Researcher biography

Dr Botella's research interests are in genetic engineering, molecular biology and signal transduction in plants.

Dr. Jimmy Botella is Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the University of Queensland. He obtained a degree in Quantum Chemistry from the University of Madrid (Spain) and a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Malaga (Spain). After postdoctoral positions at Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University he joined the University of Queensland in 1995. At UQ he founded the Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory (PGEL) specialising in the fields of tropical and subtropical agricultural biotechnology for almost 15 years. J. Botella has eleven international patents in the field of Plant Biotechnology and is a founding member of two biotechnology companies (Coridon Ltd. and Origo Biotech).

Dr Botella is a member of the Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology research group.

Some highlights of the Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory’s research:

  • Production and field trial of the world’s first genetically modified pineapples with genetic constructs to control flowering time. These pineapples will allow farmer control over harvesting times.
  • Development of a new technology to confer protection against nematode infestation.
  • Discovery of a gene that can confer resistance to the devastating fungus Fusarium oxysporum in plants.
  • Development of a new technology to confer protection against pathogenic fungi in plants.

Research interests

Dr. Botella’s research has two major foci: basic cell biology and applied biotechnology. In cell biology he is interested in studying the function of the Heterotrimeric G proteins in plants. This family of proteins is extremely important in humans but their role in pant systems is still largely unknown. Dr. Botella’s research has strongly contributed to the current body of knowledge available in plants with critical contributions such as the discovery and characterization of the first plant gamma subunits and the establishment of these subunits as the critical element conferring function specificity to all plant G proteins. Dr. Botella’s team has also discovered the important role that these proteins play in defense against pathogens. New and unpublished data has now revealed that G proteins are important yield enhancing factors in crops such as rice. Another research interest resides in the communication between plants and insects. There is plenty of knowledge of how important smell, volatiles emitted by the plant, is for foraging insects in order to determine their host preferences. Nevertheless, most of the available studies have been performed using synthetic chemicals in artificial experimental settings. Dr. Botella’s team and collaborators have genetically engineered plants to produce different volatile mixes in the flowers in order to perform in vivo behavioral studies in insects.

Biotechnology research at the Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory mostly arises from discoveries made in basic research. The PGEL focuses in tropical and subtropical crops. These crops have attracted little attention in terms of biotechnology but are essential sources of food and energy for a large part of the world’s population, especially in Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The PGEL has developed a number of platform technologies that can be applied to multiple crops in order to confer resistance to pathogens, modify plant architecture and control flowering time.

Current research projects include:

  • Plant heterotrimeric G proteins: New roles in defence, stomatal control and ABA perception.
  • Putting smells into context: using in vivo technologies to understand plant-insect odour communication.
  • Use of host-derived RNA interference technology to control plant pathogens (especially pathogenic fungi and nematodes).
  • Control of Fusarium wilt disease.
  • Genetic improvement of grain crops.
  • Genetic engineering research projects