Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

News and Events

New Mechanism of Cell Death Found in Insects

Researchers in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology have discovered a new mechanism by which insects are killed by an insecticidal toxin produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Bt has been used commercially for the past 40 years as a bioinsecticide for agriculturally important pests, particularly, those that cause economic losses to producers of cotton, corn, and potatoes among many others.

Dr. Xuebin Zhang, who received his Ph.D. last spring under the guidance of Professor Lee Bulla, recently published results of their studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences US. The research, which was highlighted in Science’s STKE Reports, establishes for the first time a novel mechanism of cell death that is caused by increased cellular production of cyclic AMP.

“These results are quite exciting because it shows a new pathway of cell death that is triggered from outside the cell by a foreign toxin,” said Professor Bulla. “Before this discovery, most cell death mechanisms were believed to involve endocytosis, caspases, serine proteases or cathepsin. This discovery places a new perspective on further industrial design and development of bioinsecticides and insecticides in general.”

Dr. Bulla has been invited to several international symposia to present the group’s research findings. His most recent invitation is by the International Congress of Entomology whose annual meeting will be held in South Africa in 2007.

  • Updated: December 18, 2006