weeding with a 'condom'

  1. 6,669 Posts.
    August 18, 2005

    Scientists are seeking a contraceptive for weeds that could slash Australia's use of toxic sprays.

    In a world first, they are aiming to trick weeds into shutting down their reproductive system by making them think they are having sex with themselves.

    The project is aimed at creating a non-toxic contraceptive spray that mimics the chemistry many plants use to spot and reject their own pollen to avoid being self-fertilised.

    One of the leaders of the research, Ed Newbigin, an associate professor at Melbourne University's school of botany, said yesterday that many plants had male and female reproductive organs and could reproduce by themselves.

    "A lot of weeds produce flowers that have both boy bits and girl bits, and they should be able to reproduce themselves, but they don't," he said. Nature had given them a protein to detect their own pollen.

    The professor described the mechanism triggered by the protein as a chemical condom.

    He said that if the project, launched yesterday by the Co-operative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, and also involving CSIRO scientists Andrew Young and Steve Swain, could create a weed contraceptive it would save agriculture billions of dollars a year, significantly reducing the spraying of poisons on farms.

    The first target would be the wild radish, a weed costing Australian wheat and barley farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

    "We think we will have pretty good progress within three years," Professor Newbigin said.

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