Dr. Jurat‑Fuentes

I obtained my B.S. in Biology and M.S.degree in Genetics from the University of Valencia (Spain). I received my Ph.D. degree in Entomology from the University of Georgia, under the direction of Dr. Michael Adang. After appointments in the Department of Entomology and the University of Georgia as Postdoc and later as Assistant Research Scientist, I joined the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in 2006. I currently hold a Professor appointment in the department and my research and teaching activities concentrate in the areas of Insect Physiology and Molecular Pathology. More specifically, my research interests focus on the insect digestive system as a target for novel bioinsecticides and as a prospecting resource for new enzymes of industrial interest. My expertise is on the mode of action and resistance mechanisms against insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). I am also interested mechanisms of resistance to insecticidal gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi).

I see mentoring students and professionals as one of the most important roles of my position and a way to integrate my teaching and research responsibilities. While at UTIA, I have mentored three postdoctoral associates and nine graduate students, hosted 16 visiting students/scientists, and served in 20 graduate student committees. I highly value diversity in science and take pride in the fact that my laboratory is extremely diverse in gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The majority of my students have been members of STEM-underrepresented groups.


Research Focus

Research interests focus on the insect digestive system as target for biological pesticides and as a prospecting resource for new molecules with biotechnological applications. Projects are grouped into three main research areas: 1) the mode of action of bacterial insecticidal proteins and the resistance mechanisms insects develop against them, 2) resistance mechanisms to gene silencing by RNA interference, and 3) the discovery of insect enzymes for biofuel applications.

Projects on bacterial insecticidal proteins are mostly focused on the mode of action of Cry and Viptoxins produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and on mechanismsand dispersal of insect resistance against Bt pesticides or Bt toxins produced by transgenic crops. Biological models in these projects include devastating pests of diverse crops, such as the fall armyworm, the corn earworm, and the soybean looper. Information from these projects is critical to the design of improved insecticidal proteins and effective resistance management efforts.

Insecticidal gene silencing through RNA interference (RNAi) is expected to revolutionize insect pest control. My interest in this area is on resistance mechanisms that insect pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, evolve against this technology.

Another area of research in my group is the characterization of cellulolytic systems in insects as a resource for novel enzymes with application in the lignocellulosic ethanol biofuel industry. Our work has concentrated on basal hexapods as prospecting resource for new cellulases with high activity under stringent conditions for use in biorefineries.


Teaching focus

My teaching philosophy is focused on the development of critical thinking through experiential learning. I intend for students that take my course to acquire essential disciplinary knowledge that will allow them to critically examine research data. I use experiential learning activities in relevant areas of role-playing, such as performing a proposal or manuscript peer review. I also provide opportunities for student development of effective communication skills as critical to be competitive in the job market.


EPP 561 – Insect Physiology

Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes

office (865) 974-5931
fax (865) 974-4744

328 Plant Biotechnology Building
2505 EJ Chapman Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-4560

B.S., Biology, University of Valencia, Spain
M.S. Genetics, University of Valencia, Spain
Ph.D., Entomology, University of Georgia

Professional Appointment
90% Research, 10% Teaching

Graduate program concentrations
Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Molecular Interactions
Sustainable Disease and Integrated Pest Management Systems

Areas of expertise
Insect physiology, insect pathology, mode of action and resistance to entomopathogenic bacteria and transgenic crops, insect molecular biology and biochemistry, insect digestive system

Creative Art Microscope image

Research questions in our laboratory

  • How do insecticidal proteins from entomopathogenic bacteria work?
  • What resistance mechanisms insects may develop against them?
  • Which genes are responsible for insect resistance to transgenic crops and how are resistance alleles spreading?
  • How do insects become resistant to insecticidal RNAi?
  • How do insects optimize cellulose degradation and how can we use this information for more cost/effective biofuels?

Current lab members

  • Dr. Heba Abdelgaffar (postdoctoral researcher; PhD, Ain Shams University, Egypt)
  • Dr. Rahul Banerjee (postdoctoral researcher; PhD, University of Tennessee)
  • James Dee (research associate)
  • Caroline Placidi de Bortoli (research associate)
  • Ratnasri Mallipeddi (PhD student)
  • Lucas Hietala (MS student)
  • Swati Mishra (MS student)
  • Dylan Parker (Undergraduate research support)
  • Jiangfeng Zhong (visiting Associate Professor from Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Nanjing, China)
  • Ahmad Raza (visiting PhD student from the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in Faisalabad, Pakistan)

Selected Publications (last 5 years)

Asterisk denotes personnel in my laboratory

Banerjee*, R., Hasler, J., Meagher, R., Nagoshi, R., Hietala*, L., Huang, F., Narva, K., and J.L. Jurat-Fuentes (2017) Mechanism and DNA-based detection of field-evolved resistance to transgenic Bt corn in fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). Sci Rep 7:10877.

Jakka*, S. R. K., Gong*, L., Hasler, J., Banerjee*, R., Sheets, J. J., Narva, K., Blanco, C. A., and J. L. Jurat-Fuentes (2015) “Field-evolved Mode 1 fall armyworm resistance to Bt corn associated with reduced Cry1Fa toxin binding and midgut alkaline phosphatase expression”. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 82(4): 1023-1034.

Perera, O. P., Shelby, K. S., Popham, H. J. R., Gould, F., Adang, M. J., and J. L. Jurat-Fuentes (2015) “Generation of a transcriptome in a model lepidopteran pest, Heliothis virescens, using multiple sequencing strategies for profiling midgut gene expression”. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128563.

Guo, Z., Kang, S., Chen, D., Wu, Q., Wang, S., Xie, W., Zhu, X., Baxter, S. W., Zhou, X., Jurat-Fuentes, J. L., and Y. Zhang (2015) “MAPK signaling pathway alters expression of midgut ALP and ABCC genes and causes resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac toxin in diamondback moth”. PLOS Genetics e1005124.

Zhao*, C., Jurat-Fuentes, J. L., Abdelgafar*, H. M., Pan, H., Song, F., and J. Zhang (2015) “Identification of a new cryI-type gene as candidate for gene pyramiding in corn to control Ostrinia spp. larvae”. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 8(11): 3699-3705.

Jakka*, S. R. K, Knight*, V. R., and J. L. Jurat-Fuentes (2014) “Fitness costs associated with field-evolved resistance to Bt maize in Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith)”. J. Econ. Entomol. 107(1): 342-351.

Shirley*, D., Oppert*, C., Reynolds, T., Miracle, B., Oppert, B., Klingeman, W. E., and J. L. Jurat-Fuentes (2013) “Expression of and endoglucanase from Tribolium castaneum (TcEG1) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae”. Insect Sci. 21(5):609-618.

Oppert, B., Dowd, S. E., Bouffard, P., Li, L., Conesa, A., Lorenzen, M. D., Toutges, M., Marshall, J., Huestis, D. L., Fabrick, J., Oppert*, C., and J. L. Jurat-Fuentes (2012) “Transcriptome profiling of the intoxication response of Tenebrio molitor larvae to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry3Aa protoxin”. PLoS One, 7(4): e34624.