Jonathan GershenzonDirector, Department of Biochemistry and Professor, Friedrich-Schiller University
Organization: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology - Germany
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My scientific experiences traverse disciplines and continents, but the focus has usually remained on plant natural products. This group of substances includes the huge variety of compounds that give plants their special colors, smells and tastes and often make them toxic and pharmacologically active to humans. After early research on the chemistry of plant natural [products (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin) and their biosynthesis (Washington State University, Pullman), I moved to my current position in Germany to start investigating the ecological roles of these compounds in plant defense. One current facet of this work is to understand how some herbivores are able to survive on chemically well-defended plants by metabolic breakdown and excretion of defensive natural products. Since some whitefly taxa feed without apparent ill effects on a variety of plants with toxic latex, cyanogens and glucosinolates, I have long wondered what mechanisms they have developed to circumvent plant defenses and how these have evolved. Thus, I welcome the opportunity to be part of this cassava whitefly project.