Current Working Group

Dr. Martin Heil (Professor/Researcher)


Research Interests

Plant-insect mutualisms. Costs of induced resistance. Induced and indirect defences of plants against herbivores and pathogens. Extrafloral nectar and plant-plant communication.

Rosa María Ádame Alvarez (technical assistant)

Realization of experiments in the field and under laboratory conditions. Studies on plant-plant signalling [1], cultivation of bacteria, gas chromatography, isolation and cultivation of microorganisms, extraction of DNA and RNA, PCR

[1] Heil, M. & Adame-Álvarez, R.M. (2010). Biol. Lett. 6, 843-845


Yesenia Ithaí Angeles López (PhD thesis)

Selection of virus-infected host plants by the vector, whitefly
Viruses are common plant pathogens but we still do not understand how they can facilitate their dispersal from one plant to another. In general, viruses depend on vectors, which usually are herbivorous insects. Although the interaction virus-host-vector has been intensively studied we still lack basic knowledge on how a vector selects a virus-infected plant. The central hypothesis underlying this project is that the virus can change the emission of volatile organic compounds by the host plant and that these volatiles are influencing host-selection behaviour by insects that function as vectors. This hypothesis will be investigated using the tritrophic system geminivirus, chilli plants (Capsicum annuum) and whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) as a model system.  Project in cooperation with Dr. Rafael Rivera Bustamante (CINVESTAV Irapuato).


Alejandro Barajas Barron (assistant)

Personal assistant of Dr. Martin Heil. Designer of the group logo and of scientific illustrations as well as journal covers [1,2]. Technical help with field studies and enzymatic assays.

[1] van Dam, N.M. & Heil, M (2011) J. Ecol. 99, 77-88
[2] Heil, M. (2011) Trends Plant Sci. 16, in press



Jaime Mendiola Soto (technical assistant)

Help with laboratory and greenhouse studies, analyses of microoragnisms at teh genetic level and by cultivation, cultivation of pathogenic bacteria.

Ariana Lizbeth Navarro Meléndez (PhD thesis)

Damaged-self signals
Damage caused by herbivore feeding induces multiple plant defensive traits. In order to express an appropriate response to multiple enemies, plants require a system for the perception of damage that allows a fast response which is not dependent on the detailed nature of the attacker. However, most of the defence elicitors that have been identified so far in the salivary secretions or the oviposition fluids of insects are active only in specific plant-insect interactions [1, 2].

The concept of damaged-self recognition is based on the observation that feeding by animals on plant tissue inevitably causes the disruption and disintegration of plant cells, thereby liberating and fragmenting the cell content. The resulting chemical motifs (disintegrated plant molecules and plant molecules being localised outside of their normal compartment) can therefore be used by the plant for the monitoring of damage [3]. In fact, applying whole leaf extract to leaves of lima bean and other plant species elicits defensive responses. My interest is to search for, purify, and identify, some of the plant-derived elicitors which act in the damaged-self recognition process

[1] Mithöfer, A. & Boland, W. (2008) Plant Physiol. 146, 825-831
[2] Wu, J.Q. & Baldwin, I.T. (2010) Annu. Rev. Genet. 44, 1-24
[3]  Heil, M. (2009) Trends Plant Sci. 14, 356-363


Domancar Orona Tamayo (PhD thesis)

Proteins in the Acacia-ant mutualism
We study the mutualism between plants of the genus Acacia and Pseudomyrmex ants, which feed exclusively on host-plant derived food rewards (extrafloral nectar and food bodies). We analyze the proteins that can be found in these food bodies, in order to investigate whether the food bodies fulfil a dual role in the nutrition of ants and the defence against exploiting species, as it has recently been described for extrafloral nectar [1-3]. We employ different biochemical tools such as gel electrophoresis (SDS PAGE) in one and two dimensions, automatic sequencing of proteins and enzymatic analysis (in native gels and in liquid). This project is realised in cooperation with Dr. Rodolfo Farias Rodríguez (Universidad Michoacana, Morelia, México) and with Dr. Aleš Svatoš and Dr. Natalie Wielsch (MPI for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany).

[1] González-Teuber, M., et al. (2009) Plant J. 58, 464–473
[2] González-Teuber, M., and Heil, M. (2009) Plant Signal. Behav. 4, 809-813
[3] González-Teuber, M., et al. (2010) Plant Physiol., 1705–1715


Maria del Rosario Razo Belmán (masters thesis)

Host localization by queens of obligate plant-ants
In the protective ant-plant mutualism Acacia-Pseudomyrmex, the plant offers food rewards and nesting space to defending ants. Although this mutualism has been widely studied a crucial phase of the mutualism is still unexplored: the host localization and identification by a colony-founding ant queen. The objective of this work is to investigate whether plant odours play any role in the establishment of attraction. We will analyze the role of volatiles that are released from the Acacia plants in the host-searching behavior ant queens. Moreover, we will test by electroantennography the physiological responses to certain volatiles in the antennae of the ant queen. Project in cooperation with Dr. Julio Rojas (ECOSUR, Tapachula) and Dr. Yoav Bashan and Dra. Luz de-Bashan (CIBNOR, La Paz).


Elizabeth Quintana Rodríguez (PhD thesis)

Volatile-induced resistance of bean to pathogens and herbivores
Crop plants are susceptible to a broad range of pathogens. Unfortunately, the control of these pathogens has been focused on chemicals. The induction of the plant’s own resistance appears a suitable alternative. Besides their function as an indirect defence [1], some plant volatiles mediate the resistance against pathogens. Volatiles emitted by resistance-expressing bean plants triggered resistance to a bacterial pathogen in an as yet uninfected receptor plant, thereby causing a phenomenon of plant-plant communication [2]. Our main objective is to identify the volatiles emitted by bean plants infected with different pathogens, such as the bacteria, virus and fungi. We will use cultivated lines and wildtypes lines of bean (Phaseolus vulgaris and Phaseolus coccineus) to analyze if domestication has caused losses in the resistance to pathogens. The project is conducted as part of a research network that is headed by Dr. Jorge  Acosta (INIFAP Celaya).

[1] Heil, M. (2008) New Phytol. 178, 41-61
[2] Heil, M. & Silva Bueno, J.C. (2007) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104, 5467-5472
[3] Yi, H.-S., et al. (2009) Plant Physiol. 151, 2152–2161