Scientist Denise Catacutan working on the experimental antibiotic discovered with the help of artificial intelligence. (Image credit : MCMASTER UNIVERSITY Via BBC)
Antibiotic resistance poses a significant concern for the agricultural industry, much as antibiotic resistance is a problem for human health. The problem has been solved by researchers by turning a “failed” antibiotic into a herbicide.
Insects that consume plants, bacteria that infect leaves, shoots, and roots, and invasive weeds that compete with crops for soil and sunlight are just a few of the issues that farmers must deal with when it comes to protecting their crops.
Due to the growth of herbicide-resistant weeds and reasonable legislative bans or limits on using conventional herbicides due to safety and environmental concerns, there are fewer options for herbicides. These problems, along with the fact that there hasn’t been a new type of herbicide manufactured in a long time, have given rise to worries about the future of sustainable agriculture.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, South Australia, have now developed a cutting-edge remedy.
Effective herbicides, like the often used glyphosate, stop plants from producing specific amino acids (proteins) required for a range of plant functions, including growth. The scientists realized that the biochemical pathway that led to the creation of the amino acid lysine had to be blocked by a new herbicide.
Coincidentally, throughout the past three decades, medical researchers have concentrated on creating antibiotics that prevent lysine production. However, because they were inefficient against infections, the majority did not reach the market. However, because bacteria and plants share many biological characteristics, researchers looked at using “failed” antibiotics as herbicides.
The researchers discovered it could stop lysine manufacturing by altering the molecular structure of an antibiotic candidate for treating tuberculosis that failed to advance beyond the lab.
“There are no commercially available herbicides on the market that work in this way,” said Andrew Barrow, one of the study’s co-authors. “In fact, in the past 40 years, there have been hardly any new herbicides with new mechanisms of action that have entered the market.”
The fact that failed antibiotics don’t kill bacteria and have no effect on human cells, according to the researchers, means that using them as herbicides won’t increase antibiotic resistance in people.
The researchers are aware of the untapped potential of their discovery.
“The discovery is a potential game changer for the agricultural industry,” said Tatiana Soares da Costa, corresponding author of the study. “Many weeds are now resistant to the existing herbicides on the market, costing farmers billions of dollars each year. 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.”
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And, they say, the discovery might benefit more than farmers; it may lead to the development of weed killers for household use.
“Our repurposing approach has the potential to discover herbicides with broad applications that can kill a variety of weeds,” Barrow said.