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1.  Transcriptome Analysis in Cotton Boll Weevil (Anthonomus grandis) and RNA Interference in Insect Pests 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e85079.
Cotton plants are subjected to the attack of several insect pests. In Brazil, the cotton boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis, is the most important cotton pest. The use of insecticidal proteins and gene silencing by interference RNA (RNAi) as techniques for insect control are promising strategies, which has been applied in the last few years. For this insect, there are not much available molecular information on databases. Using 454-pyrosequencing methodology, the transcriptome of all developmental stages of the insect pest, A. grandis, was analyzed. The A. grandis transcriptome analysis resulted in more than 500.000 reads and a data set of high quality 20,841 contigs. After sequence assembly and annotation, around 10,600 contigs had at least one BLAST hit against NCBI non-redundant protein database and 65.7% was similar to Tribolium castaneum sequences. A comparison of A. grandis, Drosophila melanogaster and Bombyx mori protein families’ data showed higher similarity to dipteran than to lepidopteran sequences. Several contigs of genes encoding proteins involved in RNAi mechanism were found. PAZ Domains sequences extracted from the transcriptome showed high similarity and conservation for the most important functional and structural motifs when compared to PAZ Domains from 5 species. Two SID-like contigs were phylogenetically analyzed and grouped with T. castaneum SID-like proteins. No RdRP gene was found. A contig matching chitin synthase 1 was mined from the transcriptome. dsRNA microinjection of a chitin synthase gene to A. grandis female adults resulted in normal oviposition of unviable eggs and malformed alive larvae that were unable to develop in artificial diet. This is the first study that characterizes the transcriptome of the coleopteran, A. grandis. A new and representative transcriptome database for this insect pest is now available. All data support the state of the art of RNAi mechanism in insects.
PMCID: PMC3874031  PMID: 24386449
2.  Binding Site Alteration Is Responsible for Field-Isolated Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry2A Insecticidal Proteins in Two Helicoverpa Species 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(4):e9975.
Evolution of resistance by target pests is the main threat to the long-term efficacy of crops expressing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticidal proteins. Cry2 proteins play a pivotal role in current Bt spray formulations and transgenic crops and they complement Cry1A proteins because of their different mode of action. Their presence is critical in the control of those lepidopteran species, such as Helicoverpa spp., which are not highly susceptible to Cry1A proteins. In Australia, a transgenic variety of cotton expressing Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab (Bollgard II) comprises at least 80% of the total cotton area. Prior to the widespread adoption of Bollgard II, the frequency of alleles conferring resistance to Cry2Ab in field populations of Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa punctigera was significantly higher than anticipated. Colonies established from survivors of F2 screens against Cry2Ab are highly resistant to this toxin, but susceptible to Cry1Ac.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Bioassays performed with surface-treated artificial diet on neonates of H. armigera and H. punctigera showed that Cry2Ab resistant insects were cross-resistant to Cry2Ae while susceptible to Cry1Ab. Binding analyses with 125I-labeled Cry2Ab were performed with brush border membrane vesicles from midguts of Cry2Ab susceptible and resistant insects. The results of the binding analyses correlated with bioassay data and demonstrated that resistant insects exhibited greatly reduced binding of Cry2Ab toxin to midgut receptors, whereas no change in 125I-labeled-Cry1Ac binding was detected. As previously demonstrated for H. armigera, Cry2Ab binding sites in H. punctigera were shown to be shared by Cry2Ae, which explains why an alteration of the shared binding site would lead to cross-resistance between the two Cry2A toxins.
This is the first time that a mechanism of resistance to the Cry2 class of insecticidal proteins has been reported. Because we found the same mechanism of resistance in multiple strains representing several field populations, we conclude that target site alteration is the most likely means that field populations evolve resistance to Cry2 proteins in Helicoverpa spp. Our work also confirms the presence in the insect midgut of specific binding sites for this class of proteins. Characterizing the Cry2 receptors and their mutations that enable resistance could lead to the development of molecular tools to monitor resistance in the field.
PMCID: PMC2848615  PMID: 20376312
3.  Control of Resistant Pink Bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) by Transgenic Cotton That Produces Bacillus thuringiensis Toxin Cry2Ab 
Crops genetically engineered to produce Bacillus thuringiensis toxins for insect control can reduce use of conventional insecticides, but insect resistance could limit the success of this technology. The first generation of transgenic cotton with B. thuringiensis produces a single toxin, Cry1Ac, that is highly effective against susceptible larvae of pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), a major cotton pest. To counter potential problems with resistance, second-generation transgenic cotton that produces B. thuringiensis toxin Cry2Ab alone or in combination with Cry1Ac has been developed. In greenhouse bioassays, a pink bollworm strain selected in the laboratory for resistance to Cry1Ac survived equally well on transgenic cotton with Cry1Ac and on cotton without Cry1Ac. In contrast, Cry1Ac-resistant pink bollworm had little or no survival on second-generation transgenic cotton with Cry2Ab alone or with Cry1Ac plus Cry2Ab. Artificial diet bioassays showed that resistance to Cry1Ac did not confer strong cross-resistance to Cry2Aa. Strains with >90% larval survival on diet with 10 μg of Cry1Ac per ml showed 0% survival on diet with 3.2 or 10 μg of Cry2Aa per ml. However, the average survival of larvae fed a diet with 1 μg of Cry2Aa per ml was higher for Cry1Ac-resistant strains (2 to 10%) than for susceptible strains (0%). If plants with Cry1Ac plus Cry2Ab are deployed while genes that confer resistance to each of these toxins are rare, and if the inheritance of resistance to both toxins is recessive, the efficacy of transgenic cotton might be greatly extended.
