Background: Scorpion venom contains insect and mammal selective toxins. We investigated the venom of the South Indian red scorpion, Mesobuthus tamulus for the purpose of identifying potent insecticidal peptide toxins. Results: A lepidopteran-selective toxin (Buthus tamulus insect toxin; ButalT) has been isolated from this venom. The primary structure analysis reveals that it is a single polypeptide composed of 37 amino acids cross-linked by four disulfide bridges with high sequence homology to other short toxins such as Peptide I, neurotoxin P2, Lqh-8/6, chlorotoxin, insectotoxin 15A, insect toxin 15 and insectotoxin 11. Three dimensional modeling using Swiss automated protein modeling server reveals that this toxin contains a short α-helix and three antiparallel β-strands, similar to other short scorpion toxins. This toxin is selectively active on Heliothis virescens causing flaccid paralysis but was non-toxic to blowfly larvae and mice. Conclusion: This is the first report of a Heliothine selective peptide toxin. Identification of diverse insect selective toxins offer advantages in employing these peptides selectively for pest control.
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