Insect Viruses


Viruses from over 16 families have been isolated from insects to date and show as much variation in structural and organisational paradigms as viruses from most other animal classes. Unique to the insect viruses is the ability of several families to produce a large pseudocrystalline occlusion body that protects the mature virus particles in the environment. Such occlusion bodies have led to these viruses evolving a complex array of associations with their insect host and in many cases causing large‐scale disease epizootics. Some of these viruses have been used for the purposes of biocontrol of insect pests in agriculture. Among the remaining nonoccluded insect viruses all of the basic structural and organisational paradigms are present in different families. Many insect viruses seem able to coexist in a single host without causing obvious disease. However, the life history strategies of their insect hosts has led the insect viruses to evolve some intriguing replicative strategies of their own that have few, if any, counterparts among the other animal viruses.

Key Concepts:

  • Insect viruses have genomes that may comprise double‐ or single‐stranded DNA or RNA.

  • Insect viruses exhibit as much structural diversity as viruses that infect any other form of life.

  • Insect viruses may be enveloped or non‐enveloped.

  • Some insect viruses may form occlusion bodies comprising virions embedded within a protein matrix.

  • Insect viruses may have evolved 350–400 million years ago.

  • Many insect viruses share genetic and structural similarities with viruses of vertebrates.

  • Some insect viruses are unique to invertebrate species.

  • Insect viruses can be highly pathogenic to their hosts or cause little or no signs of infection.

  • Some insect viruses have been used as biopesticides to control insect pests.

Keywords: insect virus; occluded virus; nonoccluded virus; small RNA virus; DNA virus; double‐stranded RNA genome

Figure 1.

Morphology of some insect viruses. (a) Occlusion of mature intracellular virions (V) of Amsacta moorei EPV into spheroidin protein (S) at 72 h p.i. showing the outer (arrowed) and inner viral membrane (arrow head). The bar represents 500 nm. (b) Scanning electron micrograph of a polyhedron of Type 1 CPV clearly showing the cubic shape and surface pits. The bar represents 500 nm. (c) Thin‐sectioned pellets of purified invertebrate iridescent virus 9. The bar represents 200 nm. (d) Electron micrograph of purified Cricket paralysis virus (CrPV), negatively stained with 2% (w/v) uranyl acetate. The bar represents 100 nm. Reproduced with permission from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Oxford.

Figure 2.

Life cycle of polydnaviruses. The parts of the cycle that relate to the transmission of wasp genomic DNA and therefore to proviral DNA are shown by the claret arrows. Those parts of the cycle that apply only to virus replication and assembly/transmission are shown by the green arrows.

Figure 3.

Schematic representation of the genomes of (a) picornaviruses, (b) dicistroviruses, (c) iflaviruses, (d) Kelp fly virus and (e) Acyrthosiphon pisum virus.

Figure 4.

Reconstructions of the surface structure of CrPV and Poliovirus (PV). The surface of CrPV does not show the characteristic ‘canyons’ around the pentavalent axes (P) that are obvious in PV.



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Further Reading

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Miller LK and Ball LA (eds) (1998) The Insect Viruses. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Shuler ML, Hammer DA and Granados RR (eds) (1994) Baculovirus Expression Systems and Biopesticides. New York, NY: Wiley‐Liss.

Smith K (1976) Virus–Insect Relationships. London: Longman.

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Possee, Robert D, and King, Linda A(Oct 2014) Insect Viruses. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020712.pub2]