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. 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 in the development of 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 7 postdoctoral associates and 13 graduate students, hosted 26 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. My primary teaching responsibility is Insect Physiology.

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Research Focus

Research interests focus on the insect digestive system as a target for biological pesticides and 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) development of insecticidal gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) and mechanisms of resistance to RNAi, and 3) the discovery of insect gut enzymes involved in cellulose degradation for biofuel applications.

Projects on bacterial insecticidal proteins are mostly focused on the mode of action of Cry and Vip insecticidal proteins produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and on mechanisms and dispersal of insect resistance against Bt pesticides or Bt proteins produced by transgenic crops. Biological models in these projects include devastating pests of diverse crops, such as the fall armyworm, corn earworm, and 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 the development of efficacious RNAi technologies against lepidopteran pests and on resistance mechanisms that insect pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, evolve against insecticidal RNAi 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.

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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.

Courses

EPP 561 – Insect Physiology

Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes

Professor
office (865) 974-5931
EPP main office (865) 974-7135
fax (865) 974-4744
jurat@utk.edu

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

Education
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

KEY WORDS
Bacillus thuringiensis toxins, resistance, insecticidal protein, fall armyworm, corn earworm, Colorado potato beetle, RNAi, Bt crops, insect cellulases

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Research questions in our laboratory

  • How do insecticidal proteins from entomopathogenic bacteria work?
  • What resistance mechanisms insects develop against them?
  • Which genes are responsible for insect resistance to transgenic crops and how are resistance alleles spreading?
  • What barriers hinder effective insecticidal RNAi against lepidoptera and how can we overcome them?
  • 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?
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Current lab members

  • Dr. Heba Abdelgaffar (Lab Manager; PhD, Ain Shams University, Egypt)
  • Dr. Caroline Placidi de Bortoli (postdoctoral researcher; PhD, Universidade Estadual Paulista, São Paulto, Brazil)
  • Dr. Rafael Ferreira dos Santos (postdoctoral researcher; PhD, Universidade Estadual Paulista, São Paulto, Brazil)
  • Swati Mishra (PhD student)
  • Dawson Kerns (PhD student)
  • Selina Brown (undergraduate research support)

Selected Publications (last 5 years)

Asterisk denotes personnel in my laboratory

Jurat-Fuentes, J.L., Heckel, D.G., Ferre, J. (2021) Mechanisms of resistance to insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis. Ann Rev Entomol 66:6.1-6.22.

Mishra*, S, Dee*, J, Moar, W, Dufner-Beattie, J, Baum, J, Pinto Dias*, N, Alyokhin, A, Buzza, A, Rondon, S, Clough, M, Menasha, S, Groves, R, Clements, J, Ostlie, K, Felton, G, Waters, T, Snyder, WE, and Jurat-Fuentes, JL (2021) Selection for high levels of resistance to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) in Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata Say) using non-transgenic foliar delivery. Sci. Rep. 11(1):6523.

Schlum, KA, Lamour, K, de Bortoli*, CP, Banerjee*, R, Meagher, R, Pereira, E, Murua, MG, Sword, GA, Tessnow, AE, Viteri Dillon, D, Linares Ramirez, AM, Akutse, KS, Schmidt-Jeffris, R, Huang, F, Reisig, D, Emrich, SJ, and Jurat-Fuentes, JL (2021) Whole genome comparisons reveal panmixia among fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) from diverse locations. BMC Genomics 22:179.

Abdelgaffar*, H, Perera, OP, Jurat-Fuentes, JL (2020). ABC transporter mutations in Cry1F-resistant fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) do not result in altered susceptibility to selected small molecule pesticides. Pest Manag Sci 77(2): 949-955.

52- Pothula*, R., Shirley*, D., Perera, O.P., Klingeman, W., Oppert*, C., Abdelgaffar*, H., Johnson, B. and Jurat-Fuentes, J.L. (2019). The digestive system in Zygentoma as an insect model for high cellulase activity. PLoS ONE 14(2):e0212505.

Abdelgaffar*, H, Tague, ED, Castro Gonzalez, HF, Campagna, SR, and Jurat-Fuentes, JL (2019). Midgut metabolomic profiling of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) with field-evolved resistance to Cry1F corn. Insect Biochem Molec Biol 106:1-9.

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.