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Novel bacillus thuringiensis gene with lepidopteran activity

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Title: Novel bacillus thuringiensis gene with lepidopteran activity.
Abstract: The invention provides nucleic acids, and variants and fragments thereof, obtained from strains of Bacillus thuringiensis encoding polypeptides having pesticidal activity against insect pests, including Lepidoptera. Particular embodiments of the invention provide isolated nucleic acids encoding pesticidal proteins, pesticidal compositions, DNA constructs, and transformed microorganisms and plants comprising a nucleic acid of the embodiments. These compositions find use in methods for controlling pests, especially plant pests. ...

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Inventors: Andre R. Abad, Hua Dong, Sue B. Lo, Xiaomei Shi
USPTO Applicaton #: #20120065127 - Class: 514 45 (USPTO) - 03/15/12 - Class 514 

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The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20120065127, Novel bacillus thuringiensis gene with lepidopteran activity.

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This application is a divisional of co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 12/616,298, filed on Nov. 11, 2009, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/146,676, filed Jan. 23, 2009, the content of which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.


The present invention relates to naturally-occurring and recombinant nucleic acids obtained from novel Bacillus thuringiensis genes that encode pesticidal polypeptides characterized by pesticidal activity against insect pests. Compositions and methods of the invention utilize the disclosed nucleic acids, and their encoded pesticidal polypeptides, to control plant pests.


Insect pests are a major factor in the loss of the world\'s agricultural crops. For example, armyworm feeding, black cutworm damage, or European corn borer damage can be economically devastating to agricultural producers. Insect pest-related crop loss from European corn borer attacks on field and sweet corn alone has reached about one billion dollars a year in damage and control expenses.

Traditionally, the primary method for impacting insect pest populations is the application of broad-spectrum chemical insecticides. However, consumers and government regulators alike are becoming increasingly concerned with the environmental hazards associated with the production and use of synthetic chemical pesticides. Because of such concerns, regulators have banned or limited the use of some of the more hazardous pesticides. Thus, there is substantial interest in developing alternative pesticides.

Biological control of insect pests of agricultural significance using a microbial agent, such as fungi, bacteria, or another species of insect affords an environmentally friendly and commercially attractive alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. Generally speaking, the use of biopesticides presents a lower risk of pollution and environmental hazards, and biopesticides provide greater target specificity than is characteristic of traditional broad-spectrum chemical insecticides. In addition, biopesticides often cost less to produce and thus improve economic yield for a wide variety of crops.

Certain species of microorganisms of the genus Bacillus are known to possess pesticidal activity against a broad range of insect pests including Lepidoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera, Hemiptera, and others. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and Bacillus papilliae are among the most successful biocontrol agents discovered to date. Insect pathogenicity has also been attributed to strains of B. larvae, B. lentimorbus, B. sphaericus (Harwook, ed., ((1989) Bacillus (Plenum Press), 306) and B. cereus (WO 96/10083). Pesticidal activity appears to be concentrated in parasporal crystalline protein inclusions, although pesticidal proteins have also been isolated from the vegetative growth stage of Bacillus. Several genes encoding these pesticidal proteins have been isolated and characterized (see, for example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,366,892 and 5,840,868).

Microbial insecticides, particularly those obtained from Bacillus strains, have played an important role in agriculture as alternatives to chemical pest control. Recently, agricultural scientists have developed crop plants with enhanced insect resistance by genetically engineering crop plants to produce pesticidal proteins from Bacillus. For example, corn and cotton plants have been genetically engineered to produce pesticidal proteins isolated from strains of Bt (see, e.g., Aronson (2002) Cell Mol. Life. Sci. 59(3):417-425; Schnepf et al. (1998) Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 62(3):775-806). These genetically engineered crops are now widely used in American agriculture and have provided the farmer with an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional insect-control methods. In addition, potatoes genetically engineered to contain pesticidal Cry toxins have been sold to the American farmer. While they have proven to be very successful commercially, these genetically engineered, insect-resistant crop plants provide resistance to only a narrow range of the economically important insect pests.