PMCID: PMC124036  PMID: 12147473
4.  Transcriptome analysis of Gossypium hirsutum flower buds infested by cotton boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) larvae 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):854.
Cotton is a major fibre crop grown worldwide that suffers extensive damage from chewing insects, including the cotton boll weevil larvae (Anthonomus grandis). Transcriptome analysis was performed to understand the molecular interactions between Gossypium hirsutum L. and cotton boll weevil larvae. The Illumina HiSeq 2000 platform was used to sequence the transcriptome of cotton flower buds infested with boll weevil larvae.
The analysis generated a total of 327,489,418 sequence reads that were aligned to the G. hirsutum reference transcriptome. The total number of expressed genes was over 21,697 per sample with an average length of 1,063 bp. The DEGseq analysis identified 443 differentially expressed genes (DEG) in cotton flower buds infected with boll weevil larvae. Among them, 402 (90.7%) were up-regulated, 41 (9.3%) were down-regulated and 432 (97.5%) were identified as orthologues of A. thaliana genes using Blastx. Mapman analysis of DEG indicated that many genes were involved in the biotic stress response spanning a range of functions, from a gene encoding a receptor-like kinase to genes involved in triggering defensive responses such as MAPK, transcription factors (WRKY and ERF) and signalling by ethylene (ET) and jasmonic acid (JA) hormones. Furthermore, the spatial expression pattern of 32 of the genes responsive to boll weevil larvae feeding was determined by “in situ” qPCR analysis from RNA isolated from two flower structures, the stamen and the carpel, by laser microdissection (LMD).
A large number of cotton transcripts were significantly altered upon infestation by larvae. Among the changes in gene expression, we highlighted the transcription of receptors/sensors that recognise chitin or insect oral secretions; the altered regulation of transcripts encoding enzymes related to kinase cascades, transcription factors, Ca2+ influxes, and reactive oxygen species; and the modulation of transcripts encoding enzymes from phytohormone signalling pathways. These data will aid in the selection of target genes to genetically engineer cotton to control the cotton boll weevil.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-854) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4234063  PMID: 25280771
Cotton; Larvae; Transcriptome sequencing; Biotic stress; WRKY FT; Laser microdissection (LMD)
5.  Novel Pink Bollworm Resistance to the Bt Toxin Cry 1Ac: Effects on Mating, Oviposition, Larval Development and Survival 
Bt cotton plants are genetically engineered to produce insecticidal toxins from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Berliner (Bacillales: Bacillaceae) bacterium and target key lepidopteran pests. In all previous strains of pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) selected in the laboratory for resistance to insecticidal Cry1Ac toxin using an artificial diet containing the toxin, resistance to Cry1Ac and to Bt cotton is linked to three cadherin alleles (r1, r2, and r3). In contrast, the BG(4) pink bollworm strain was selected for resistance to Bt cotton by feeding larvae for four days in each of 42 generations on bolls of ‘NuCOTN33B®’ that expressed Cry1Ac toxin. After additional selection for eleven generations on Cry1Ac-incorporated diet, the susceptibility to Cry1Ac, fecundity, egg viability, and mating of this strain (Bt4R) was compared with the unselected Cry1Ac-susceptible parent strain. Some larvae of the Bt4R strain survived on diet containing ≥ 10 µg Cry1Ac per milliliter artificial diet, but none survived on transgenic cotton bolls. In contrast to strains selected exclusively on Cry1Ac diet, some survival of progeny of reciprocal moth crosses of Bt4R resistant and Bt-susceptible strains occurred on Cry1Ac-treated diet, suggesting differences in levels of dominance. The Bt4R resistant strain does not have the r1, r2, or r3 mutant cadherin genes as do all previous strains of pink bollworm selected on Cry1Ac-treated artificial diet. The combined results suggest a mechanism of resistance to Cry1Ac that is different from previously described cadherin mutations.
PMCID: PMC3011851  PMID: 19613847
Pectinophora gossypiella; Bacillus thuringiensis; transgenic cotton
6.  Similar Genetic Basis of Resistance to Bt Toxin Cry1Ac in Boll-Selected and Diet-Selected Strains of Pink Bollworm 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35658.
Genetically engineered cotton and corn plants producing insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins kill some key insect pests. Yet, evolution of resistance by pests threatens long-term insect control by these transgenic Bt crops. We compared the genetic basis of resistance to Bt toxin Cry1Ac in two independently derived, laboratory-selected strains of a major cotton pest, the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella [Saunders]). The Arizona pooled resistant strain (AZP-R) was started with pink bollworm from 10 field populations and selected with Cry1Ac in diet. The Bt4R resistant strain was started with a long-term susceptible laboratory strain and selected first with Bt cotton bolls and later with Cry1Ac in diet. Previous work showed that AZP-R had three recessive mutations (r1, r2, and r3) in the pink bollworm cadherin gene (PgCad1) linked with resistance to Cry1Ac and Bt cotton producing Cry1Ac. Here we report that inheritance of resistance to a diagnostic concentration of Cry1Ac was recessive in Bt4R. In interstrain complementation tests for allelism, F1 progeny from crosses between AZP-R and Bt4R were resistant to Cry1Ac, indicating a shared resistance locus in the two strains. Molecular analysis of the Bt4R cadherin gene identified a novel 15-bp deletion (r4) predicted to cause the loss of five amino acids upstream of the Cry1Ac-binding region of the cadherin protein. Four recessive mutations in PgCad1 are now implicated in resistance in five different strains, showing that mutations in cadherin are the primary mechanism of resistance to Cry1Ac in laboratory-selected strains of pink bollworm from Arizona.
PMCID: PMC3329465  PMID: 22530065
7.  Evaluation of Cytotoxicity, Genotoxicity and Hematotoxicity of the Recombinant Spore-Crystal Complexes Cry1Ia, Cry10Aa and Cry1Ba6 from Bacillus thuringiensis in Swiss Mice 
Toxins  2014;6(10):2872-2885.
The insecticidal properties of Cry-endotoxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have long been used as spore-crystals in commercial spray formulations for insect control. Recently, some Bt-endotoxin genes have been cloned in many different plants. Toxicological evaluations of three spore-crystal endotoxins, BtCry1Ia, BtCry10Aa and BtCry1Ba6 from B. thuringiensis, were carried out on mice to understand their adverse effects on hematological systems and on genetic material. These three spore-crystals have shown toxic activity to the boll weevil, which is one of the most aggressive pests of the cotton crop. Cry1Ia, Cry10Aa and Cry1Ba6 did not increase the micronucleus frequency in the peripheral erythrocytes of mice and did not cause changes in the frequency of polychromatic erythrocytes. However, some hematologic disburbances were observed, specifically related to Cry1Ia and Cry1Ba6, respectively, for the erythroid and lymphoid lineage. Thus, although the profile of such adverse side effects can be related to their high level of exposure, which is not commonly found in the environment, results showed that these Bt spore-crystals were not harmless to mice, indicating that each spore-crystal endotoxin presents a characteristic profile of toxicity and might be investigated individually.
PMCID: PMC4210873  PMID: 25268978
biopesticides; spore-crystal; micronucleus; endotoxins
8.  Use of Bacillus thuringiensis Toxins for Control of the Cotton Pest Earias insulana (Boisd.) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) 
Thirteen of the most common lepidopteran-specific Cry proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis have been tested for their efficacy against newly hatched larvae of two populations of the spiny bollworm, Earias insulana. At a concentration of 100 μg of toxin per milliliter of artificial diet, six Cry toxins (Cry1Ca, Cry1Ea, Cry1Fa, Cry1Ja, Cry2Aa, and Cry2Ab) were not toxic at all. Cry1Aa, Cry1Ja, and Cry2Aa did not cause mortality but caused significant inhibition of growth. The other Cry toxins (Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, Cry1Ba, Cry1Da, Cry1Ia, and Cry9Ca) were toxic to E. insulana larvae. The 50% lethal concentration values of these toxins ranged from 0.39 to 21.13 μg/ml (for Cry9Ca and Cry1Ia, respectively) for an E. insulana laboratory colony originating from Egypt and from 0.20 to 4.25 μg/ml (for Cry9Ca and Cry1Da, respectively) for a laboratory colony originating from Spain. The relative potencies of the toxins in the population from Egypt were highest for Cry9Ca and Cry1Ab, and they were both significantly more toxic than Cry1Ac and Cry1Ba, followed by Cry1Da and finally Cry1Ia. In the population from Spain, Cry9Ca was the most toxic, followed in decreasing order by Cry1Ac and Cry1Ba, and the least toxic was Cry1Da. Binding experiments were performed to test whether the toxic Cry proteins shared binding sites in this insect. 125I-labeled Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab and biotinylated Cry1Ba, Cry1Ia, and Cry9Ca showed specific binding to the brush border membrane vesicles from E. insulana. Competition binding experiments among these toxins showed that only Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac competed for the same binding sites, indicating a high possibility that this insect may develop cross-resistance to Cry1Ab upon exposure to Cry1Ac transgenic cotton but not to the other toxins tested.
PMCID: PMC1352263  PMID: 16391075
9.  Multidisciplinary fingerprints: forensic reconstruction of an insect reinvasion 
An unexpected outbreak of boll weevils, Anthonomus grandis, an insect pest of cotton, across the Southern Rolling Plains (SRP) eradication zone of west-central Texas, USA, was detected soon after passage of Tropical Storm Erin through the Winter Garden district to the south on 16 August 2007. The synchrony and broad geographic distribution of the captured weevils suggest that long-distance dispersal was responsible for the reinvasion. We integrated three types of assessment to reconstruct the geographic origin of the immigrants: (i) DNA fingerprinting; (ii) pollen fingerprinting; and (iii) atmospheric trajectory analysis. We hypothesized the boll weevils originated in the Southern Blacklands zone near Cameron, or in the Winter Garden district near Uvalde, the nearest regions with substantial populations. Genetic tests broadly agree that the immigrants originated southeast of the SRP zone, probably in regions represented by Uvalde or Weslaco. The SRP pollen profile from weevils matched that of Uvalde better than that of Cameron. Wind trajectories supported daily wind-aided dispersal of weevils from the Uvalde region to the SRP from 17 to 24 August, but failed to support migration from the Cameron region. Taken together the forensic evidence strongly implicates the Winter Garden district near Uvalde as the source of reinvading boll weevils.
PMCID: PMC2842781  PMID: 19828497
boll weevil; cotton; invasive; population genetics; pollen; atmospheric trajectory
10.  An ABC Transporter Mutation Is Correlated with Insect Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac Toxin 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(12):e1001248.
