Professor Monika Hilker Receives Silverstein-Simeone Award

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Cabbage White Butterfly Eggs on Leaf Image Credit: D. Kämmer

Cabbage White Butterfly Eggs on Leaf Image Credit: D. Kämmer

Freie Universität Berlin Biologist Wins Research Award for Her Work on Interactions between Plants and Insects

No 166/2019 from Jun 11, 2019

Professor of applied zoology and animal ecology at Freie Universität Berlin’s Institute of Biology, Monika Hilker, has received the Silverstein-Simeone Award for her research in the field of chemical ecology. The prize is named after the founders of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, Robert M. Silverstein and John Simeone. The scientific society deals with the chemistry and ecology of natural substances that regulate interactions between organisms. Monika Hilker’s work on the chemically based ecological relationships between plants and insects earned her this recognition. She and her team were able to show that plants can successfully defend themselves against insect infestation even in early stages of development by reacting to attempts to lay eggs.

For example, pine trees react to sawflies when they lay eggs in their needles by letting off a different kind of odor. The hungry sawfly larvae can be very destructive to these trees. The distinct odor induced by egg deposits sends out a call for help and draws parasites that are harmful to the sawfly eggs. The summoned parasites destroy the eggs ensuring that no hungry larvae emerge, and the pine tree thus reduces the damage that it would have otherwise suffered. Monika Hilker’s research has made significant contributions to understanding the chemical and molecular mechanisms behind these plant reactions. The specific findings regarding the chemistry of odor changes due to insect eggs as well as the study of the molecular basis for producing odor change have expanded scientists’ knowledge of how plants react to insect infestations.

Monika Hilker has been a professor of applied zoology and animal ecology at Freie Universität since 1995. She launched and now heads the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 973 "Priming and Memory of Organismic Responses to Stress," in which researchers study stress reactions in plants and how they are regulated ecologically, chemically, and molecularly. Professor Hilker is also a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Biodiversity Research (BBIB).