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Dr. J.M. (Juan) Alba Cano

Faculty of Science
Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics
Photographer: Juan Alba

Visiting address
  • Science Park 904
  • Room number: C3.218
Postal address
  • Postbus 94240
    1090 GE Amsterdam
  • Research

    I have been always fascinated on capability of plants to modify the surrounding environment and the plethora of mechanisms to cope with different stresses. This interest drives my career, focusing on how plant defenses do not only interfere with plant feeders, but also mediate the interaction between other arthropod communities, and more fascinating, how the result of these interactions depend on the complexity of the system. Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in these interactions, and the impact on arthropod communities could help to engineer new environmental friendly strategies for pest control in agro-ecosystems.

    My career started in the experimental station La Mayora, from the Spanish National Research Council (currently: IHSM, Málaga, Spain). Where I studied the inheritance of resistant mechanism in tomato against the Two-Spotted Spider Mite (Tetranychus urticae), taking advantage of the natural diversity of tomato related species. I described that tomato resistance was conferred by the presence of special leaf epidermal structures called glandular trichomes. These special trichomes secrete a viscous substance called acylsugars (complex molecules containing a core of sucrose that is conjugated with fatty acid compounds). Acylsugars create a double barrier against small arthropods, as physical barrier (sort of glue) and also works as antixenotic/antibiotic compounds on several tomato pests like T. urticae; whiteflies and new invasive species like Tuta absoluta and Tetranychus evansi. We conclude that these complex traits followed a relatively easy genetic model, mainly controlled by a major gene, facilitating the introgression of this trait in commercial varieties.

    Type IV glandular trichomes introgressed into a commercial cultivar of tomato

    On the other hand, arthropods also count with a huge biodiversity that allowed to evolved mechanisms to cope with plant defenses. One of the most interesting mechanisms is the capability of some groups to manipulate induced defenses. Defense suppression is mediated by salivary proteins (effectors) injected into the plant. These proteins induce the plant into a kind of anesthetized stage that impede the plant to react against different stresses. One line of my research is to disentangle the molecular mechanisms involved in plant defense manipulation.

    Plant-defense manipulation have important ecological implications that, in principle, could cause more problems than solutions to the suppressor species. I am also interested in the behavioral mechanisms developed by suppressor species in order to protect their host plant.  For instance, T. evansi makes the plant more suitable for competitors and then it has developed several mechanisms to exclude invasive species that try to colonize the same plant. For instance, it creates a dense web than impede competitors to colonize the host plant, and males interfere with the reproduction of the other mite herbivores.

    Male of T. evansi waiting for female in her last moulting stage.
  • Publications







    • Falara, V., Alba, J. M., Kant, M. R., Schuurink, R. C., & Pichersky, E. (2014). Geranyllinalool synthases in solanaceae and other angiosperms constitute an ancient branch of diterpene synthases involved in the synthesis of defensive compounds. Plant Physiology, 166(1), 428-441. [details]
    • Glas, J. J., Alba, J. M., Simoni, S., Villarroel, C. A., Stoops, M., Schimmel, B. C. J., Schuurink, R. C., Sabelis, M. W., & Kant, M. R. (2014). Defense suppression benefits herbivores that have a monopoly on their feeding site but can backfire within natural communities. BMC Biology, 12, [98]. [details]
    • Sato, Y., Alba, J. M., & Sabelis, M. W. (2014). Testing for reproductive interference in the population dynamics of two congeneric species of herbivorous mites. Heredity, 113(6), 495-502. [details]


    • Salinas, S., Capel, C., Alba, J. M., Mora, B., Cuartero, J., Fernández-Muñoz, R., ... Capel, J. (2013). Genetic mapping of two QTL from the wild tomato Solanum pimpinellifolium L. controlling resistance against two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae Koch). Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 126(1), 83-92. [details]
    • van Houten, Y. M., Glas, J. J., Hoogerbrugge, H., Rothe, J., Bolckmans, K. J. F., Simoni, S., van Arkel, J., Alba, J. M., Kant, M. R., & Sabelis, M. W. (2013). Herbivory-associated degradation of tomato trichomes and its impact on biological control of Aculops lycopersici. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 60(2), 127-138. [details]


    • Alba, J. M., Allmann, S., Glas, J. J., Schimmel, B. C. J., Spyropoulou, E. A., Stoops, M., Villaroel, C., & Kant, M. R. (2012). Induction and suppression of herbivore-induced indirect defenses. In G. Witzany, & F. Baluška (Eds.), Biocommunication of plants (pp. 197-212). (Signaling and communication in plants; No. 14). Springer. [details]
    • Alba, J. M., Bleeker, P. M., Glas, J. J., Schimmel, B. C. J., van Wijk, M., Sabelis, M. W., Schuurink, R. C., & Kant, M. R. (2012). The impact of induced plant volatiles on lant-arthropod interactions. In G. Smagghe, & I. Diaz (Eds.), Arthropod-plant interactions: novel insights and approaches for IPM (pp. 15-73). (Progress in biological control; No. 14). Springer. [details]
    • Glas, J. J., Schimmel, B. C. J., Alba, J. M., Escobar-Bravo, R., Schuurink, R. C., & Kant, M. R. (2012). Plant glandular trichomes as targets for breeding or engineering of resistance to herbivores. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 13(12), 17077-17103. [details]



    • Knegt, B., Alba, J. M., Ataide, L. M. S., Barbosa, T. A., Bernardo, A. M. G., Chafi, R., ... Egas, M. (2017). Meta-analysis reveals intraspecific variation in herbivores for plant-mediated interactions. Poster session presented at Gordon Research Conference "Plant - Herbivore Interactions", Ventura, CA, USA, United States.


    • Ataide, L. M. S., Pappas, M. L., Duarte, M. V. A., Schimmel, B. C. J., Alba Cano, J. M., Sabelis, M. W., ... Kant, M. (2016). Jasmonate defenses operate against target and non-target mites. Abstract from EURAAC 2016 Valencia, Valencia, Spain.
    • Villarroel Figueroa, C. A., Jonckheere, W., Alba Cano, J. M., Glas, J. J., Dermauw, W., Haring, M., Van Leeuwen, T. B. S., Schuurink, R. C., & Kant, M. (2016). Effector proteins of spider mites improve their performance by plant defense manipulation. Abstract from EURAAC 2016 Valencia, Valencia, Spain.
    • Ximenez-Embun, M. G., Glas, J. J., Ortego, F., Alba Cano, J. M., Castañera, P., & Kant, M. (2016). Drought Stress in Tomato Plants increases the performance of the tomato russet mite, Aculops lycopersici. Abstract from EURAAC 2016 Valencia, Valencia, Spain.


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  • Ancillary activities
    • No ancillary activities