Transgenic crops producing insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are commercially successful in reducing pest damage, yet knowledge of resistance mechanisms that threaten their sustainability is incomplete. Insect resistance to the pore-forming Cry1Ac toxin is correlated with the loss of high-affinity, irreversible binding to the mid-gut membrane, but the genetic factors responsible for this change have been elusive. Mutations in a 12-cadherin-domain protein confer some Cry1Ac resistance but do not block this toxin binding in in vitro assays. We sought to identify mutations in other genes that might be responsible for the loss of binding. We employed a map-based cloning approach using a series of backcrosses with 1,060 progeny to identify a resistance gene in the cotton pest Heliothis virescens that segregated independently from the cadherin mutation. We found an inactivating mutation of the ABC transporter ABCC2 that is genetically linked to Cry1Ac resistance and is correlated with loss of Cry1Ac binding to membrane vesicles. ABC proteins are integral membrane proteins with many functions, including export of toxic molecules from the cell, but have not been implicated in the mode of action of Bt toxins before. The reduction in toxin binding due to the inactivating mutation suggests that ABCC2 is involved in membrane integration of the toxin pore. Our findings suggest that ABC proteins may play a key role in the mode of action of Bt toxins and that ABC protein mutations can confer high levels of resistance that could threaten the continued utilization of Bt–expressing crops. However, such mutations may impose a physiological cost on resistant insects, by reducing export of other toxins such as plant secondary compounds from the cell. This weakness could be exploited to manage this mechanism of Bt resistance in the field.
Author Summary
Crystal toxin proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) make ideal bioinsecticides because of their high potency against certain insects and lack of activity against most other species. Transgenic cotton and maize expressing pore-forming Cry1A Bt-toxins are now widely used in agriculture, enabling substantial reductions in the use of chemical insecticides. However this has greatly increased the selection pressure in pest populations for toxin resistance. Preventing or delaying the development of this resistance is a high priority, to avoid a replay of the onset of insecticide resistance brought on by dependency on chemical pesticides. Because the molecular details of Bt mode of action are still not fully understood, insect strains collected from the field and selected to high levels of resistance in the laboratory are useful in discovering the obstacles the toxin must overcome before it finally forms the pore and kills the insect. We used a genetic approach to explore a poorly understood step in the toxin mode of action, which is blocked in an extremely resistant strain of an important cotton pest. As well as providing the tools to diagnose this type of resistance when it appears in the field, this discovery suggests factors that may counteract its eventual spread.
PMCID: PMC3002984  PMID: 21187898
11.  Increased Frequency of Pink Bollworm Resistance to Bt Toxin Cry1Ac in China 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29975.
Transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) kill some key insect pests, but evolution of resistance by pests can reduce their efficacy. The main approach for delaying pest adaptation to Bt crops uses non-Bt host plants as “refuges” to increase survival of susceptible pests. To delay evolution of pest resistance to transgenic cotton producing Bt toxin Cry1Ac, the United States and some other countries have required refuges of non-Bt cotton, while farmers in China have relied on “natural” refuges of non-Bt host plants other than cotton. The “natural” refuge strategy focuses on cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), the primary target of Bt cotton in China that attacks many crops, but it does not apply to another major pest, pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), which feeds almost entirely on cotton in China. Here we report data showing field-evolved resistance to Cry1Ac by pink bollworm in the Yangtze River Valley of China. Laboratory bioassay data from 51 field-derived strains show that the susceptibility to Cry1Ac was significantly lower during 2008 to 2010 than 2005 to 2007. The percentage of field populations yielding one or more survivors at a diagnostic concentration of Cry1Ac increased from 0% in 2005–2007 to 56% in 2008–2010. However, the median survival at the diagnostic concentration was only 1.6% from 2008 to 2010 and failure of Bt cotton to control pink bollworm has not been reported in China. The early detection of resistance reported here may promote proactive countermeasures, such as a switch to transgenic cotton producing toxins distinct from Cry1A toxins, increased planting of non-Bt cotton, and integration of other management tactics together with Bt cotton.
PMCID: PMC3251611  PMID: 22238687
12.  Early Warning of Cotton Bollworm Resistance Associated with Intensive Planting of Bt Cotton in China 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22874.
Transgenic crops producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins kill some key insect pests, but evolution of resistance by pests can reduce their efficacy. The predominant strategy for delaying pest resistance to Bt crops requires refuges of non-Bt host plants to promote survival of susceptible pests. To delay pest resistance to transgenic cotton producing Bt toxin Cry1Ac, farmers in the United States and Australia planted refuges of non-Bt cotton, while farmers in China have relied on “natural” refuges of non-Bt host plants other than cotton. Here we report data from a 2010 survey showing field-evolved resistance to Cry1Ac of the major target pest, cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), in northern China. Laboratory bioassay results show that susceptibility to Cry1Ac was significantly lower in 13 field populations from northern China, where Bt cotton has been planted intensively, than in two populations from sites in northwestern China where exposure to Bt cotton has been limited. Susceptibility to Bt toxin Cry2Ab did not differ between northern and northwestern China, demonstrating that resistance to Cry1Ac did not cause cross-resistance to Cry2Ab, and implying that resistance to Cry1Ac in northern China is a specific adaptation caused by exposure to this toxin in Bt cotton. Despite the resistance detected in laboratory bioassays, control failures of Bt cotton have not been reported in China. This early warning may spur proactive countermeasures, including a switch to transgenic cotton producing two or more toxins distinct from Cry1A toxins.
PMCID: PMC3153483  PMID: 21857961
13.  Antibiotics influence the toxicity of the delta endotoxins of Bacillus thuringiensis towards the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera 
BMC Microbiology  2014;14:200.
The cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera is one of the most important crop pests worldwide. It has developed high levels of resistance to synthetic insecticides, and hence, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) formulations are used as a safer pesticide and the Bt genes have been deployed in transgenic crops for controlling this pest. There is an apprehension that H. armigera might develop resistance to transgenic crops in future. Therefore, we studied the role of gut microbes by eliminating them with antibiotics in H. armigera larvae on the toxicity of Bt toxins against this pest.
