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Gypsy Moth Virus

September 29, 2011

A single gene in a lethal virus makes gypsy moth caterpillars stop molting and eat constantly.



How a virus enslaves caterpillars.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A virus called baculovirus makes pesky gypsy moth caterpillars do its bidding.  Infected caterpillars climb to the tops of trees, and stay there until they die.  Then their bodies melt and rain virus particles below.  Now, Penn State University entomologist Kelli Hoover and her colleagues have identified the gene that sets it all in motion.  It’s a gene called EGT that suppresses molting – a developmental process that normally triggers a break from feeding.

KELLI HOOVER (Pennsylvania State University):

By keeping the insect from molting, the virus keeps the insect in a feeding state, so that it’s able to make a bigger caterpillar, and get more virus particles out of a given caterpillar. 


Her team showed that without this gene, the virus couldn’t make the caterpillars climb.  The virus is already used for pest control, and Hoover’s findings may lead to better ways to manage it in the field.   I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.