Can Plants Cry for Help When Attacked by Pests?

In free public lecture on May 2 at UC Riverside geneticist Linda Walling will discuss plant-insect interactions

Photo shows Asian citrus psyllid nymphs on a lemon plant.

Asian citrus psyllid nymphs on a lemon plant. Photo credit: Mike Lewis, CISR, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Why is it important to understand plant-insect interactions? What does whitefly control have to do with world-wide food security? Do plants “cry” for help after insect attack? Do they “talk” with each other to protect against further insect attack? If plants “cry” and “talk” what is their language? Can insects “deceive” their hosts and suppress effective defenses?

The public has an opportunity to find out on May 2, when Linda Walling, a professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, will give a free lecture on campus to discuss plant immune responses that protect against pathogens and pests.

The lecture is the second in the annual Science Lecture Series hosted by the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS). This year the theme is “The Science of Disease.” The series aims to boost the public’s awareness and understanding of science and of how scientists work.

Photo shows Linda Walling.

Linda Walling is a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

Walling’s hour-long talk is titled “Friends and enemies: Dynamic interactions of plants and insects.” It will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Rooms C, D and E, University Extension Center (UNEX).  Seating is open.  Parking at UNEX is free for lecture attendees.

With 50 percent of the insect species obtaining their nutrition from plants, the field of plant-insect interactions is a robust and exciting field. The goals of Walling’s laboratory are to identify the plant genes that control defense traits to insects and utilize these genes to identify new mechanisms to control the losses due to herbivory.

“This field is intimately involved in understanding plant responses to insect wounding and oral secretions,” Walling said. “Over the past decades, we now understanding the complexity of these interactions and many responses are due the volatile blends emitted by damaged or insect-infested plants. Plants and insects detect these chemical bouquets. Plants alter gene expression programs and insects and their natural enemies alter their behaviors. My talk will focus on some of the unique findings that have emerged from this field of investigation.”

Walling is a faculty member in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and is currently the graduate advisor for the Plant Biology Graduate Program that has more than 60 graduate students. She served as Divisional Dean of Life Sciences in CNAS from 2003 to 2009.

Her lab focuses on understanding the plant defenses that protect plants from damage by tissue-damaging caterpillars and phloem-feeding whiteflies. She performs these studies in crops (tomato, squash, alfalfa) and model plant species (Arabidopsis).

Walling is currently an editor for the Journal of Chemical Ecology (2003 to present) and was senior editor for the journal Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions (2003 to 2009). She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). She has served as an elected member of ASPB’s Executive Committee (2003 to 2006) and AAAS’s Electorate Nominating Committee (2012 to present).

Walling has received training for the development of faculty success programs from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/Burrough Welcome Fund’s Making the Right Moves and the University of Pittsburgh’s Survival Skills programs. She is co-founder of the UCR Success and Leadership Skills for the Academe (SALSA) program that was sponsored by CNAS and UCR’s Office of Research

Walling was trained as an Escherichia coli bacteriophage geneticist and received her Ph.D. from the Department of Microbiology at the University of Rochester Medical School in 1980. Her first postdoctoral fellowship was at Rockefeller University where she studied mechanisms of gene expression in mouse liver. Her entry into the plant world was during a second postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, where she investigated transcriptional and post-transcriptional control of seed protein gene expression in soybeans.  She joined UCR in 1984.

Her lecture will be introduced by Derrick Sergeant, a science teacher in the Riverside Unified School District.

More information about the lecture series can be obtained by visiting, calling (951) 827-6555 or emailing Carol Lerner.

Teachers interested in receiving professional development credit for attending the lecture series must make arrangements in advance with University Extension [; (951) 827-1653].

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

More information about the Science Lecture Series
Tel: (951) 827-6555

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