Accordingly, there remains a need for new Bt toxins with a broader range of insecticidal activity against insect pests, e.g., toxins which are active against a greater variety of insects from the order Lepidoptera. In addition, there remains a need for biopesticides having activity against a variety of insect pests and for biopesticides which have improved insecticidal activity.



Compositions and methods are provided for impacting insect pests. More specifically, the embodiments of the present invention relate to methods of impacting insects utilizing nucleotide sequences encoding insecticidal peptides to produce transformed microorganisms and plants that express a insecticidal polypeptide of the embodiments. Such pests include agriculturally significant pests, such as, for example: European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) and Southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella). In some embodiments, the nucleotide sequences encode polypeptides that are pesticidal for at least one insect belonging to the order Lepidoptera.

The embodiments provide a nucleic acid and fragments and variants thereof which encode polypeptides that possess pesticidal activity against insect pests (e.g. SEQ ID NO: 1 encoding SEQ ID NO: 2). The wild-type (e.g., naturally occurring) nucleotide sequence of the embodiments, which was obtained from Bt, encodes a novel insecticidal peptide. The embodiments further provide fragments and variants of the disclosed nucleotide sequence that encode biologically active (e.g., insecticidal) polypeptides.

The embodiments further provide isolated pesticidal (e.g., insecticidal) polypeptides encoded by either a naturally occurring, or a modified (e.g., mutagenized or manipulated) nucleic acid of the embodiments. In particular examples, pesticidal proteins of the embodiments include fragments of full-length proteins and polypeptides that are produced from mutagenized nucleic acids designed to introduce particular amino acid sequences into the polypeptides of the embodiments. In particular embodiments, the polypeptides have enhanced pesticidal activity relative to the activity of the naturally occurring polypeptide from which they are derived.

The nucleic acids of the embodiments can also be used to produce transgenic (e.g., transformed) monocot or dicot plants that are characterized by genomes that comprise at least one stably incorporated nucleotide construct comprising a coding sequence of the embodiments operably linked to a promoter that drives expression of the encoded pesticidal polypeptide. Accordingly, transformed plant cells, plant tissues, plants, and seeds thereof are also provided.

In a particular embodiment, a transformed plant can be produced using a nucleic acid that has been optimized for increased expression in a host plant. For example, one of the pesticidal polypeptides of the embodiments can be back-translated to produce a nucleic acid comprising codons optimized for expression in a particular host, for example a crop plant such as a corn (Zea mays) plant. Expression of a coding sequence by such a transformed plant (e.g., dicot or monocot) will result in the production of a pesticidal polypeptide and confer increased insect resistance to the plant. Some embodiments provide transgenic plants expressing pesticidal polypeptides that find use in methods for impacting various insect pests.

The embodiments further include pesticidal or insecticidal compositions containing the insecticidal polypeptides of the embodiments, and can optionally comprise further insecticidal peptides. The embodiments encompass the application of such compositions to the environment of insect pests in order to impact the insect pests.



The embodiments of the invention are drawn to compositions and methods for impacting insect pests, particularly plant pests. More specifically, the isolated nucleic acid of the embodiments, and fragments and variants thereof, comprise nucleotide sequences that encode pesticidal polypeptides (e.g., proteins). The disclosed pesticidal proteins are biologically active (e.g., pesticidal) against insect pests such as, but not limited to, insect pests of the order Lepidoptera. Insect pests of interest include, but are not limited to: Ostrinia nubilalis (European corn borer); Papaipema nebris (common stalk borer); and Diatraea grandiosella (Southwestern corn borer).

The compositions of the embodiments comprise isolated nucleic acids, and fragments and variants thereof, that encode pesticidal polypeptides, expression cassettes comprising nucleotide sequences of the embodiments, isolated pesticidal proteins, and pesticidal compositions. Some embodiments provide modified pesticidal polypeptides characterized by improved insecticidal activity against Lepidopterans relative to the pesticidal activity of the corresponding wild-type protein. The embodiments further provide plants and microorganisms transformed with these novel nucleic acids, and methods involving the use of such nucleic acids, pesticidal compositions, transformed organisms, and products thereof in impacting insect pests.

The nucleic acids and nucleotide sequences of the embodiments may be used to transform any organism to produce the encoded pesticidal proteins. Methods are provided that involve the use of such transformed organisms to impact or control plant pests. The nucleic acids and nucleotide sequences of the embodiments may also be used to transform organelles such as chloroplasts (McBride et al. (1995) Biotechnology 13: 362-365; and Kota et al. (1999) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96: 1840-1845).

The embodiments further relate to the identification of fragments and variants of the naturally-occurring coding sequence that encode biologically active pesticidal proteins. The nucleotide sequences of the embodiments find direct use in methods for impacting pests, particularly insect pests such as pests of the order Lepidoptera. Accordingly, the embodiments provide new approaches for impacting insect pests that do not depend on the use of traditional, synthetic chemical insecticides. The embodiments involve the discovery of naturally-occurring, biodegradable pesticides and the genes that encode them.

The embodiments further provide fragments and variants of the naturally occurring coding sequence that also encode biologically active (e.g., pesticidal) polypeptides. The nucleic acids of the embodiments encompass nucleic acid or nucleotide sequences that have been optimized for expression by the cells of a particular organism, for example nucleic acid sequences that have been back-translated (i.e., reverse translated) using plant-preferred codons based on the amino acid sequence of a polypeptide having enhanced pesticidal activity. The embodiments further provide mutations which confer improved or altered properties on the polypeptides of the embodiments. See, e.g., copending U.S. application Ser. Nos. 10/606,320, filed Jun. 25, 2003, and 10/746,914, filed Dec. 24, 2003.

In the description that follows, a number of terms are used extensively. The following definitions are provided to facilitate understanding of the embodiments.

Units, prefixes, and symbols may be denoted in their SI accepted form. Unless otherwise indicated, nucleic acids are written left to right in 5′ to 3′ orientation; amino acid sequences are written left to right in amino to carboxy orientation, respectively. Numeric ranges are inclusive of the numbers defining the range. Amino acids may be referred to herein by either their commonly known three letter symbols or by the one-letter symbols recommended by the IUPAC-IUB Biochemical Nomenclature Commission. Nucleotides, likewise, may be referred to by their commonly accepted single-letter codes. The above-defined terms are more fully defined by reference to the specification as a whole.

As used herein, “nucleic acid” includes reference to a deoxyribonucleotide or ribonucleotide polymer in either single- or double-stranded form, and unless otherwise limited, encompasses known analogues (e.g., peptide nucleic acids) having the essential nature of natural nucleotides in that they hybridize to single-stranded nucleic acids in a manner similar to that of naturally occurring nucleotides.

As used herein, the terms “encoding” or “encoded” when used in the context of a specified nucleic acid mean that the nucleic acid comprises the requisite information to direct translation of the nucleotide sequence into a specified protein. The information by which a protein is encoded is specified by the use of codons. A nucleic acid encoding a protein may comprise non-translated sequences (e.g., introns) within translated regions of the nucleic acid or may lack such intervening non-translated sequences (e.g., as in cDNA).

As used herein, “full-length sequence” in reference to a specified polynucleotide or its encoded protein means having the entire nucleic acid sequence or the entire amino acid sequence of a native (non-synthetic), endogenous sequence. A full-length polynucleotide encodes the full-length, catalytically active form of the specified protein.

As used herein, the term “antisense” used in the context of orientation of a nucleotide sequence refers to a duplex polynucleotide sequence that is operably linked to a promoter in an orientation where the antisense strand is transcribed. The antisense strand is sufficiently complementary to an endogenous transcription product such that translation of the endogenous transcription product is often inhibited. Thus, where the term “antisense” is used in the context of a particular nucleotide sequence, the term refers to the complementary strand of the reference transcription product.

The terms “polypeptide,” “peptide,” and “protein” are used interchangeably herein to refer to a polymer of amino acid residues. The terms apply to amino acid polymers in which one or more amino acid residues is an artificial chemical analogue of a corresponding naturally occurring amino acid, as well as to naturally occurring amino acid polymers.

The terms “residue” or “amino acid residue” or “amino acid” are used interchangeably herein to refer to an amino acid that is incorporated into a protein, polypeptide, or peptide (collectively “protein”). The amino acid may be a naturally occurring amino acid and, unless otherwise limited, may encompass known analogues of natural amino acids that can function in a similar manner as naturally occurring amino acids.

