Appointments & Education

Postdoctoral Scientist | 2023-present | Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL). Forest entomology research Group

Postdoctoral Fellow | 2020-2023 | Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Evolutionary Genomics Group (Prof. Noah Whiteman)

Ph.D. Organismal Biology/Chemical Ecology| 2015-2019 | Institute of Biology, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, Functional Ecology Group (Prof. Sergio Rasmann)

MSc. Systematics & Evolution | 2013-2015 | Institute of Systematics & Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich, Switzerland, (Prof. Florian Schiestl)

BSc. Biology  | 2007-2012 | Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada 

Research Interests

I am a plant scientist & chemical ecologist broadly interested in plant chemically-mediated biotic and abiotic interactions in natural and applied contexts. The focus of my research has been on investigating the effect of environmental variables on plant-insect-microorganisms’ interactions, regulated by plant chemical defense machinery (secondary metabolites). As a postdoctoral fellow in the Whiteman laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, I investigated the genomic construct of complex chemical defense/reproductive traits in mustard plants, conducting GWAS to identify gene candidates controlling the regulation of secondary metabolites that consequently control plant interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment. My doctoral work was focused on plant-mediated above-belowground interactions with herbivore insects and microorganisms across several wild mustard plant species. I investigated how environmental variables including aspects of climatic conditions as well as ecological niche conditions affected the regulation of plant secondary metabolites and consequently its’ biotic interactions with insects and microorganism. I used elevational gradients as natural experimental system where both special and temporal shifts in biotic and abiotic component of environment is observed in relatively short distances. Using extensive metabolomics workflow, I characterized chemical profiles for several mustard species in genus Cardamine, creating reference library of Glucosinolates for identification of secondary metabolites through metabolomic pipeline. My research employs a fully integrative multi-omics framework using methods across molecular biology, metabolomics, genomics, and physiology to uncover genomic mechanisms and novel metabolic pathways defining phenotypic and transcriptional complexity. My most recent research efforts aim to link the discovery of rare phenotypes of plants with their genomic construct with outcomes that have implications across a broad range of plant biotech themes spanning from plant breeding, crop protection, and synthetic biology. I generate data by conducting large scale manipulative experiments both in the lab and greenhouse as well as sampling and conducting experiments in nature. My approach to science involves three main goals: 1) rigorous manipulative studies to test for the importance of conceptually or theoretically developed biotic interactions, 2) the search for novel interactions which may be pervasive in nature but have escaped our attention, and 3) applying the knowledge of chemical ecology & phytochemistry in natural and agricultural system to offer sustainable preservation of wild species in coping with climatic challenges, sustainable crop production and production of natural products.

In my new position at WSL, I am involved in PHYTOAKMETER project, a highly collaborative project funded by Swiss and German National Science foundation. This project, along with multiple research groups across Europe, aims to use clonal oak phytometers to unravel acclimation and adaptation mechanisms of long-lived forest tree holobionts to ecological variations and climate change.


Climate change and global species loss are the major environmental threats to human well-being in the coming decades. However, despite wealth of research in temperate forests some fundamental knowledge is still missing about (i) the phenotypic plasticity of forest trees, (ii) about the interplay of trees with their microbiome, and (iii) about how these interactions may facilitate acclimation (regulatory changes) and adaptation based on genetic changes of trees and/or their interacting biotic partners. Furthermore, Plant-herbivore interactions are important drivers of community dynamics and ecosystem processes. Interactions between plants and insect herbivores are largely mediated by phytochemical traits. Therefore, factors that substantially alter phytochemistry can have far-reaching consequences at the ecosystem level. Intraspecific variation in plant defense chemistry may strongly vary among different plant genotypes and also depends on a plants developmental stage. Currently, little is known about how the interaction between plant phenology, defense chemistry and the trade-offs between growth and chemical defenses are modulated by environmental variation and stress.

In a highly collaborative effort along with a group of experts in population genetics, epigenetics, transcriptomics,  metabolomics as well as in tree physiology and morphology, PhytOakmeter seeks to resolve patterns and mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation to drought and above- and belowground herbivory in a tree holobiont, Quercus robur L. a foundation species of European forests with a long lifespan and broad geographical distribution and an exceptionally high diversity of biotrophic interactions.