Commercial formulation of Bt (Biolep®) and the pure Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac toxin proteins were evaluated at ED50, LC50, and LC90 dosages against the H. armigera larvae with and without antibiotics (which removed the gut microbes). Lowest H. armigera larval mortality due to Bt formulation and the Bt toxins Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac was recorded in insects reared on diets with 250 and 500 μg ml−1 diet of each of the four antibiotics (gentamicin, penicillin, rifampicin, and streptomycin), while the highest larval mortality was recorded in insects reared on diets without the antibiotics. Mortality of H. armigera larvae fed on diets with Bt formulation and the δ-endotoxins Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac was inversely proportional to the concentration of antibiotics in the artificial diet. Nearly 30% reduction in larval mortality was observed in H. armigera larvae from F1 to F3 generation when the larvae were reared on diets without antibiotics (with gut microbes) and fed on 0.15% Bt or 12 μg Cry1Ab or Cry1Ac ml−1 diet, indicating development of resistance to Bt in the presence of gut microflora. However, there were no differences in larval mortality due to Bt, Cry1Ab or Cry1Ac across generations in insects when they were reared on diets with 250 μg of each antibiotic ml−1 diet (without gut microflora).
The results suggested that antibiotics which eliminated gut microflora influenced the toxicity of Bt towards H. armigera, and any variation in diversity and abundance of gut microflora will have a major bearing on development of resistance to Bt toxins applied as foliar sprays or deployed in transgenic crops for pest management.
PMCID: PMC4222728  PMID: 25059716
14.  Dominant Negative Phenotype of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab, Cry11Aa and Cry4Ba Mutants Suggest Hetero-Oligomer Formation among Different Cry Toxins 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19952.
Bacillus thuringiensis Cry toxins are used worldwide in the control of different insect pests important in agriculture or in human health. The Cry proteins are pore-forming toxins that affect the midgut cell of target insects. It was shown that non-toxic Cry1Ab helix α-4 mutants had a dominant negative (DN) phenotype inhibiting the toxicity of wildtype Cry1Ab when used in equimolar or sub-stoichiometric ratios (1∶1, 0.5∶1, mutant∶wt) indicating that oligomer formation is a key step in toxicity of Cry toxins.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The DN Cry1Ab-D136N/T143D mutant that is able to block toxicity of Cry1Ab toxin, was used to analyze its capacity to block the activity against Manduca sexta larvae of other Cry1 toxins, such as Cry1Aa, Cry1Ac, Cry1Ca, Cry1Da, Cry1Ea and Cry1Fa. Cry1Ab-DN mutant inhibited toxicity of Cry1Aa, Cry1Ac and Cry1Fa. In addition, we isolated mutants in helix α-4 of Cry4Ba and Cry11Aa, and demonstrate that Cry4Ba-E159K and Cry11Aa-V142D are inactive and completely block the toxicity against Aedes aegypti of both wildtype toxins, when used at sub-stoichiometric ratios, confirming a DN phenotype. As controls we analyzed Cry1Ab-R99A or Cry11Aa-E97A mutants that are located in helix α-3 and are affected in toxin oligomerization. These mutants do not show a DN phenotype but were able to block toxicity when used in 10∶1 or 100∶1 ratios (mutant∶wt) probably by competition of binding with toxin receptors.
We show that DN phenotype can be observed among different Cry toxins suggesting that may interact in vivo forming hetero-oligomers. The DN phenotype cannot be observed in mutants affected in oligomerization, suggesting that this step is important to inhibit toxicity of other toxins.
PMCID: PMC3095643  PMID: 21603577
15.  Bacillus thuringiensis Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 Interactions with Western Corn Rootworm Midgut Membrane Binding Sites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53079.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 are binary insecticidal proteins that are co-expressed in transgenic corn hybrids for control of western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte. Bt crystal (Cry) proteins with limited potential for field-relevant cross-resistance are used in combination, along with non-transgenic corn refuges, as a strategy to delay development of resistant rootworm populations. Differences in insect midgut membrane binding site interactions are one line of evidence that Bt protein mechanisms of action differ and that the probability of receptor-mediated cross-resistance is low.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Binding site interactions were investigated between Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 and coleopteran active insecticidal proteins Cry3Aa, Cry6Aa, and Cry8Ba on western corn rootworm midgut brush border membrane vesicles (BBMV). Competitive binding of radio-labeled proteins to western corn rootworm BBMV was used as a measure of shared binding sites. Our work shows that 125I-Cry35Ab1 binds to rootworm BBMV, Cry34Ab1 enhances 125I-Cry35Ab1 specific binding, and that 125I-Cry35Ab1 with or without unlabeled Cry34Ab1 does not share binding sites with Cry3Aa, Cry6Aa, or Cry8Ba. Two primary lines of evidence presented here support the lack of shared binding sites between Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 and the aforementioned proteins: 1) No competitive binding to rootworm BBMV was observed for competitor proteins when used in excess with 125I-Cry35Ab1 alone or combined with unlabeled Cry34Ab1, and 2) No competitive binding to rootworm BBMV was observed for unlabeled Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1, or a combination of the two, when used in excess with 125I-Cry3Aa, or 125I-Cry8Ba.
Combining two or more insecticidal proteins active against the same target pest is one tactic to delay the onset of resistance to either protein. We conclude that Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 are compatible with Cry3Aa, Cry6Aa, or Cry8Ba for deployment as insect resistance management pyramids for in-plant control of western corn rootworm.
