A radically different approach to herbicide development that uses insights from evolutionary biology to offer new modes of action is being offered by start-up, MoA Technology.
Co-founder Professor Liam Dolan says that a rapid screening process, which uses both whole plants and active ingredients, should fast track the development of effective herbicides against black-grass, for example, with low environmental impacts.
Professor Dolan, who is also the Sherardian Professor of Botany at the University of Oxford, says: “The majority of herbicides used today act upon the weeds in a small number of ways and this has encouraged resistance. What is needed is a more diverse tool kit with a variety of different chemistries that can be used alongside non-chemical measures to provide sustainable crop protection.
“We have developed a really neat technology that allows us to rapidly screen naturally occurring and synthetic molecules to identify potential new herbicide leads that work in different ways. We can screen their efficacy against entire plants using imaging processing, then from this we can get a lot of information about how the molecules are killing the plants and use this to identify new targets.
“The Holy Grail would be a herbicide mixture that combines multiple, new modes of action that control weeds and minimises the chance of resistance evolving. Only small amounts would be needed because this mixture would be highly potent and with the advances in precision spraying it could be applied only where it was needed.”