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Bayer Discovers New Herbicide That Could Help Farmers Fight Roundup-Resistant Weeds

Sign at the main entrance to the old Monsanto headquarters reads Bayer Crop Sciences as of August 21, 2018
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Bayer officials say they've discovered a new herbicide compound that could kill weeds that are resistant to Roundup.

Bayer AG announced today that its researchers have discovered a molecule that it could use to develop new herbicide products. 

The biotech company is conducting field tests of the compound, which it hasn’t yet named. It’s been 30 years since scientists have developed an herbicide molecule, largely due to a lengthy regulatory process and the widespread use of Monsanto’s Roundup, which contains the molecule glyphosate.

The new molecule is effective at killing some weeds in corn and soy fields that have evolved to resist Roundup, said Bob Reiter, Bayer’s head of research and development. 

“The reason it’s so beneficial is that it offers very effective post-emergent control of tough grasses, including some of those grasses which have been shown to be resistant to glyphosate,” Reiter said at a media briefing Thursday.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, is trying to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by people who claim that exposure to Roundup caused them cancer. The company also is defending itself in a federal civil trial in Cape Girardeau, where a jury is hearing a claim from a farmer who alleges that his crops were damaged by drift from Bayer’s dicamba-based herbicide spray, XtendiMax.

The new herbicide would not replace glyphosate, