Crop Pests With Baculoviruses
By David Elstein
January 17, 2002
Bollworm and budworm pests attack
more than 30 food and fiber crops around the world, causing annual damage and
control costs of more than $1.25 billion in the United States alone. As a new
way to control these pests, Agricultural
Research Service scientists are studying organisms called baculoviruses.
These are rod-shaped DNA viruses, many of which begin their life cycles
reproducing inside cells. Caterpillars infected with baculoviruses die but
remain on the surfaces of leaves, where healthy caterpillars take in the virus
and a new cycle begins.
This cycle occurs naturally, but ARS researchers are designing baculoviruses
to kill pests. While baculoviruses take longer to work on target pests, they
kill specific insects, unlike chemical insecticides that sometimes kill
Another problem, which researchers are working on, is finding a way to help
the baculoviruses survive in sunlight, since they are inactivated by
ultraviolet-B (UV-B) rays. Entomologists Cynthia L. Goodman, James J. Grasela
and Carlo M. Ignoffo (retired), along with microbiologist Arthur H. McIntosh,
are trying to find solutions to these problems. All are with the
Biological Control of Insects
Research Laboratory in Columbia, Mo.
Several companies are trying to mass-produce baculoviruses, since the
organisms may eventually be used instead of insecticides because they are safer
for the environment. Scientists are trying to produce the viruses in insect
cells rather than in the whole insect-- to save money and keep them free of
The insect cell cultures have many uses, besides just being used as a
vehicle for growing baculoviruses. They are also used to perform research on
how well baculoviruses can be used as a pesticide. The cultures may also help
scientists find out why certain chemicals kill or paralyze a particular insect.
Additionally, researchers are using insect cell cultures to produce proteins
important as drugs or as diagnostic tools for medical purposes.
For more detailed story, see Januarys issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.