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J Exp Bot. 2010 Oct;61(15):4169-83. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erq166. Epub 2010 Jun 25.

Recombinant protease inhibitors for herbivore pest control: a multitrophic perspective.

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  • 1Plant Science Department, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.


Protease inhibitors are a promising complement to Bt toxins for the development of insect-resistant transgenic crops, but their limited specificity against proteolytic enzymes and the ubiquity of protease-dependent processes in living organisms raise questions about their eventual non-target effects in agroecosystems. After a brief overview of the main factors driving the impacts of insect-resistant transgenic crops on non-target organisms, the possible effects of protease inhibitors are discussed from a multitrophic perspective, taking into account not only the target herbivore proteases but also the proteases of other organisms found along the trophic chain, including the plant itself. Major progress has been achieved in recent years towards the design of highly potent broad-spectrum inhibitors and the field deployment of protease inhibitor-expressing transgenic plants resistant to major herbivore pests. A thorough assessment of the current literature suggests that, whereas the non-specific inhibitory effects of recombinant protease inhibitors in plant food webs could often be negligible and their 'unintended' pleiotropic effects in planta of potential agronomic value, the innocuity of these proteins might always remain an issue to be assessed empirically, on a case-by-case basis.

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