Biological Research Underway to Control Noxious Weeds

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Researchers at the University of Illinois are testing similar techniques used to slow the spread of the Zika Virus to slow the spread of Waterhelp and Palmer Amaranth.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has given $500,000 to Illinois scientists to see if genetic control of these troublesome weeds may be achieved. Scientists plan to use the very thing that makes these dioecious weeds so prolific —the fact they have separate male and female plants — to our advantage.

By changing the male-to female ratio so that mostly male plants are produced, scientists believe they can
cause the Waterhemp and Palmer amaranth populations to crash after a few generations. Scientists got this
idea for weed control because already specific controls are being used to target mosquito populations that spread malaria, Zika and other insect-borne diseases. By releasing genetically modified males to mate with “normal” females,
the offspring die before maturity.

It will take a few years before this theory can be proven for noxious weeds, but University of Illinois researchers working on this project have been uplifted by the discovery of a genome location in female plants that leads
to the production of non-viable males. They are quick to point out that this will not be the “silver bullet” against herbicide-resistant weeds farmer are hoping for, but it will certainly be a much-needed addition to the toolbox!

Whether it be the use of different herbicides, management practices like rotation, tillage and cultivation, or the pending
use of biological measures, it is important to make use of everything that is available to us. The importance of diversifying weed control tactics was emphasized during a fall field day in Alexander a few years ago by Iowa State University Extension Weed Specialist Dr. Mike Owen. It’s a philosophy we still put into practice.

At Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, we continuously look for the best options available to fight weed resistance and the other challenges facing our farmer customers. You can bet we’ll stay abreast of the research currently underway and provide you with updates.