Polypeptides of the embodiments can be produced either from a nucleic acid disclosed herein, or by the use of standard molecular biology techniques. For example, a protein of the embodiments can be produced by expression of a recombinant nucleic acid of the embodiments in an appropriate host cell, or alternatively by a combination of ex vivo procedures.

As used herein, the terms “isolated” and “purified” are used interchangeably to refer to nucleic acids or polypeptides or biologically active portions thereof that are substantially or essentially free from components that normally accompany or interact with the nucleic acid or polypeptide as found in its naturally occurring environment. Thus, an isolated or purified nucleic acid or polypeptide is substantially free of other cellular material or culture medium when produced by recombinant techniques, or substantially free of chemical precursors or other chemicals when chemically synthesized.

An “isolated” nucleic acid is generally free of sequences (such as, for example, protein-encoding sequences) that naturally flank the nucleic acid (i.e., sequences located at the 5′ and 3′ ends of the nucleic acid) in the genomic DNA of the organism from which the nucleic acid is derived. For example, in various embodiments, the isolated nucleic acids can contain less than about 5 kb, 4 kb, 3 kb, 2 kb, 1 kb, 0.5 kb, or 0.1 kb of nucleotide sequences that naturally flank the nucleic acids in genomic DNA of the cell from which the nucleic acid is derived.

As used herein, the term “isolated” or “purified” as it is used to refer to a polypeptide of the embodiments means that the isolated protein is substantially free of cellular material and includes preparations of protein having less than about 30%, 20%, 10%, or 5% (by dry weight) of contaminating protein. When the protein of the embodiments or biologically active portion thereof is recombinantly produced, culture medium represents less than about 30%, 20%, 10%, or 5% (by dry weight) of chemical precursors or non-protein-of-interest chemicals.

Throughout the specification the word “comprising,” or variations such as “comprises” or “comprising,” will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated element, integer or step, or group of elements, integers or steps, but not the exclusion of any other element, integer or step, or group of elements, integers or steps.

As used herein, the term “impacting insect pests” refers to effecting changes in insect feeding, growth, and/or behavior at any stage of development, including but not limited to: killing the insect; retarding growth; preventing reproductive capability; antifeedant activity; and the like.

As used herein, the terms “pesticidal activity” and “insecticidal activity” are used synonymously to refer to activity of an organism or a substance (such as, for example, a protein) that can be measured by, but is not limited to, pest mortality, pest weight loss, pest repellency, and other behavioral and physical changes of a pest after feeding and exposure for an appropriate length of time. Thus, an organism or substance having pesticidal activity adversely impacts at least one measurable parameter of pest fitness. For example, “pesticidal proteins” are proteins that display pesticidal activity by themselves or in combination with other proteins.

As used herein, the term “pesticidally effective amount” connotes a quantity of a substance or organism that has pesticidal activity when present in the environment of a pest. For each substance or organism, the pesticidally effective amount is determined empirically for each pest affected in a specific environment. Similarly, an “insecticidally effective amount” may be used to refer to a “pesticidally effective amount” when the pest is an insect pest.

As used herein, the term “recombinantly engineered” or “engineered” connotes the utilization of recombinant DNA technology to introduce (e.g., engineer) a change in the protein structure based on an understanding of the protein\'s mechanism of action and a consideration of the amino acids being introduced, deleted, or substituted.

As used herein, the term “mutant nucleotide sequence” or “mutation” or “mutagenized nucleotide sequence” connotes a nucleotide sequence that has been mutagenized or altered to contain one or more nucleotide residues (e.g., base pair) that is not present in the corresponding wild-type sequence. Such mutagenesis or alteration consists of one or more additions, deletions, or substitutions or replacements of nucleic acid residues. When mutations are made by adding, removing, or replacing an amino acid of a proteolytic site, such addition, removal, or replacement may be within or adjacent to the proteolytic site motif, so long as the object of the mutation is accomplished (i.e., so long as proteolysis at the site is changed).

