Defective interfering baculoviruses (DIs) lack considerable portions of the genome, interfere with the replication of helper virus, and cause the so-called "passage-effect" during serial passaging in insect cells and in bioreactor configurations. We investigated their origin by (nested) PCR and demonstrated that DIs lacking approximately 43ød43) of their DNA are present in low-passage Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV)-E2 virus stocks and in polyhedra, but not in the authentic AcMNPV isolate obtained prior to passage in cell culture. To investigate whether DIs are rapidly generated de novo in Sf21 insect cells, a genetically homogeneous AcMNPV bacmid was serially passaged, resulting in the generation of d43 DIs within two passages. AT-rich sequences of up to 66 nucleotides of partly unknown origin were found at the deletion junctions in the d43 DI genomes. These data suggest that the rapid generation of DIs is an intrinsic property of baculovirus infection in insect cell culture and involves several recombination steps.