Fighting cancer in humans has opened doors to controlling chemical resistance in weeds

Credit: Mihajlo Maricic/iStock
Credit: Mihajlo Maricic/iStock

Glyphosate was first introduced into Australian broadacre cropping systems almost half a century ago as an effective way to kill weeds. 

Commonly known as Roundup, the chemical has been the most frequently used herbicide on the planet, mainly because most plants cannot metabolise it or break it down.

But in recent years, weeds have started developing resistance and researchers have been kept busy attempting to find ways to prolong the chemical’s life.  

Now, researchers at the Australian herbicide’s resistance initiative (AHRI) have discovered that these resistant plants actually pump the chemical out of their cells and into the space in between, in a strikingly similar way to how resistant cancer cells reject drugs in humans. 

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“In human cancer, it’s known that one of the mechanisms of cancer tumour cells in humans can become resistant to the anti-cancer drugs is due to the ability of human cancer cells to pump anti-cancer drugs out of the cells and therefore they survive and the tumour lives and the patient may die,” Professor [Steve] Powles said. 

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“We’re going to initiate research now to find out how much this mechanism is occurring in rye-grass because we have hundreds, if not thousands of rye-grass populations that are resistant to glyphosate,” he said.

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