A mutant nucleotide sequence can encode a mutant insecticidal toxin showing improved or decreased insecticidal activity, or an amino acid sequence which confers improved or decreased insecticidal activity on a polypeptide containing it. As used herein, the term “mutant” or “mutation” in the context of a protein a polypeptide or amino acid sequence refers to a sequence which has been mutagenized or altered to contain one or more amino acid residues that are not present in the corresponding wild-type sequence. Such mutagenesis or alteration consists of one or more additions, deletions, or substitutions or replacements of amino acid residues. A mutant polypeptide shows improved or decreased insecticidal activity, or represents an amino acid sequence which confers improved insecticidal activity on a polypeptide containing it. Thus, the term “mutant” or “mutation” refers to either or both of the mutant nucleotide sequence and the encoded amino acids. Mutants may be used alone or in any compatible combination with other mutants of the embodiments or with other mutants. A “mutant polypeptide” may conversely show a decrease in insecticidal activity. Where more than one mutation is added to a particular nucleic acid or protein, the mutations may be added at the same time or sequentially; if sequentially, mutations may be added in any suitable order.

As used herein, the term “improved insecticidal activity” or “improved pesticidal activity” refers to an insecticidal polypeptide of the embodiments that has enhanced insecticidal activity relative to the activity of its corresponding wild-type protein, and/or an insecticidal polypeptide that is effective against a broader range of insects, and/or an insecticidal polypeptide having specificity for an insect that is not susceptible to the toxicity of the wild-type protein. A finding of improved or enhanced pesticidal activity requires a demonstration of an increase of pesticidal activity of at least 10%, against the insect target, or at least 20%, 25%, 30%, 35%, 40%, 45%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 100%, 150%, 200%, or 300% or greater increase of pesticidal activity relative to the pesticidal activity of the wild-type insecticidal polypeptide determined against the same insect.

For example, an improved pesticidal or insecticidal activity is provided where a wider or narrower range of insects is impacted by the polypeptide relative to the range of insects that is affected by a wild-type Bt toxin. A wider range of impact may be desirable where versatility is desired, while a narrower range of impact may be desirable where, for example, beneficial insects might otherwise be impacted by use or presence of the toxin. While the embodiments are not bound by any particular mechanism of action, an improved pesticidal activity may also be provided by changes in one or more characteristics of a polypeptide; for example, the stability or longevity of a polypeptide in an insect gut may be increased relative to the stability or longevity of a corresponding wild-type protein.

The term “toxin” as used herein refers to a polypeptide showing pesticidal activity or insecticidal activity or improved pesticidal activity or improved insecticidal activity. “Be” or “Bacillus thuringiensis” toxin is intended to include the broader class of Cry toxins found in various strains of Bt, which includes such toxins as, for example, Cry1s, Cry2s, or Cry3s.

The terms “proteolytic site” or “cleavage site” refer to an amino acid sequence which confers sensitivity to a class of proteases or a particular protease such that a polypeptide containing the amino acid sequence is digested by the class of proteases or particular protease. A proteolytic site is said to be “sensitive” to the protease(s) that recognize that site. It is appreciated in the art that the efficiency of digestion will vary, and that a decrease in efficiency of digestion can lead to an increase in stability or longevity of the polypeptide in an insect gut. Thus, a proteolytic site may confer sensitivity to more than one protease or class of proteases, but the efficiency of digestion at that site by various proteases may vary. Proteolytic sites include, for example, trypsin sites, chymotrypsin sites, and elastase sites.

Research has shown that the insect gut proteases of Lepidopterans include trypsins, chymotrypsins, and elastases. See, e.g., Lenz et al. (1991) Arch. Insect Biochem. Physiol. 16: 201-212; and Hedegus et al. (2003) Arch. Insect Biochem. Physiol. 53: 30-47. For example, about 18 different trypsins have been found in the midgut of Helicoverpa armigera larvae (see Gatehouse et al. (1997) Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol. 27: 929-944). The preferred proteolytic substrate sites of these proteases have been investigated. See, e.g., Peterson et al. (1995) Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol. 25: 765-774.

