is an emerging pest insect in cotton and arable crops in Central Asia. To explore the possibility of using baculoviruses as biological control agents instead of chemical pesticides, in a previous study we characterized a number of S. litura nucleopolyhedrovirus (SpltNPV) isolates from Pakistan. We found significant differences in speed of kill, an important property of a biological control agent. Here we set out to understand the genetic basis of these differences in speed of kill, by comparing the genome of the fast-killing SpltNPV-Pak-TAX1 isolate with that of the slow-killing SpltNPV-Pak-BNG isolate. These two isolates and the SpltNPV-G2 reference strain from China were deep sequenced with Illumina. As expected, the two Pakistani isolates were closely related with >99% sequence identity, whereas the Chinese isolate was more distantly related. We identified two loci that may be associated with the fast action of the SpltNPV-Pak-TAX1 isolate. First, an analysis of rates of synonymous and non-synonymous mutations identified neutral to positive selection on open reading frame (ORF) 122, encoding a viral fibroblast growth factor (vFGF) that is known to affect virulence in other baculoviruses. Second, the homologous repeat region hr17, a putative enhancer of transcription and origin of replication, is absent in SpltNPV-Pak-TAX1 suggesting it may also affect virulence. Additionally, we found there is little genetic variation within both Pakistani isolates, and we identified four genes under positive selection in both isolates that may have played a role in adaptation of SpltNPV to conditions in Central Asia. Our results contribute to the understanding of the enhanced activity of SpltNPV-Pak-TAX1, and may help to select better SpltNPV isolates for the control of S. litura
in Pakistan and elsewhere.
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