The entomopoxviruses (insect poxviruses) of eastern spruce budworm (), two year cycle spruce budworm () and the Indian red army worm () are being studied in our laboratory for their potential as biological insecticides and expression vectors. These viruses characteristically replicate in the cytoplasm of insect cells and produce occlusion bodies that serve to protect the virion from the environment. By analogy to mammalian pox-viruses, they should also contain a viral thymidine kinase (TK) that functions in viral DNA synthesis. The replication of the entomopoxvirus was inhibited by bromodeoxyuridine whereas the baculovirus of was insensitive to this drug. This result was a biochemical indication that entomopoxviruses contained a kinase that phosphorylated this nucleoside analogue and thus viral DNA synthesis was inhibited. TK genes from the three different insect poxviruses were identified, cloned and sequenced. The sequences of the TK genes of the entomopoxviruses were closely related and exhibited 63.2% identity and 9.9% similarity at the protein level. However, there was only 36.7% identity and 13.6% similarity when these enzymes were compared to their mammalian poxvirus counterpart in vaccinia virus. Finally, one entomopoxvirus TK gene was expressed in mutants lacking the enzyme. These bacteria were converted to a phenotype that could incorporate radioactive thymidine into their chromosomal DNA. The results presented in this paper provide impetus for the design of a recombinant entomopoxvirus expression system in which foreign genes could be introduced into the viral TK locus under selective pressure from bromodeoxyuridine.


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