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Spores from Cry+ strains of Bacillus thuringiensis bound fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled antibodies specific for the 65-kDa activated Cry 1Ac toxin, whereas spores from Bacillus cereus and Cry- strains of B. thuringiensis did not. The Cry+ spores could be activated for germination by alkaline conditions (pH 10.3), whereas Cry- spores could not. Once the surrounding exosporia had been removed or permeabilized, Cry+ spores were able to bind the toxin receptor(s) from insect gut brush border membrane vesicle preparations, and their germination rates were increased ca. threefold in the presence of brush border membrane vesicles. A model is presented whereby in the soil the Cry toxins on the spore surface are protected by the exosporium while in the gut they are exposed and available for binding to the insect receptors. This model explains why the disulfide-rich C terminus of the cry genes is so highly conserved even though it is removed during the processing of the protoxin to the activated toxin. It also highlights the trade-off resulting from having Cry toxins located on the spore surface, i.e., decreased spore resistance versus enhanced insect pathogenesis.