Chemicals can no longer easily defeat weeds and insects. These genetic solutions might help farmers control voracious pests

Credit: BioInfo
Credit: BioInfo

’Resistance is leading to this problem where the control measures that we have relied on for decades are no longer working,’ explains Dana MacGregor, a plant molecular geneticist at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, UK… ‘ Now, the traditional measures of just going out and using something out of a can don’t work. Much more effort has to go in on the farmer side of things to achieve those really high levels of healthy crops and high yields’.

MacGregor’s work focuses on understanding herbicide resistance by looking at weeds’ genomes. She compares resistant weeds to a broken car. To fix the problem, one must understand what’s doing the damage in the first place.

But while mechanics can open a car and see what faulty components are stopping the car from working, plant scientists are less familiar with what makes a plant resist pesticides. ‘When we look at a plant, we see green bits and flowering bits. But what is exactly inside of those? What are the genetics underpinning the [resistance] traits that we see?’

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MacGregor compares at the molecular level plants that are killed by herbicide to plants that resist that same herbicide. With this information, she might understand what makes a weed resistant – and what strategies would be more feasible to deal with it.

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