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Release of engineered viruses

Jonathan Ewbank ewbank at monod.biol.mcgill.ca
Fri Jul 12 12:28:01 EST 1996

the following comes from NBIAP's ISB news report (details of how to 
subscribe at the end of this message). i find the third paragraph rather 
surprising to say the least. any comments?

ewbank at monod.biol.mcgill.ca

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that a small-scale 
field trial of American Cyanamid's genetically engineered
baculovirus will cause no significant risk to human health or
nontarget organisms, and may be conducted without an experimental
use permit. The insect virus, designated AaIT strain, has been
modified to express the insect control protein from a North African

American Cyanamid will conduct field trials in 12 states to test
the efficacy of the genetically engineered biocontrol agent against
tobacco budworm and the cabbage looper on cotton, tobacco and leafy
vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and lettuce. Less than 100
grams of active ingredient will be used to treat a total of 7.4

Similar field tests were conducted in 1995 in which the EPA
requested soil sampling data to evaluate survival and persistence
of the baculovirus. These data were not available when the 1996
release was being considered, however the agency felt that they
were not needed to evaluate the potential for the new trials to
cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment. 

In the 1996 field tests, soil samples are to be taken at specified
points during the course of the release: prior to the initial
application of the recombinant virus; following application; just
prior to spraying with wildtype baculovirus; and after allowing
sufficient time for dispersal of the wildtype virus in the soil.
The soil samples are to be used in a bioassay with a highly
sensitive susceptible insect to detect infectious polyhedra; PCR is
to be used to detect the recombinant gene construct. At the end of
the trial, applications of lime are to be used to inactivate
residual virus in the soil.

Alan Wood, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, raised
several issues concerning the proposed release in comments to the
EPA. He noted that the AaIT virus has an increased rate of
infection compared with the unmodified virus, an unexpected and
unexplained phenotype that could be due to uncharacterized genetic
changes in the recombinant strain. Wood also questioned the
feasibility of using lime to raise soil pH to inactivate the virus
and added that the amount of lime needed may itself cause
environmental effects.

Pat Traynor
Information Systems for Biotechnology
traynor at nbiap.biochem.vt.edu

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