Efforts have been made to understand the mechanism of action of Bt toxins and to engineer toxins with improved properties. It has been shown that insect gut proteases can affect the impact of Bt Cry proteins on the insect. Some proteases activate the Cry proteins by processing them from a “protoxin” form into a toxic form, or “toxin.” See, Oppert (1999) Arch. Insect Biochem. Phys. 42: 1-12; and Carroll et al. (1997) J. Invertebrate Pathology 70: 41-49. This activation of the toxin can include the removal of the N- and C-terminal peptides from the protein and can also include internal cleavage of the protein. Other proteases can degrade the Cry proteins. See Oppert, ibid.

A comparison of the amino acid sequences of Cry toxins of different specificities reveals five highly-conserved sequence blocks. Structurally, the toxins comprise three distinct domains which are, from the N- to C-terminus: a cluster of seven alpha-helices implicated in pore formation (referred to as “domain 1”), three anti-parallel beta sheets implicated in cell binding (referred to as “domain 2”), and a beta sandwich (referred to as “domain 3”). The location and properties of these domains are known to those of skill in the art. See, for example, Li et al. (1991) Nature, 305:815-821 and Morse et al. (2001) Structure, 9:409-417. When reference is made to a particular domain, such as domain 1, it is understood that the exact endpoints of the domain with regard to a particular sequence are not critical so long as the sequence or portion thereof includes sequence that provides at least some function attributed to the particular domain. Thus, for example, when referring to “domain 1,” it is intended that a particular sequence includes a cluster of seven alpha-helices, but the exact endpoints of the sequence used or referred to with regard to that cluster are not critical. One of skill in the art is familiar with the determination of such endpoints and the evaluation of such functions.

In an effort to better characterize and improve Bt toxins, strains of the bacterium Bt were studied. Crystal preparations prepared from cultures of the Bt strains were discovered to have pesticidal activity against European corn borer (see, e.g., Experimental Example 1). An effort was undertaken to identify the nucleotide sequences encoding the crystal proteins from the selected strains, and the wild-type (i.e., naturally occurring) nucleic acids of the embodiments were isolated from these bacterial strains, cloned into an expression vector, and transformed into E. Coli. Depending upon the characteristics of a given preparation, it was recognized that the demonstration of pesticidal activity sometimes required trypsin pretreatment to activate the pesticidal proteins. Thus, it is understood that some pesticidal proteins require protease digestion (e.g., by trypsin, chymotrypsin, and the like) for activation, while other proteins are biologically active (e.g., pesticidal) in the absence of activation.

Such molecules may be altered by means described, for example, in U.S. application Ser. Nos. 10/606,320, filed Jun. 25, 2003, and 10/746,914, filed Dec. 24, 2003. In addition, nucleic acid sequences may be engineered to encode polypeptides that contain additional mutations that confer improved or altered pesticidal activity relative to the pesticidal activity of the naturally occurring polypeptide. The nucleotide sequences of such engineered nucleic acids comprise mutations not found in the wild type sequences.

The mutant polypeptides of the embodiments are generally prepared by a process that involves the steps of: obtaining a nucleic acid sequence encoding a Cry family polypeptide; analyzing the structure of the polypeptide to identify particular “target” sites for mutagenesis of the underlying gene sequence based on a consideration of the proposed function of the target domain in the mode of action of the toxin; introducing one or more mutations into the nucleic acid sequence to produce a desired change in one or more amino acid residues of the encoded polypeptide sequence; and assaying the polypeptide produced for pesticidal activity.

Many of the Bt insecticidal toxins are related to various degrees by similarities in their amino acid sequences and tertiary structure and means for obtaining the crystal structures of Bt toxins are well known. Exemplary high-resolution crystal structure solution of both the Cry3A and Cry3B polypeptides are available in the literature. The solved structure of the Cry3A gene (Li et al. (1991) Nature 353:815-821) provides insight into the relationship between structure and function of the toxin. A combined consideration of the published structural analyses of Bt toxins and the reported function associated with particular structures, motifs, and the like indicates that specific regions of the toxin are correlated with particular functions and discrete steps of the mode of action of the protein. For example, many toxins isolated from Bt are generally described as comprising three domains: a seven-helix bundle that is involved in pore formation, a three-sheet domain that has been implicated in receptor binding, and a beta-sandwich motif (Li et al. (1991) Nature 305: 815-821).

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