Thirty years of baculovirus-insect cell protein expression: From dark horse to mainstream technology

M.M. van Oers*, G.P. Pijlman, J.M. Vlak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

245 Citations (Scopus)


In December 1983 a seminal paper appeared on the overexpression of human interferon-ß in insect cells with a genetically engineered baculovirus. The finding that baculoviruses produce massive amounts of two proteins (polyhedrin and p10) by means of two very strong promoters and that the corresponding genes are dispensable for virus propagation in insect cells was crucial in the development of this expression system. During the next 30 years major improvements have been achieved over the original baculovirus expression vector (BEV) system, facilitating the engineering of the baculovirus vectors, the modification of the sugar moieties of glycoproteins expressed in insect cells, and the scale-up of the cell culture process. To date, thousands of recombinant proteins have been produced in this successful expression system, including several protein-based human and veterinary vaccines that are currently on the market. Viral vectors based on adeno-associated virus are being produced using recombinant baculovirus technology and the first gene therapy treatment based on this method has been registered. Specially adapted baculovirus expression vectors are used to deliver and express heterologous genes in mammalian cells and may find applications for gene therapy and cancer treatment in the future. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the 30-years 'anniversary' of this expression system by summarizing the fundamental research that allowed the development of this expression system and by indicating the major technological advances since 1983. Finally, attention will be paid to the future challenges to further optimize this amazing technology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-23
JournalJournal of General Virology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • nuclear polyhedrosis-virus
  • late gene-expression
  • human fibroblast interferon
  • n-glycosylation pathway
  • large-scale production
  • non-hr origin
  • spodoptera-frugiperda
  • escherichia-coli
  • messenger-rna
  • mammalian-cells


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