My research focuses on the evolution of insect-microbe-plant interactions. As an evolutionary ecologist at the Biosystematics goup, I am interested in the evolutionary pathways that gave rise to intricate interactions between plants, butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) their symbiotic microbes and natural enemies (hymenopteran parasitoids). Caterpillars of lepidopteran insect pests cause serious problems in agriculture and forestry, and finding alternatives to chemical pesticides is important to reduce their threats to agricultural production. I recently received a 5-year grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to unravel the mechanism of a pest egg-killing trait in a cabbage crop. Together with my team I will combine molecular and genomic techniques, phylogenetic analysis, chemical analysis of plant and insect metabolites, and experimental ecological studies to gain novel insights on how plants make use of this highly effective first line-of-defence. The project is supported by several crop breeding and seed companies.
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