Jared Ali

Plant roots have chemicals that recruit good creatures to eat the bad ones

contributed by Jared Ali @thinktunnel


Agriculture, Animals, Behavior, Black ecologist, Chemical ecology, Communication, Ecology, Experimental, Field, First generation, Fundamental research, Indirect, Lab, North America, Physiological/organismal ecology, Plants, Trophic cascade, Under-represented minority


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Other Resources

Ali, J. G., Alborn, H. T., & Stelinski, L. L. (2010). Subterranean herbivore-induced volatiles released by citrus roots upon feeding by Diaprepes abbreviatus recruit entomopathogenic nematodes. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 36(4), 361-368.

Presentation Notes

Researcher’s Background

Jared’s focus is on the behavior and chemical ecology of multi-trophic interactions. This includes plant responses to belowground herbivory, nematode and insect community ecology, chemical ecology, and coevolution. Research projects include trophic cascades, above-belowground interactions, chemotaxis of soil organisms, and the evolution of plant defense strategies.

PB: Why did you become a biologist?

JA: After dropping out of high school and traveling through Canada and Mexico I realized I had a natural passion and interest in biological processes

PB: What is your favorite part about your job?

JA: The creativity and the freedom to generate resources, discoveries and products all from intellectual work!

PB: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are?

JA: Being a first generation college student and a high school drop out were huge challenges. However, the struggles I went through during my life only gave me more ‘grit’, creativity, resourcefulness, and drive!

PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?

JA: Explore the world around you and find answers in the places few are venturing. Often these understudied areas are going unexplored because few people have the creativity and resourcefulness to make breakthroughs. Often those from disadvantaged backgrounds are well suited to handle such challenges, and the rewards are enormous!

PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?

JA: At both of the institutions I’ve been hired I was the first Black American professor in the department and often the college. During my education I never met professors nor graduate students that shared my ethnicity.

Research Overview

Take home message of study

We found that insect damaged roots could attract worms that would kill insect pests!

Study system

Custom glassware designed to study belowground interactions

Key Research Points

Main figure

More insect parasitic worms (entomopathogenic nematodes, Y axis) were attracted to insect damaged roots. (A) We see that plants infested with root feeding insects attract more insect-killing nematodes. This trend continued as we found the nematodes preferred the insects feeding on roots over insects alone (B) and also more than plant roots damaged mechanically or blank soil (C).

Societal Relevance

Rather than dumping toxins into our soil and groundwater to kill root feeding insects, this work found new sustainable ways to project plant roots.

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