PMCID: PMC3537739  PMID: 23308139
16.  Non-Recessive Bt Toxin Resistance Conferred by an Intracellular Cadherin Mutation in Field-Selected Populations of Cotton Bollworm 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e53418.
Transgenic crops producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins have been planted widely to control insect pests, yet evolution of resistance by the pests can reduce the benefits of this approach. Recessive mutations in the extracellular domain of toxin-binding cadherin proteins that confer resistance to Bt toxin Cry1Ac by disrupting toxin binding have been reported previously in three major lepidopteran pests, including the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera. Here we report a novel allele from cotton bollworm with a deletion in the intracellular domain of cadherin that is genetically linked with non-recessive resistance to Cry1Ac. We discovered this allele in each of three field-selected populations we screened from northern China where Bt cotton producing Cry1Ac has been grown intensively. We expressed four types of cadherin alleles in heterologous cell cultures: susceptible, resistant with the intracellular domain mutation, and two complementary chimeric alleles with and without the mutation. Cells transfected with each of the four cadherin alleles bound Cry1Ac and were killed by Cry1Ac. However, relative to cells transfected with either the susceptible allele or the chimeric allele lacking the intracellular domain mutation, cells transfected with the resistant allele or the chimeric allele containing the intracellular domain mutation were less susceptible to Cry1Ac. These results suggest that the intracellular domain of cadherin is involved in post-binding events that affect toxicity of Cry1Ac. This evidence is consistent with the vital role of the intracellular region of cadherin proposed by the cell signaling model of the mode of action of Bt toxins. Considered together with previously reported data, the results suggest that both pore formation and cell signaling pathways contribute to the efficacy of Bt toxins.
PMCID: PMC3532162  PMID: 23285292
17.  Cis-mediated down-regulation of a trypsin gene associated with Bt resistance in cotton bollworm 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:7219.
Transgenic plants producing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are useful for pest control, but their efficacy is reduced when pests evolve resistance. Here we examined the mechanism of resistance to Bt toxin Cry1Ac in the laboratory-selected LF5 strain of the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera. This strain had 110-fold resistance to Cry1Ac protoxin and 39-fold resistance to Cry1Ac activated toxin. Evaluation of five trypsin genes revealed 99% reduced transcription of one trypsin gene (HaTryR) was associated with resistance. Silencing of this gene with RNA interference in susceptible larvae increased their survival on diets containing Cry1Ac. Bioassays of progeny from crosses revealed that resistance to Cry1Ac was genetically linked with HaTryR. We identified mutations in the promoter region of HaTryR in the resistant strain. In transfected insect cell lines, transcription was lower when driven by the resistant promoter compared with the susceptible promoter, implicating cis-mediated down-regulation of HaTryR transcription as a mechanism of resistance. The results suggest that H. armigera can adapt to Bt toxin Cry1Ac by decreased expression of trypsin. Because trypsin activation of protoxin is a critical step in toxicity, transgenic plants with activated toxins rather than protoxins might increase the durability of Bt crops.
PMCID: PMC4245529  PMID: 25427690
18.  Interaction of Bacillus thuringiensis Toxins with Larval Midgut Binding Sites of Helicoverpa armigera (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) 
In 1996, Bt-cotton (cotton expressing a Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene) expressing the Cry1Ac protein was commercially introduced to control cotton pests. A threat to this first generation of transgenic cotton is the evolution of resistance by the insects. Second-generation Bt-cotton has been developed with either new B. thuringiensis genes or with a combination of cry genes. However, one requirement for the “stacked” gene strategy to work is that the stacked toxins bind to different binding sites. In the present study, the binding of 125I-labeled Cry1Ab protein (125I-Cry1Ab) and 125I-Cry1Ac to brush border membrane vesicles (BBMV) of Helicoverpa armigera was analyzed in competition experiments with 11 nonlabeled Cry proteins. The results indicate that Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, and Cry1Ac competed for common binding sites. No other Cry proteins tested competed for either 125I-Cry1Ab or 125I-Cry1Ac binding, except Cry1Ja, which competed only at the highest concentrations used. Furthermore, BBMV from four H. armigera populations were also tested with 125I-Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab to check the influence of the insect population on the binding results. Finally, the inhibitory effect of selected sugars and lectins was also determined. 125I-Cry1Ac binding was strongly inhibited by N-acetylgalactosamine, sialic acid, and concanavalin A and moderately inhibited by soybean agglutinin. In contrast, 125I-Cry1Ab binding was only significantly inhibited by concanavalin A. These results show that Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab use different epitopes for binding to BBMV.
PMCID: PMC368413  PMID: 15006756
19.  Dual Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac and Cry2Aa Toxins in Heliothis virescens Suggests Multiple Mechanisms of Resistance 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2003;69(10):5898-5906.
One strategy for delaying evolution of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis crystal (Cry) endotoxins is the production of multiple Cry toxins in each transgenic plant (gene stacking). This strategy relies upon the assumption that simultaneous evolution of resistance to toxins that have different modes of action will be difficult for insect pests. In B. thuringiensis-transgenic (Bt) cotton, production of both Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab has been proposed to delay resistance of Heliothis virescens (tobacco budworm). After previous laboratory selection with Cry1Ac, H. virescens strains CXC and KCBhyb developed high levels of cross-resistance not only to toxins similar to Cry1Ac but also to Cry2Aa. We studied the role of toxin binding alteration in resistance and cross-resistance with the CXC and KCBhyb strains. In toxin binding experiments, Cry1A and Cry2Aa toxins bound to brush border membrane vesicles from CXC, but binding of Cry1Aa was reduced for the KCBhyb strain compared to susceptible insects. Since Cry1Aa and Cry2Aa do not share binding proteins in H. virescens, our results suggest occurrence of at least two mechanisms of resistance in KCBhyb insects, one of them related to reduction of Cry1Aa toxin binding. Cry1Ac bound irreversibly to brush border membrane vesicles (BBMV) from YDK, CXC, and KCBhyb larvae, suggesting that Cry1Ac insertion was unaffected. These results highlight the genetic potential of H. virescens to become resistant to distinct Cry toxins simultaneously and may question the effectiveness of gene stacking in delaying evolution of resistance.