The overarching goal of our contribution to this project is to determine how rhythmic growth patterns, herbivory, drought, and climatic gradients individually and in interaction affect oak chemistry and oak-herbivore interactions in an anticipation to develop a new tree model for forest evolutionary ecological research by establishing a tree model system with sufficient -omics resources to facilitate the investigation of acclimation and adaptation patterns from a holobiont perspective in forest trees, and (ii) to develop a phytometer monitoring platform with a model tree under a broad range of environmental conditions including extreme sites.


Ramos, S.E., Bakhtiari, M., Castañeda-Zárate, M., Iriart, V. and Ashman, T.-L. (2022). Herbicides and Their Potential to Disrupt Plant-Insect Chemical Communication. Journal of Systematics &. Evolution.

Alexander, N., Haj, D., Bakhtiari, M., Chatla, K, Aguilar, J, Arzumanova, K. Whiteman, N. A. (2021). Reference Genome Assembly of Hybrid-Derived California Wild Radish (Raphanus sativus x raphanistrum), Journal of Heredity. esab076.

Bakhtiari, M, Glauser, G., Defossez, E. and Rasmann, S. (2021). Ecological convergence of secondary phytochemicals                along elevational gradients. New Phytologist, 229: 1755-1767.

Bakhtiari, M., Rasmann, S. (2020). Variation in Below-to Aboveground Systemic Induction of Glucosinolates Mediates Plant Fitness Consequences under Herbivore Attack. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 46, 317–329.

Bakhtiari, M, Formenti, L, Caggìa, V, Glauser, G, Rasmann, S. (2019). Variable effects on growth and defense traits for plant ecotypic differentiation and phenotypic plasticity along elevation gradients. Ecology & Evolution. 9: 3740– 3755.

Bakhtiari M, Glauser, G., Rasmann, S.  (2018). Root JA Induction Modifies Glucosinolate Profiles and Increases Subsequent Aboveground Resistance to Herbivore Attack in Cardamine hirsuta. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1230-1240.

Knauer, A.C., Bakhtiari, M. & Schiestl, F.P. (2018). Crab spiders impact floral-signal evolution indirectly through the removal of florivores. Nature Communication. 9, 1367.

Kergunteuil A., Bakhtiari M., Rasmann, S. (2018) Eco-evolutionary Factors Driving Plant-Mediated Above–Belowground Invertebrate Interactions along Elevation Gradients. In: Ohgushi T., Wurst S., Johnson S.  (eds) Aboveground–Belowground Community Ecology. Ecological Studies (Analysis and Synthesis), vol 234. Springer, Cham.

Kergunteuil, A.; Bakhtiari, M.; Formenti, L.; Xiao, Z.; Defossez, E.; Rasmann, S. (2016). Biological Control beneath the Feet: A Review of Crop Protection against Insect Root Herbivores. Insects, 7(4), 70-92.

Biotech & Entrepreneurship Experineces

  • Biotech/Genomics Investment Analyst | 09/2022-Present | Life Science Angels Investment, Palo Alto, California

Execute comprehensive scientific/market analysis & analytical due diligence on leading biotech startups for seed-stage investment across various life science sectors (therapeutics, synthetic bio, genomics, environment tech, and digital health

  • Biotech Venture Advisor/Mentor | 10/2023-Present | Berkeley SkyDeck & SkyDeck Europe Milano

Work along with team of advisors evaluating startups in environmental tech, synthetic biology, and plant biotech, both in the US and Europe

  • Biotech Venture Advisor |01/2023-Present| UC Berkeley Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center, Berkeley, California

Advise senior Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellows conducting innovation landscaping & due diligence of new

  • Biotech Venture Fellow | 01/2022-07/2022 | UC Berkeley Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center & Nucleate, Berkeley, California

Innovation landscaping, due diligence & sourcing of new biotechnologies across UC Berkeley labs technologies in environmental tech, agritech, synthetic biology, and plant biotech

  • Life Science Consultant | 01/2022-04/2022| Biotech Connection Bay Area, San Francisco, California

Due diligence on potential new programs for a biofoundry company working in the protein synthesis space