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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2008 Jan;74(2):367-74. Epub 2007 Nov 16.

An engineered chymotrypsin/cathepsin G site in domain I renders Bacillus thuringiensis Cry3A active against Western corn rootworm larvae.

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Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2257, USA.


The western corn rootworm remains one of the most important pests of corn in the United States despite the use of many pest management tools. Cry3A, the first coleopteran-active Bacillus thuringiensis toxin isolated, has not been useful for control of the corn rootworm pest complex. Modification of Cry3A so that it contained a chymotrypsin/cathepsin G protease recognition site in the loop between alpha-helix 3 and alpha-helix 4 of domain I, however, resulted in consistent activity of the toxin ("mCry3A") against neonate western corn rootworm. In vitro chymotrypsin digests showed that there was a substantial difference between the enzyme sensitivity of mCry3A and the enzyme sensitivity of Cry3A, with mCry3A rapidly converted from a 67-kDa form to a approximately 55-kDa form. The introduced protease site was also recognized in vivo, where the approximately 55-kDa form of mCry3A toxin was rapidly generated and associated with the membrane fraction. After a point mutation in mcry3A that resulted in the elimination of the native domain I chymotrypsin site (C terminal to the introduced chymotrypsin/cathepsin G protease site of mCry3A), the in vitro and in vivo digestion patterns remained the same, demonstrating that the introduced site was required for the enhanced activity. Also, 55-kDa mCry3A generated by cleavage with chymotrypsin exhibited specific binding to western corn rootworm brush border membrane, whereas untreated 67-kDa mCry3A did not. These data indicate that the mCry3A toxicity for corn rootworm larvae was due to the introduction of a chymotrypsin/cathepsin G site, which enhanced cleavage and subsequent binding of the activated toxin to midgut cells.

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