Many parasites alter host behaviour to enhance their chance of transmission. Recently, the ecdysteroid UDP-glucosyl transferase (egt) gene from the baculovirus Lymantria dispar multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (LdMNPV) was identified to induce tree-top disease in L. dispar larvae. Infected gypsy moth larvae died at elevated positions (hence the term tree-top disease), which is thought to promote dissemination of the virus to lower foliage. It is, however, unknown whether egt has a conserved role among baculoviruses in inducing tree-top disease. Here, we studied tree-top disease induced by the baculovirus Autographa californica multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV) in two different host insects, Trichoplusia ni and Spodoptera exigua, and we investigated the role of the viral egt gene therein. AcMNPV induced tree-top disease in both T. ni and S. exigua larvae, although in S. exigua a moulting-dependent effect was seen. Those S. exigua larvae undergoing a larval moult during the infection process died at elevated positions, while larvae that did not moult after infection died at low positions. For both T. ni and S. exigua, infection with a mutant AcMNPV lacking egt did not change the position where the larvae died. We conclude that egt has no highly conserved role in inducing tree-top disease in lepidopteran larvae. The conclusion that egt is a ‘gene for an extended phenotype’ is therefore not generally applicable for all baculovirus–host interactions. We hypothesize that in some baculovirus–host systems (including LdMNPV in L. dispar), an effect of egt on tree-top disease can be observed through indirect effects of egt on moulting-related climbing behaviour.
- spodoptera-exigua larvae
- udp-glucosyl transferase
- lepidopteran host
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