Effect of substitutions of key residues on the stability and the insecticidal activity of Vip3af from Bacillus thuringiensis.
Modern agriculture demands for more sustainable agrochemicals to reduce the environmental and health impact. The whole process of the discovery and development of new active substances or control agents is sorely slow and expensive. Vegetative insecticidal proteins (Vip3) from Bacillus thuringiensis are specific toxins against caterpillars with a potential capacity to broaden the range of target pests. Site-directed mutagenesis is one of the most approaches used to test hypotheses on the role of different amino acids on the structure and function of proteins. To gain a better understanding of the role of key amino acid residues of Vip3A proteins, we have generated 12 mutants of the Vip3Af1 protein by site-directed mutagenesis, distributed along the five structural domains of the protein. Ten of these mutants were successfully expressed and tested for stability and toxicity against three insect pests (Spodoptera frugiperda, Spodoptera littoralis and Grapholita molesta). The results showed that, to render a wild type fragment pattern upon trypsin treatment, position 483 required an acidic residue, and position 552 an aromatic residue. Regarding toxicity, the change of Met34 to Lys34 significantly increased the toxicity of the protein for one of the three insect species tested (S. littoralis), whereas the other residue substitutions did not improve, or even decreased, insect toxicity, confirming their key role in the structure/function of the protein.