Dr. Kariyat Ramachandran Rupesh Ram a scientist in Biocommunication and Entomology group at ETH Zurich. He is a plant Biologist with interest in the evolution of plant mating systems, and species interactions. He did his PhD from Pennsylvania State University examining how inbreeding affects plant-insect interactions. At ETH, he currently work on plant defense and herbivore counter defenses in native and invasive weeds. He is originally from India, and moved to USA in 2015 to do his MS in Plant breeding and Genetics at University of Wyoming.
Inbreeding is common in flowering plants, and have been found to negatively affect plant fitness. Until recently the effects of inbreeding on plant-insect-pathogen interactions haven’t been well explored. Using a weed species Solanum carolinense, and a Solanaceae specialist herbivore Manduca sexta, we had been investigating how inbreeding affects plant defenses and herbivore counter defenses- using a combination of lab and field experiments, and molecular, behavioral and genomic tools. Our results show that inbreeding in S. carolinense negatively affect structural and chemical plant defenses, affects pollinator choice and reward, and disrupt the expression of key genes in the defense pathways. In addition, inbreeding also affects the emission of both constitutive and herbivore feeding induced plant volatiles that affect herbivore feeding, oviposition, and the recruitment of predatory insects. As a consequence of impaired defenses due to inbreeding, herbivores tend to locate, feed, grow and develop better on inbred plants, and even have better flight and dispersal abilities. These interactions have consequences for mult-trophic interactions, and the evolution of plant mating systems.