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posted by janrinok on Thursday May 25 2023, @11:42AM   Printer-friendly

Weed killers of the future could soon be based on failed antibiotics:

A molecule that was initially developed to treat tuberculosis but failed to progress out of the lab as an antibiotic is now showing promise as a powerful foe for weeds that invade our gardens and cost farmers billions of dollars each year.

While the failed antibiotic wasn't fit for its original purpose, scientists at the University of Adelaide discovered that by tweaking its structure, the molecule became effective at killing two of the most problematic weeds in Australia, annual ryegrass and wild radish, without harming bacterial and human cells. This research has been published in the journal Communications Biology.

"This discovery is a potential game changer for the agricultural industry. Many weeds are now resistant to the existing herbicides on the market, costing farmers billions of dollars each year," said lead researcher Dr. Tatiana Soares da Costa from the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute.

"Using failed antibiotics as herbicides provides a short-cut for faster development of new, more effective weed killers that target damaging and invasive weeds that farmers find hard to control."

Researchers at the University's Herbicide and Antibiotic Innovation Lab discovered there were similarities between bacterial superbugs and weeds at a molecular level.

They exploited these similarities, and by chemically modifying the structure of a failed antibiotic, they were able to block the production of amino acid lysine, which is essential for weed growth.

"There are no commercially available herbicides on the market that work in this way. In fact, in the past 40 years, there have been hardly any new herbicides with new mechanisms of action that have entered the market," said Dr. Andrew Barrow, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Soares da Costa's team at the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute.

[...] It's not just farmers who could reap the benefits of this discovery. Researchers say it could also lead to the development of new weed killers to target pesky weeds growing in our backyards and driveways.

"Our re-purposing approach has the potential to discover herbicides with broad applications that can kill a variety of weeds," said Dr. Barrow.

Journal Reference:
Mackie, Emily R. R., Barrow, Andrew S., Giel, Marie-Claire, et al. Repurposed inhibitor of bacterial dihydrodipicolinate reductase exhibits effective herbicidal activity [open], Communications Biology (DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-04895-y)


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  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25 2023, @01:35PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25 2023, @01:35PM (#1308102)

    > Since it's only effective against a very few weeds,

    Citation? Nothing in tfl discusses the extent of their testing. I'm guessing that it's also effective against many other organisms that haven't been tested yet. Some of these might even be things that are good sources for lysine that are used by organisms like humans that need it but can't synthesize it. But that's just a guess...

    If this new antibiotic-herbicide breaks down quickly in the environment, that would be a plus, but tfl didn't mention anything about this either.

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by HiThere on Friday May 26 2023, @01:25PM (1 child)

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 26 2023, @01:25PM (#1308308) Journal

    That's definitely implied by the summary, but you're right that it didn't say how much testing they did. And the summary at least also doesn't talk about how quickly it degrades.
    At your instigation I went and read the article, but it didn't add much over the summary. Nothing about the mechanism except a line saying "inhibitor of bacterial dihydrodipicolinate reductase".

    Wikipedia says: 4-hydroxy-tetrahydrodipicolinate synthase is the key enzyme in lysine biosynthesis via the diaminopimelate pathway of prokaryotes, some phycomycetes, and higher ...

    So if it doesn't harm most bacteria (tested, but how thoroughly) or human cells (which probably implies chordate cells, and possibly even more general) then it probably only affects a particular synthesis pathway that isn't widely used. Of course the question is "what does widely mean?", but it SOUNDS like something that's pretty safe.

    You're right that it needs more testing than was reported, but this is, I believe, a lab study. As such it sounds like a pretty good line to investigate further.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 27 2023, @12:43AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 27 2023, @12:43AM (#1308400)

      Hey, thanks for digging deeper!