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Dorothea Tholl

Industry Leader Spotlight

Dorothea Tholl

Chemical Interaction, Specialized Metabolism, Scent, Pheromone

For more than 20 years, I have been fascinated by the chemical communication of organismal life on earth. I am a biochemist and molecular biologist, exploring chemical interactions of plants and insects to develop sustainable pest control strategies.

My research explores how plants and other organisms interact with each other by synthesizing and releasing specialized chemical compounds. In particular, my lab investigates how plants and insects synthesize volatile communication signals, and how we can use this knowledge to generate novel practices in plant protection. By investigating the biosynthesis and function of volatile compounds (terpenoids) emitted by plants in response to pest and pathogen attack above and below ground, my team can develop alternative pest control strategies.

I also study the organization and regulation of chemical defenses in plant root systems and am captivated by chemical interactions of organisms and the biosynthesis of small molecules that mediate these interactions.

Prior to joining the department of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, I performed research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany.

I first discovered a passion for this work ...
As a Ph.D. student in Germany, when I first studied chemical defenses in plants.

My work impacts society ...
By helping improve food security and sustainable agriculture.

The most formative experience I've had ...
Has been identifying and producing enzymes that make plant scents in a test tube.

I see the future in my field ...
In integrating knowledge of chemical ecology with traditional crop protection practices.

I wish I invented ...
A highly efficient trap crop for easy pest control.

My favorite quote ...
"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking" - Albert Einstein

In my free time ...
I enjoy walking, listening to music, bird watching, visiting museums, and refreshing my knowledge of world history.

Best part of working at Virginia Tech ...
My team members, a supportive environment, and mountain views.

Something that excites me in my field ...
When my colleagues discover new forms of chemical communication signals between organisms.

Groups or organizations I am involved in ...
American Society of Plant Biologists, Phytochemical Society of North America, Entomological Society of America, International Society of Chemical Ecology.

Honor or award I am most proud of ...
President-elect of the Phytochemical Society of North America.

Last article I read ...
Manohar, M., Tenjo-Castano, F., Chen, S., Zhang, Y.K., Kumari, A., Williamson, V.M., Wang, X., Klessig, D.F. and Schroeder, F.C. (2020) Plant metabolism of nematode pheromones mediates plant-nematode interactions. Nat. Commun., 11, 208.

Fascinating research on chemical warfare showing that plants convert pheromones of parasitic nematodes into chemical repellents of the parasites.

Words of encouragement to an aspiring inventor ...
Expose yourself to different scientific disciplines.

If I had a superpower, it would be ...
Solving the global climate crisis in five years or less.

Media Contact:

Lindsey Haugh

(540) 231-6959

Additional Highlights

Dorthea Tholl    |    Professor

Biological Science, Virginia Tech

(540) 231-4567

College of Science - Faculty Bio Page



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