Baculoviruses are orally infectious to insects and considered to be natural insecticides. To enhance their speed-of-kill these viruses were engineered to express arthropod neurotoxins under the control of various strong promoters. Although this strategy proved to be efficient, it raised recently concerns about safety. We analyzed the speed-of-kill and safety of Autographa californica multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus expressing the insecticidal scorpion neurotoxin AaIT and found that the mortality of Helicoverpa armigera larvae was enhanced significantly when the expression was controlled by the baculovirus delayed-early promoter 39K rather than the very late promoter p10. This improvement was also reflected in better protection of cotton leaves on which these insects were fed. Using lacZ as a sensitive reporter we also found that expression driven by the 39K promoter was detected in insect but not in mammalian cells. These results imply that by selection of an appropriate viral promoter, engineered baculoviruses may comply with the high standard biosafety requirements from a genetically modified organism (GMO). Our results provide further support for the potential use of engineered baculoviruses in insect pest control in a safely manner.
- 39K promoter
- Helicoverpa armigera