ITHACA, N.Y. -- They go from bugs to drugs. Thanks to the confluence of a new technology in virology and a recent patent in rearing insects, scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research Inc. (BTI), located at Cornell University, have found a better way to produce commercial quantities of recombinant pharmaceutical proteins -- out of insect larvae.
"These are valuable proteins, and they can't be produced this well any other way," said H. Alan Wood, a virologist at BTI. "Essentially, this is a protein factory. We are using insects to raise raw pharmaceutical proteins. In effect, we are turning insects into little protein factories."
Originally, the researchers were exploring ways to safely combat agricultural pests through biological means, but in their research they learned that the proteins from these nearly dead pests could directly benefit humanity. Recombinant baculoviruses have been used before to develop a panorama of pharmaceutical proteins but were made using the insect cell culture method, a time-consuming, and expensive process.
Scientists can harvest the beneficial protein from the infected larvae of lepidoptera -- moths and caterpillars. Genetically engineered baculoviruses, which are viruses shaped like rods, attack the inside of the larvae, initiate a wholesale, metabolic change and kill the insect.
"The baculovirus literally turns the insect to liquid," said Patrick R. Hughes, BTI researcher. "Right before the insect dies, we harvest the protein, and the protein can be refined into pharmaceuticals."
The virus spreads through the caterpillar within 24 hours, but the bug continues to grow, spreading virus through the caterpillar's body for three days. Just prior to the fourth day, or the fifth larval stage, the proteins being grown in the bug are ready for harvest. Hughes says the bug never reaches pupation, and if the protein is not harvested from the caterpillar during this crucial larval stage, the p
Contact: Blaine Friedlander
Cornell University News Service