Natural Resources Building

Affiliate, Associate Center Director, Systematic Entomologist
Entomology, PEEC, INHS

Kheath Heath,  Katy

249 Morrill Hall

Associate Professor
School of Integrative Biology, Plant Biology, PEEC

My research focuses on the evolution of mutualisms, which are most generally defined as species interactions that increase the fitness of both (or all) partners. Mutualisms are ubiquitous! And they include some of the most important species interactions in nature (for example: mitochondria, mycorrhizae, gut endosymbionts). Though, at first impression, these friendly interactions might appear tightly coevolved, instead they may be characterized by temporal and spatial heterogeneity, cheating, even evolutionary instability. I try to take a multidisciplinary approach and use diverse methods that traditionally are associated with the fields of quantitative genetics (multivariate statistics, greenhouse experiments), population and molecular genetics (genotyping, sequence analysis, expression assays), and ecology (field manipulations, collections) to understand multiple aspects of the evolution of mutualisms. Some questions currently motivating my work include: 1. Under what conditions (including the abiotic and biotic environment) do mutualisms evolve, remain stable, or break down?&nbsp; 2. How phenotypically and genetically variable are mutualistic interactions, and why is such variation maintained, despite selective pressure to cheat or, alternatively, to remain honest? 3. Which genes are variable in nature, and which are, or have been, important players in coevolution? Most generally, I am interested in plants, microbes, and their sundry interactions. Most of my research focuses on the interactions between legumes and their symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria, called rhizobia. This includes the <em>Medicago-Sinorhizobium</em> mutualism because it is a great genetic model with an interesting ecology. I also have interests/projects in: the agronomically-important soybean-<em>Bradyrhizobium</em> interaction, invasive/naturalized clover-rhizobium interactions, invasive/naturalized <em>Medicago lupulina</em>-<em>Sinorhizobium </em>interactions, and the native prairie legume <em>Chamaecrista fasciculata</em> and associated rhizobia.
Kpjohnso Johnson,  Kevin

284 Natural Resources Building, 607 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign, IL 61820

Affiliate, Principal Ornithologist
Animal Biology, Entomology, INHS, PEEC

Photo Paige,  Ken

483 Morrill Hall

Animal Biology, PEEC

Jrhodes Rhodes,  Justin

3315 Beckman Institute

Associate Professor

Seigler Seigler,  David


Professor Emeritus & Curator of Herbarium
Plant Biology, PEEC

Secondary metabolites of many structural types form the basis of many biological interactions in which plants are involved. Study of secondary metabolism, the interactions in which secondary metabolites serve as mediators or messages, and the evolutionary relationships of organisms in which these interactions occur is the central focus of research in my laboratory. We are presently developing and evaluating the activity of mixtures of soy oil products and plant secondary metabolites as insecticides for mosquitoes. This work is in collaboration with Dr. Robert Novak, Center for Economic Entomology, Illinois State Natural History Survey, and Dr. Robert Metcalf, Professor Emeritus, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois. We have presently developed mosquitocidal mixtures and have identified fractions from several plants that also possess mosquitocidal activity. By combining the two, we hope to reduce the amount of oil mixtures needed to control mosquitoes effectively. In collaborative work with Dr. Mary Ann Lila Smith of NRES, we are extracting, fractionating and purifying bioactive compounds from several berries that have powerful antioxidant activity. Extracts of these fruits give positive results in antioxidant, cancer preventive and cardioprotective bioassays. We are presently attempting to identify and characterize the compounds responsible. As a part of this work, we are modifying and improving chromatographic techniques needed to fractionate the mixtures. We have examined systematic and phylogenetic problems in the genus Acacia for several years and have published revisions of several portions of this large genus (about 250 neotropical species). Initial phases of this work, involving analysis using morphological features of two series of the genus, Acacia series Gummiferae and Vulgares are in progress. However, use of DNA sequencing of both chloroplast and nuclear encoded characters is essential to establish phylogenies of these taxa solidly. We are presently isolating DNA and carrying out amplification of the ITS regions. In the coming year, I plan to obtain sequences of several key taxa of each group within the genus and to apply for NSF funding for this project. Past research has focused on compounds capable of liberating HCN upon hydrolysis - both cyanogenic glycosides and lipids. Although studies have involved a number of plant groups, recent investigations have centered on the genus Acacia (Fabaceae) of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, and the Passifloraceae and related families, providing a base for resolution of systematic and evolutionary problems as well as biological interactions within the groups. In related work, we are exploring cyanogenesis in the genus Tiquilia (Boraginaceae) of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Some species contain the cyanogenic glucoside dhurrin, whereas, in others, a non-cyanogenic nitrile glucoside, menisdaurin, is found. The two glucosides have been considered to arise from distinct pathways, but our results suggest strongly that their biosynthesis is linked. Menisdaurin itself may be formed as an artifact from another cyanogenic compound that can only be isolated from the plant under conditions that avoid heating. This heat-labile cyanogen has not been characterized.
Rstumpf Stumpf,  Rebecca

Department of Anthropology


Rwhitakr Whitaker,  Rachel

C222 Chemical and Life Sciences Laboratory

Associate Professor
Molecular and Cellular Biology, PEEC

Jwhitfie Whitfield,  James

215 Morrill Hall

Entomology, PEEC