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From: "ARS News Service" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "ARS News List" <email@example.com>
Subject: Fungus' Protein Causes Weed Cells to Self Destruct
Date: Thu, Feb 17, 2000, 2:24 PM
Fungus' Protein Causes Weed Cells to Self Destruct
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, firstname.lastname@example.org
February 18, 2000
Weeds are notoriously stubborn, but researchers may be on the verge of
turning the pesky plants into their own worst enemy.
Their approach involves spraying the weeds with a natural protein
derived from the soil fungus Fusarium oxysporum. Upon entering natural
leaf openings called stomata, the fungus' protein causes a specific
self-defense mechanism to shift into maximum overdrive.
The defense, called a hypersensitive response, normally helps weeds
cordon off infection by instructing nearby cells to self-destruct. But
in lab, greenhouse, and small- scale field trials, spraying the protein
causes a mass cellular suicide instead. In dandelions, for example, this
kills the weed's affected leaves three to 24 hours later.
The finding, by Agricultural Research Service scientists, may open the
door to a natural herbicide that farmers, organic growers or homeowners
could spray to check broadleaf weeds like dandelion, yellow star
thistle, pigweed or northern jointvetch.
Plant pathologist Bryan Bailey and colleagues are exploring the
possibility at several ARS labs-- Biocontrol of Plant Diseases, Weed
Science, and Soybean and Alfalfa Research. ARS is USDA's chief research
Bailey's team originally discovered the protein, called Nep1, while
trying to understand how some fusarium fungi cause disease in crops like
corn. Studies begun in 1998 ruled out the protein's role in causing crop
disease, but also revealed its potential as a biological herbicide.
The team reports their findings in the January-February issue of Weed
Science. Interestingly, Nep1 only affects broadleaf weeds of the dicot
family with cell receptors that can detect the protein. This suggests it
could be sprayed onto monocot crops like corn, wheat, or even turfgrass
without causing harm. Another possibility is spraying Nep1 to clear away
certain cover crops, like hairy vetch, prior to planting.
A longer article about the team's discovery appears in the February
issue of Agricultural Research magazine, and on the Web at:
Scientific contact: Bryan Bailey, ARS Biocontrol of Plant Diseases
Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6653/5682, fax (301)
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