Our Research

The Renner Lab explores evolutionary patterns and processes that drive functional diversification. We use plants and insects as models to study adaptation and current projects examine the underlying genetics and evolution of chemical and structural defense mechanisms.

We seek to understand how organisms acquire novel phenotypes through co-option of existing genes, tissues, and organs. Specifically, we investigate the role, regulation, and diversity of chemical defense genes, and examine the evolution of multi-step enzyme-catalyzed pathways that form defensive compounds in specialized tissues and organs.

Our research combines experimental biology with whole genome sequencing, transcriptomics, phylogenetics, biochemistry, and morphology.


Recent Publications

Gilbert, K.J. & Renner, T. Acid or base? How do plants regulate the ecology of their phylloplane? 2021. AoB PLANTS. doi:

Rork, A.M., Xu, S., Attygalle, A., & Renner, T. Primary metabolism co-opted for defensive chemical production in the carabid beetle, Harpalus pensylvanicus. 2021. J Chem Ecol. doi:


Media Releases

The Symbiotic Podcast: Rule-breakers of the Plant World

WTAJ Originals: Beetles use chemicals to ward off predators



Renner Laboratory
The Pennsylvania State University
Department of Entomology
520 ASI Building
University Park, PA 16802


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