The collaboration between the UNAM team of molecular biologists and the American expert in the evolution of pest resistance happened by accident.
Mario Sobern and Alejandra Bravo, a husband-wife research team, had invited Tabashnik to give a talk in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at a scientific conference on pore-forming bacterial toxins such as Bt solution.
Tabashnik said, "While I was there, I got turista -- which is caused by pore-forming bacterial toxins. I was pretty sick."
The couple cared for Tabashnik while he recovered. He asked what he could do to repay their kindness, and Sobern suggested collaborating to test their designer toxins on UA's resistant insects.
"It was the perfect match," Tabashnik said. "We knew what made our strains resistant, and they hypothesized that their designer toxins could overcome the resistance."
The discovery is based on understanding a receptor molecule called cadherin on the insects' gut membranes. Normal cadherin binds with the Bt toxin in a lock-and-key fashion.
After the toxin binds, an enzyme hacks a bit off each toxin molecule.
The trimmed toxin molecules clump and form pores in the gut membrane cells. The pores let materials flow chaotically in and out of the cells. As a result cells and ultimately the insect die.
Tabashnik and his UA colleagues Tim Dennehy and Yves Carrire knew the Bt-resistant pink bollworms in their colony had a mutant version of cadherin.
Tabashnik said, "These resistant insects have genetic changes, mutations, that change the lock. Their cadherin no longer takes the key."
The UNAM team did an end-run around the resistant insects' strategy. The modified, or designer, toxins have that crucial bit al
|Contact: Mari N. Jensen|
University of Arizona