Engineered expression of the invertebrate‐specific scorpion toxin AaHIT reduces adult longevity and female fecundity in the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella

T. D. Harvey‐Samuel, X. Xu, E. Lovett, T. Dafa'alla, A. Walker, V. C. Norman, R. Carter, J. Teal, L. Akilan, P. T. Leftwich, C. M. Reitmayer, H. A. Siddiqui, L. Alphey

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Background: Previous Genetic Pest Management (GPM) systems in diamondback moth (DBM) have relied on expressing lethal proteins (‘effectors’) that are ‘cell‐autonomous’ i.e. do not leave the cell they are expressed in. To increase the flexibility of future GPM systems in DBM, we aimed to assess the use of a non cell‐autonomous, invertebrate‐specific, neurotoxic effector – the scorpion toxin AaHIT. This AaHIT effector was designed to be secreted by expressing cells, potentially leading to effects on distant cells, specifically neuromuscular junctions.

Results: Expression of AaHIT caused a ‘shaking/quivering’ phenotype which could be repressed by provision of an antidote (tetracycline); a phenotype consistent with the AaHIT mode‐of‐action. This effect was more pronounced when AaHIT expression was driven by the Hr5/ie1 promoter (82.44% of males, 65.14% of females) rather than Op/ie2 (57.35% of males, 48.39% of females). Contrary to expectations, the shaking phenotype and observed fitness costs were limited to adults where they caused severe reductions in mean longevity (‐81%) and median female fecundity (‐93%). qPCR of AaHIT expression patterns and analysis of piggyBac‐mediated transgene insertion sites suggest that restriction of observed effects to the adult stages may be due to influence of local genomic environment on the tetO‐AaHIT transgene.

Conclusion: We have demonstrated the feasibility of using non cell‐autonomous effectors within a GPM context for the first time in the Lepidoptera, one of the most economically damaging orders of insects. These findings provide a framework for extending this system to other pest Lepidoptera and to other secreted effectors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3154-3164
Number of pages11
JournalPest Management Science
Issue number7
Early online date4 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • RIDL
  • genetic biocontrol
  • genetic pest management
  • neurotoxin
  • non-cell-autonomous
  • tet-off

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