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New bioherbicide targets weeds, not crops

July 28, 2017

A team of Canadian scientists is behind a new product that kills weeds without harming grasses or cereals. Dr. Karen Bailey and her team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) have successfully isolated and purified a fungus called Phoma macrostoma that naturally infects dandelions, Canada thistle, clover and other broad-leaf weeds while leaving grass unscathed.

Developed so it can be applied to plants in a manner similar to granular fertilizers, the fungus is absorbed into weed roots, causing the weeds to lose their ability to feed themselves. The targeted plants turn white from lack of chlorophyll, then die. Even better, if Phoma macrostoma is applied before weeds emerge, they will come up white and die before becoming established.

“We are excited that this product will soon be available for home-owners and gardeners,” said Dr. Russell Hynes, a microbiologist at AAFC's Saskatoon Research and Development Centre. “But there is even more potential for this product in agriculture. That's why I'm picking up the reins (from Dr. Bailey) and continuing the research.”

Dr. Bailey has retired, but Dr. Hynes hopes to expand Phoma's application to include edible crops, such as wheat, barley and corn.

AAFC researchers have long been interested in developing pest controls derived from natural organisms that have little or no impact beyond the target, as they tend to pose less risk to people and the environment. They don't compete with other soil organisms, and tend to stay within five centimeters of where they were applied, so are not a risk to animals or other plants. As well, their concentration in the soil declines over time and eventually is no longer detectible.

Just recently, Premier Tech, a leading producer in pest control products, signed a licensing agreement with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to commercialize this product. The Phoma bioherbicide is currently registered for domestic use to control dandelion and other broadleaved weeds in non-edible plants like turf grass.

Find out more

Learn about Premier Tech, the company commercializing Phoma macrostoma with AAFC.

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