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Soybean flour and wheat germ are the two most important protein components of wheat germ-based insect artificial diets. The effect of modifying the proportion of these two ingredients in a Noctuidae-specific diet was investigated utilizing the tobacco budworm Heliothis virescens (F.) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), with the goal of developing a suboptimal diet that, without drastically affecting this insect's growth and reproductive rates, could manifest subtle negative effects in this insect. The original diet formula contained 2.51% protein. When the proportions of soybean flour and wheat germ were changed to 2.15% protein the net reproductive rate of the first generation was significantly lower. In the second generation, the net reproductive rate, development time, percent female survivorship, fertility, intrinsic rate of increase, finite rate of increase and female longevity were significantly lower in both the 2.15% and 2.26% protein diets. The survival rate of immatures to the adult stage was 1% in the 2.05% protein diet in the first generation. Interestingly, females exposed to these suboptimal diets produced a significantly higher number of eggs but the survival of their larvae was significantly reduced. It is evident from these results that modifications to the protein content and the nutrient composition profile of the original wheat germ-based insect artificial formula can be used to produce subtle negative effects on the growth of tobacco budworm.