“The art of searching for an answer to any question”
Playing with Insect Guts
Dr. Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes investigates how the gut epithelium of the fall armyworm and corn earworm is affected by insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis and how variations in these interactions result in resistance. Research in the Jurat-Fuentes lab also explores gene silencing in Colorado potato beetle and fall armyworm as a promising insecticidal technology. Additionally, the Jurat-Fuentes lab screens for novel insect cellulases to be used in the production of cellulosic ethanol and to improve feed for livestock. Discoveries from these research projects have direct applications in biotechnology, bioenergy, and agriculture.
“I actually never thought to be an entomologist, all my life I thought I was going to be a vet”, recalls Dr. Jurat-Fuentes. However, the unexpected often changes our lives, and thus Dr. Jurat-Fuentes fell in love with Entomology during his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, where he continued as a postdoc and later as Assistant Research Scientist. “In 2006, I arrived at UT and I became a Volunteer,” he says. As a professor, Dr. Jurat-Fuentes aspires to engage and inspire his students to become independent scientists. He perceives science as “the art of searching for an answer to any question” and finds that the biggest challenge in the world of research right now is to effectively communicate science to the general public.
Beyond research, Dr. Jurat-Fuentes advises the Argentine tango student club at UT (Vol Tango) with his wife, plays soccer, and enjoys learning and meeting new people during travels to Argentine tango social events. He finds his volunteer work with the Vol Tango club and the time with the local Argentine tango community deeply gratifying. “It is very rewarding seeing the Vol Tango students and others coming back to thank us for sharing the gift of Argentine tango with them”. He thinks that “the new coronavirus seems designed to destroy social dancing, especially the personal connection of Argentine tango, but we are continuing to hold online meetings with fellow tangueros worldwide until we embrace again, hopefully soon!”.
- Determining how insects become resistant to insecticidal proteins in transgenic crops and microbial pesticides and designing strategies to delay and overcome resistance
- Developing insecticidal gene silencing as an environmentally-safe pesticidal technology
- Identifying insect enzymes with applications in industry and agriculture