Insecticidal bacteria: an overwhelming success for invertebrate pathology

J Invertebr Pathol. 2005 May;89(1):30-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jip.2005.06.007.


The discovery and study of insecticidal bacteria, which began a little over a century ago, led to the development of commercial bacterial insecticides in the middle of the century that became the first successful and widely used microbial control agents. Most of these products were based on Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that kills insects through the use of insecticidal proteins that subsequently became known as Cry proteins. While most of these products were only effective against lepidopteran pests, their success eventually led in the 1970s and 1980s to the discovery of strains effective against larvae of coleopteran pests and nematocerous dipterans, such as vector and nuisance mosquitoes and blackflies. The cloning in 1981 of the first gene encoding a Cry protein led to an explosion of basic and applied research that culminated in new strains of recombinant insecticidal bacteria and, even more importantly, the development, commercialization, and wide-scale deployment of insecticidal transgenic crops based on Cry proteins. This new and environmentally safe technology has revolutionized agricultural pest control, yielding a multibillion dollar industry that is paving the way to new types of plants that will dominate food and fiber production as the 21st century progresses. In this brief symposium paper, I provide an overview of some of the key work that led to this remarkable success.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacillus
  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Europe
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Invertebrates*
  • Japan
  • North America
  • Pathology / history*
  • Pest Control, Biological / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Shigetane Ishiwata
  • Harry S Smith
  • Edward A Steinhaus
  • Tom Angus
  • Howard Dulmage
  • H Dennis Burges
  • Helen R Whiteley