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Summary

Lepidopterans as other insects have a very potent innate immune system, which basically comprises cellular and humoral defence mechanisms against bacterial and fungal infections. In lepidopterans, not much is known about the defence mechanisms against viral pathogens, such as baculoviruses. Here we show that small silk proteins of the domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, called seroins, act as antiviral agents against a baculovirus pathogen, Bombyx mori nucleopolyhedrovirus (BmNPV). Involvement of these proteins in the inhibition of baculovirus infection was revealed by estimating the viral load upon their dsRNA-mediated knockdown. Additionally, we found through antimicrobial assays that seroins are potent inhibitors of bacterial growth. Binding competition assays followed by antimicrobial assays showed that seroins bind to peptidoglycan, a cell wall component of bacteria. Analysis of bacterial load upon knockdown of seroins resulted in higher proliferation of bacteria. Phylogenetic analysis showed the recent origin of seroins in a few moth species and duplication only in Bombycids. The antiviral and antibacterial activity of seroins shown in this study using several biochemical and molecular biological assays provide strong evidence to characterize them as antimicrobial proteins. Hence, we hypothesize that seroins are potent candidates for use in development of transgene-based disease resistant silkworm strains.