The Promise of Chemical Ecology

The Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology welcomes Dr. Paul Cox at December 2018 Launch Symposium

The Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology studies the chemical interactions between plants and animals.

BUtterfly on plant

While visiting the University of Nevada, Reno to speak at the Discover Science Lecture Series in March of 2016, Dr. Paul Cox, world-renowned ethnobotanist and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, met the group of researchers who now form the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology. The group's research and potential for future scientific discovery left a strong impression on him. With the formalization of the Center, Cox welcomed the opportunity to speak on their behalf at the Center's Launch Symposium on December 1, 2018.

"If we want to really understand the story of life on this planet and how it works today, these are the people, here in Reno, that are going to provide us the ability to translate that language which is chemistry," Cox said. "This is the future of chemical ecology. This entire discipline is going to be molded here in Reno."

Group photo

Professors Ian Wallace (left) and Christopher Jeffrey (right) stand with Mick Hitchcock at the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology Symposium reception immediately following Dr. Cox's Keynote address.

Cox presented a keynote address titled "The Promise of Chemical Ecology" in which he covered a number of immediate benefits research in the field has yielded. The developing field of chemical ecology allows us to better understand the world's array of complex molecules, many of which cannot be synthesized in modern laboratories. Being able to understand this wealth of information has led to the development of new drugs and other beneficial molecules.

"During my Keynote, I focused on things that can result in an immediate benefit for human beings, but the bigger benefit is that we'll be able to understand life on this planet," Cox said. "In chemical ecology, the possibilities are endless."

    Cox's Keynote address was followed by a full day of presentations from professors and graduate students working with the Center, showcasing the collaborative efforts of research happening at the Center.

    "It was impressive to see faculty and students from seemingly disparate fields find so much in common with each other's research and formulate ways to address some of the largest questions in science," Vince Catalano, the Center's Director said. "In between the talks you could hear people discussing new ideas or experiments. Students and faculty found new exciting collaborations and projects. In the end, it reflected the theme of Paul's keynote address, and it serves as a good reminder to periodically take a step back and look at the beautiful interplay of chemistry and biology."

    Since 2011, the chemical ecology group has grown to over 25 researchers that span 5 departments and 2 colleges at the University of Nevada, Reno. In addition, the Center collaborates with over 20 investigators at other domestic and international institutions.

    The Center has raised over 20 million dollars in extramural funding and have integrated over 600 citizen science volunteers through the Earthwatch Institute and locally funded programs. A generous donation from bio-pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Mick Hitchcock supported the formalization of the Center. This funding supports 6 graduate student fellowships in chemical-ecology research, the expansion of our research capabilities and has launched the Great Basin Bioprospecting Project (GBBP) that seeks to use this unique expertise to discover new therapeutics from Nevada's rich resources.

    "I am incredibly proud of the collaborative research coming out of the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology," College of Science Dean Jeff Thompson said. "The group's ingenuity and collaboration across disciplines serve as a powerful example for our students. True discovery happens when one thinks outside the box. This group is proving that to be true."

    The University's location also offers the Center a uniquely diverse landscape for conducting research.

    "The geographical position of this campus is amazing," Cox said. "You can go from the top of the Sierras to the bottom of Mono Lake. It's just such a biologically diverse population. I couldn't think of a better location for a national center for Chemical Ecology."

    The worldwide recognition of the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology has made the University of Nevada, Reno the place to conduct chemical ecology research, attracting scholars from all over the world and all different scientific disciplines.

    "The paradigm of ecology when I was a student was all about competition between species," Cox said. "We now know the overwhelming paradigm is cooperation. These young faculty - because they're smart, because they're open - have developed an amazing model of cooperation. As a result, they're creating some really amazing science here."

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