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Weeds becoming resistant to world's key herbicide

tech reviews Updated: Jan 25, 2010 14:01 IST
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Weeds have evolved a new form of resistance to the world's most important herbicide, glyphosate, according to the latest research.

Todd Gaines, now with WA Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI) at the University of Western Australia (UWA), warns glyphosate resistant weed populations could impact the use of this herbicide for cultivation of rice, wheat, soybeans, maize and cotton.

Gaines based his research on a new resistance mechanism in weeds, discovered in the particularly damaging weed species, Amaranthus palmeri. This weed infests large areas of US crop land and can devastate yield, he said.

WAHRI director Stephen Powles, a professor, writes that in a world of more than six billion people, threats to food production have major repercussions, including famine, war and civil unrest.

"Glyphosate resistance evolution is a major adverse development because glyphosate is a one in a 100-year discovery that is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease," Powles said.

"In soybean, maize, cotton and canola crops engineered to be glyphosate resistant, this herbicide removes infesting weeds without damage to the crop. The massive adoption of these crops has meant excessive reliance on glyphosate for weed control over vast areas."

"Globally, no weed control tools are as good as glyphosate and its potential loss because of resistance is a looming threat to global cropping and food production," said Powles, according to a university release.

These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).