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Are the weeds raising their heads? New technology will kill them

A new technology developed at the Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University may make it possible to produce new herbicides that will respond to the increasing resistance to the existing products on the market

Illustration: pixabay.
Illustration: pixabay.

Weeds are not just a metaphor for negative factors that are better to get rid of. Weed growth is one of the main causes of agricultural crop loss. According to estimates, every year weeds cause a 12% decrease in the global agricultural harvest; In monetary terms, this is a loss of agricultural produce worth 33 billion dollars. In a world where the agricultural areas are getting smaller and smaller and the danger of starvation is lurking at the door, these are very significant figures. These volumes are expected to increase even more in the coming years due to the spread of new varieties of weeds, which are resistant to herbicides. But a new technology developed at the Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University may make it possible to produce new herbicides that will respond to the growing resistance to the existing products on the market.

Although the herbicide market is estimated at billions of dollars per year, no herbicide with a new mechanism of action has been developed for more than three decades. In the absence of new products, farmers are forced to improvise and choose between two main solutions: to frequently switch between the herbicides available on the market, so that the weeds do not have time to develop resistance, or alternatively, to combine the use of herbicides with different mechanisms of action. However, these solutions are only temporary, and can at most slow the spread of herbicide resistance.

A new method for weed control developed in the laboratories of Prof. Mark his book, from the Department of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute, and Prof. Oren Osterzer-Biran, from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the Hebrew University, may make it possible to produce a broad-spectrum herbicide of a new type, for the first time in many years. Every living body, including plants, contains tens of thousands of different proteins, built from chains of amino acids with thousands of units. Sometimes a piece of foreign material may infiltrate the "production line" of the protein factory, and penetrate the amino acid chain. Such mistakes usually happen when dealing with substances that are structural analogues of essential amino acids. Since the sequence of amino acids determines the folded three-dimensional shape of the protein and its function, sometimes a single broken link is enough to cause far-reaching consequences for the organism. Accordingly, the new pest control method is based on the use of substances similar to the essential amino acid phenylalanine, in an attempt to cause the plant to produce "wrong" proteins, thus leading to its elimination. Complementary technology developed in Prof. Sapro's laboratory may make it possible to engineer agricultural crops so that they are resistant to these herbicides.

"Knowledge" company, the applications arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science, recently signed an agreement for the commercialization of the new technology with the FortePhest company of the entrepreneur Dr. Alex Kozak, and these days a fundraising round is underway to realize the project.

6 תגובות

  1. So the cultivated plants that have been engineered will be the weeds - these will undergo a rapid evolution that will return them to the wild plants from which they were domesticated, but this time they will be resistant to the herbicides that they have developed thanks to the genetic engineering they have undergone.

  2. The main problem that arises with reference to the proposed method is the problem of the stability (lifetime) of the substances similar to the phenylalanine acid.
    If they are stable, then they will be dispersed with the rainwater and will pose a threat of extinction to many wild plants and various agricultural crops.
    If they are not stable, and break down quickly, then their effectiveness is limited and will allow even strong weeds to develop and pollute the fields.
    Therefore, it is possible that the solution is not to invent a phenylalanine-like substance that will be sprayed in the fields as a pesticide, but rather, the farmers themselves will sow the field with genetically modified wild grass seeds, along with sowing the cotton. The genetically engineered weed seeds, because of their large number, will suppress the natural seeds and will not allow them to develop. They will sprout en masse, but their growth will be slow and they will degenerate and die within a while because of the genetic "patent" in question, a time that will allow the cotton to grow, take root and develop in the meantime.

  3. I was once a farmer and we did follow the method Assaf recommends.
    The results were that, despite the early germination of the wild grasses before the cotton was sown and their destruction by discus and kiltor, when the cotton was watered, many wild grasses rose and sprouted again, along with the cotton seedlings. It was clear that the initial germination does not clean the field from the weed seeds as required, and this is probably for two reasons:
    One - the wind carries wild grass seeds with it and re-sows the field with seeds that are carried in the wind
    The second - for some reason it seems that some of the weed seeds lying in the ground do not germinate in the first watering but do germinate in the second watering.
    At the same time, we farmers believed that if we did not use the method of early germination of the wild grasses, then their damage and damage to the crops would be much greater, and therefore we continued to work with the early germination method to reduce the damage of the wild grasses.

  4. Asaf
    The method you describe is very ineffective. You have to wait several weeks for germination. That way you will lose a significant part of the season.

  5. maybe more true,
    Instead of developing more toxins that will be distributed in the environment
    Return to the traditional method in which:
    Before each growing season, the designated area is irrigated,
    The irrigation causes the germination (cycle) of weeds,
    Allow the weeds to grow to a pre-flowering stage
    Then they are destroyed mechanically by plowing or discus,
    Since there are seeds in the soil that sprout alternately (not together),
    After all, in each growing season, fewer and fewer weeds will sprout.
    Presumably what was good sixty years ago
    It will work today too...

  6. Instead of developing new poisons it is right to return to a traditional method,
    Before each growing season, the area is irrigated,
    The weeds that have germinated are destroyed mechanically,
    This is how a (relatively) weed-free growth cycle is possible...

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