Cotton Research

New technology advanced by Texas A&M scientists aims to tackle the growing challenges of herbicide-resistant weeds, making fertilizing technology more environmentally-friendly.

Keerti Rathore, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, studies genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A recent paper published by his group in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America details an innovative new strategy for confronting herbicide resistance.

“There is a problem in agriculture,” Rathore said. “Almost 40 different weeds have developed resistance to Roundup and other herbicides, so farmers are suffering.”

The research employs a unique strategy: rather than killing the weeds with chemical reagents, the researchers aimed to deprive the weeds of nutrients, while still allowing the crops to thrive.

“In collaboration with Mexican scientists, they came up with the idea of using this gene ptxD,” Keerthi said. “The function of the gene is that when its expressed it codes for phosphite dehydrogenase. This enzyme converts phosphite to orthphosphate. Plants and most other organisms can use only the form orthophosphate as a source of phosphorous. If this gene is expressed in organisms then the plant can take up phosphite and convert it to orthophosphate and use it as a source of phosphorous. Since the weeds do not have this gene, they will not be able to utilize the phosphite and their growth will be suppressed.”

LeAnne Campbell, a research associate who has been a member of the group for 19 years and was chiefly involved in the early stages of project by transfecting the cotton plants with the ptxD gene, discussed her motivation for continuing her work at Texas A&M.

“We keep finding these projects that mean so much,” Campbell said. “That makes it really hard to leave. You want to see where the project ends up. You want to see how far you can take it.”

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