Aussie Breakthrough – Self-Weeding Crops

An Australian research breakthrough is set to revolutionise agriculture by eliminating a time-consuming and costly headache for the nation’s farmers, through the creation of self-weeding crops.

A report in leading science publication COSMOS showcases ground-breaking work being conducted at Charles Sturt University, with two varieties of canola able to stop weeds by releasing their own form of herbicides into the ground.

Weeds are not just irritating. They are a problem that sees Australian grain growers lose an estimated $3.3billion and 2.76 million tonnes of harvest every year.

“Weeds are still largely being controlled with synthetic herbicides, but many species are evolving resistance,” notes agricultural scientist and research team leader Professor Jim Pratley.

“Farmers are starting to run out of options, and there is a strong need to find other approaches.”

Ø The breakthrough has evolved from research into a weed called silver grass, which actively reduces the growth of wheat and lupin crops by secreting 25 different herbicidal chemicals from its roots – giving the weed a better chance to thrive.

Ø Professor Pratley’s team at Charles Sturt University applied this natural ‘chemical warfare’ approach to the crops, rather than the weeds.

Ø In lab experiments, 70 different canola varieties were screened to see how they impacted on the ryegrass plants around them. Two varieties, Av-opal and Pak85388-502, reduced the growth of the weed’s roots by at least 70-percent.

Ø Further research has identified three chemicals common to both of the successful weed-fighting canola varieties.

Ø Tests are continuing, and Professor Pratley is hopeful that these self-weeding allelopathic chemicals are the start for a list of biomarkers which scientists could screen and utilise in future breeding programs.

“Selecting weed-destruction markers during crop development could significantly reduce the reliance on synthetic herbicides across the Australian agricultural industries and reduce the threat posed by herbicide resistance,” notes Professor Pratley.

The full report appears in science publication COSMOS See report here