New Weapons in the Battle Against Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

A field

The Soares da Costa team from the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute has developed new herbicidal compounds that will stop resistant weeds in their tracks.

If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a backyard, you’re probably also used to doing daily battle with your local weeds. And if you think weeding a backyard is tough, imagine how challenging it is to keep an entire farm free of weeds!

Herbicide-resistant weeds are setting up home on farms across Australia and the world, and can outcompete crops for resources like water, sunlight and nutrients. This is a serious problem, because it reduces both crop yield and quality. The estimated cost of battling weeds for Australian farmers is in excess of $5 billion every year. Not only is the process of fighting weeds expensive, but the main herbicides available on the market are becoming less effective as weeds have become resistant to their effects. 

Very few new types of herbicides have been introduced onto the market over the last 40 years, and as weeds grow more resistant to these old herbicides, farmers are quickly running out of options to protect their crops.

That’s where the team led by Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa comes in. At the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute, the team has developed new herbicidal compounds that specifically target two important steps in weed growth. This contrasts with older herbicides, which usually only have a single target.

These new herbicidal compounds specifically block two steps in the production of lysine, which is an amino acid that is essential for weed growth.

“The dual-target nature of our herbicidal compounds could pave the way for the development of commercial dual-target herbicides for the first time. Such dual-target herbicides may make it more difficult for weeds to evolve resistance, and as such, maintain their efficacy for longer than current herbicides,” explained Dr Soares da Costa.

What’s next?

This new research could directly impact Australia’s agricultural industry by giving farmers new tools that they can use to overcome weeds. Dr Soares da Costa’s team has completed the foundational research, and are currently accepting expressions of interest from industry partners to bring this important work to the market.

Tagged in Agriculture, food and wine