PMCID: PMC201244  PMID: 14532042
20.  A Comprehensive Assessment of the Effects of Bt Cotton on Coleomegilla maculata Demonstrates No Detrimental Effects by Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22185.
The ladybird beetle, Coleomegilla maculata (DeGeer), is a common and abundant predator in many cropping systems. Its larvae and adults are predaceous, feeding on aphids, thrips, lepidopteran larvae and plant tissues, such as pollen. Therefore, this species is exposed to insecticidal proteins expressed in insect-resistant, genetically engineered cotton expressing Cry proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). A tritrophic bioassay was conduced to evaluate the potential impact of Cry2Ab- and Cry1Ac-expressing cotton on fitness parameters of C. maculata using Bt-susceptible and -resistant larvae of Trichoplusia ni as prey. Coleomegilla maculata survival, development time, adult weight and fecundity were not different when they were fed with resistant T. ni larvae reared on either Bt or control cotton. To ensure that C. maculata were not sensitive to the tested Cry toxins independent from the plant background and to add certainty to the hazard assessment, C. maculata larvae were fed artificial diet incorporated with Cry2Ab, Cry1Ac or both at >10 times higher concentrations than in cotton tissue. Artificial diet containing E-64 was included as a positive control. No differences were detected in any life-table parameters between Cry protein-containing diet treatments and the control diet. In contrast, larvae of C. maculata fed the E-64 could not develop to the pupal stage and the 7-d larval weight was significantly negatively affected. In both feeding assays, the stability and bioactivity of Cry proteins in the food sources were confirmed by ELISA and sensitive-insect bioassays. Our results show that C. maculata is not affected by Bt cotton and is not sensitive to Cry2Ab and Cry1Ac at concentrations exceeding the levels in Bt cotton, thus demonstrating that Bt cotton will pose a negligible risk to C. maculata. More importantly, this study demonstrates a comprehensive system for assessing the risk of genetically modified plants on non-target organisms.
PMCID: PMC3134477  PMID: 21765949
21.  Enhancement of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry3Aa and Cry3Bb Toxicities to Coleopteran Larvae by a Toxin-Binding Fragment of an Insect Cadherin▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(10):3086-3092.
The Cry3Aa and Cry3Bb insecticidal proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis are used in biopesticides and transgenic crops to control larvae of leaf-feeding beetles and rootworms. Cadherins localized in the midgut epithelium are identified as receptors for Cry toxins in lepidopteran and dipteran larvae. Previously, we discovered that a peptide of a toxin-binding cadherin expressed in Escherichia coli functions as a synergist for Cry1A toxicity against lepidopteran larvae and Cry4 toxicity against dipteran larvae. Here we report that the fragment containing the three most C-terminal cadherin repeats (CR) from the cadherin of the western corn rootworm binds toxin and enhances Cry3 toxicity to larvae of naturally susceptible species. The cadherin fragment (CR8 to CR10 [CR8-10]) of western corn rootworm Diabrotica virgifera virgifera was expressed in E. coli as an inclusion body. By an enzyme-linked immunosorbent microplate assay, we demonstrated that the CR8-10 peptide binds α-chymotrypsin-treated Cry3Aa and Cry3Bb toxins at high affinity (11.8 nM and 1.4 nM, respectively). Coleopteran larvae ingesting CR8-10 inclusions had increased susceptibility to Cry3Aa or Cry3Bb toxin. The Cry3 toxin-enhancing effect of CR8-10 was demonstrated for Colorado potato beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata, southern corn rootworm Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi, and western corn rootworm. The extent of Cry3 toxin enhancement, which ranged from 3- to 13-fold, may have practical applications for insect control. Cry3-containing biopesticides that include a cadherin fragment could be more efficacious. And Bt corn (i.e., corn treated with B. thuringiensis to make it resistant to pests) coexpressing Cry3Bb and CR8-10 could increase the functional dose level of the insect toxic activity, reducing the overall resistance risk.
PMCID: PMC2681622  PMID: 19329664
22.  Dominant Negative Mutants of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab Toxin Function as Anti-Toxins: Demonstration of the Role of Oligomerization in Toxicity 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(5):e5545.
Bacillus thuringiensis Cry toxins, that are used worldwide in insect control, kill insects by a mechanism that depends on their ability to form oligomeric pores that insert into the insect-midgut cells. These toxins are being used worldwide in transgenic plants or spray to control insect pests in agriculture. However, a major concern has been the possible effects of these insecticidal proteins on non-target organisms mainly in ecosystems adjacent to agricultural fields.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We isolated and characterized 11 non-toxic mutants of Cry1Ab toxin affected in different steps of the mechanism of action namely binding to receptors, oligomerization and pore-formation. These mutant toxins were analyzed for their capacity to block wild type toxin activity, presenting a dominant negative phenotype. The dominant negative phenotype was analyzed at two levels, in vivo by toxicity bioassays against susceptible Manduca sexta larvae and in vitro by pore formation activity in black lipid bilayers. We demonstrate that some mutations located in helix α-4 completely block the wild type toxin activity at sub-stoichiometric level confirming a dominant negative phenotype, thereby functioning as potent antitoxins.
This is the first reported case of a Cry toxin dominant inhibitor. These data demonstrate that oligomerization is a fundamental step in Cry toxin action and represent a potential mechanism to protect special ecosystems from the possible effect of Cry toxins on non-target organisms.
PMCID: PMC2678262  PMID: 19440244
23.  Cadherin binding is not a limiting step for Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis Cry4Ba toxicity to Aedes aegypti larvae 
The Biochemical journal  2012;443(3):711-717.
Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis produces three Cry toxins (Cry4Aa, Cry4Ba and Cry11Aa) that are active against Aedes aegypti larvae. The identification of the rate-limiting binding steps of Cry toxins that are used for insect control in the field, such as those of B. thuringiensis subsp. israelensis, should provide targets for improving insecticides against important insect pests. Previous studies showed that Cry11Aa binds to cadherin receptor fragment CR7–11 (cadherin repeats 7–11) with high affinity. Binding to cadherin has been proposed to facilitate Cry toxin oligomer formation. In the present study, we show that Cry4Ba binds to CR7–11 with 9-fold lower binding affinity compared with Cry11Aa. Oligomerization assays showed that Cry4Ba is capable of forming oligomers when proteolytically activated in vitro in the absence of the CR7–11 fragment in contrast with Cry11Aa that formed oligomers only in the presence of CR7–11. Pore-formation assays in planar lipid bilayers showed that Cry4Ba oligomers were proficient in opening ion channels. Finally, silencing the cadherin gene by dsRNA (double-stranded RNA) showed that silenced larvae were more tolerant to Cry11Aa in contrast with Cry4Ba, which showed similar toxic levels to those of control larvae. These findings show that cadherin binding is not a limiting step for Cry4Ba toxicity to A. aegypti larvae.
PMCID: PMC3686486  PMID: 22329749
Aedes aegypti; Bacillus thuringiensis; cadherin; Cry toxin; pore-forming toxin; receptor binding
24.  Molecular and Insecticidal Characterization of a Cry1I Protein Toxic to Insects of the Families Noctuidae, Tortricidae, Plutellidae, and Chrysomelidae 
The most notable characteristic of Bacillus thuringiensis is its ability to produce insecticidal proteins. More than 300 different proteins have been described with specific activity against insect species. We report the molecular and insecticidal characterization of a novel cry gene encoding a protein of the Cry1I group with toxic activity towards insects of the families Noctuidae, Tortricidae, Plutellidae, and Chrysomelidae. PCR analysis detected a DNA sequence with an open reading frame of 2.2 kb which encodes a protein with a molecular mass of 80.9 kDa. Trypsin digestion of this protein resulted in a fragment of ca. 60 kDa, typical of activated Cry1 proteins. The deduced sequence of the protein has homologies of 96.1% with Cry1Ia1, 92.8% with Cry1Ib1, and 89.6% with Cry1Ic1. According to the Cry protein classification criteria, this protein was named Cry1Ia7. The expression of the gene in Escherichia coli resulted in a protein that was water soluble and toxic to several insect species. The 50% lethal concentrations for larvae of Earias insulana, Lobesia botrana, Plutella xylostella, and Leptinotarsa decemlineata were 21.1, 8.6, 12.3, and 10.0 μg/ml, respectively. Binding assays with biotinylated toxins to E. insulana and L. botrana midgut membrane vesicles revealed that Cry1Ia7 does not share binding sites with Cry1Ab or Cry1Ac proteins, which are commonly present in B. thuringiensis-treated crops and commercial B. thuringiensis-based bioinsecticides. We discuss the potential of Cry1Ia7 as an active ingredient which can be used in combination with Cry1Ab or Cry1Ac in pest control and the management of resistance to B. thuringiensis toxins.
PMCID: PMC1489379  PMID: 16820473
25.  Domain III substitution in Bacillus thuringiensis delta-endotoxin CryIA(b) results in superior toxicity for Spodoptera exigua and altered membrane protein recognition. 
To test our hypothesis that substitution of domain III of Bacillus thuringiensis delta-endotoxin (Cry) proteins might improve toxicity to pest insects, e.g., Spodoptera exigua, in vivo recombination was used to produce a number of cryIA(b)-cryIC hybrid genes. A rapid screening assay was subsequently exploited to select hybrid genes encoding soluble protoxins. Screening of 120 recombinants yielded two different hybrid genes encoding soluble proteins with domains I and II of CryIA(b) and domain III of CryIC. These proteins differed by only one amino acid residue. Both hybrid protoxins gave a protease-resistant toxin upon in vitro activation by trypsin. Bioassays showed that one of these CryIA(b)-CryIC hybrid proteins (H04) was highly toxic to S. exigua compared with the parental CryIA(b) protein and significantly more toxic than CryIC. In semiquantitative binding studies with biotin-labelled toxins and intact brush border membrane vesicles of S. exigua, this domain III substitution appeared not to affect binding-site specificity. However, binding to a 200-kDa protein by CryIA(b) in preparations of solubilized and blotted brush border membrane vesicle proteins was completely abolished by the domain III substitution. A reciprocal hybrid containing domains I and II of CryIC and domain III of CryIA(b) did bind to the 200-kDa protein, confirming that domain III of CryIA(b) was essential for this reaction. These results show that domain III of CryIC protein plays an important role in the level of toxicity to S. exigua, that substitution of domain III may be a powerful tool to increase the repertoire of available active toxins for pest insects, and that domain III is involved in binding to gut epithelium membrane proteins of S. exigua.
PMCID: PMC167929  PMID: 8633853

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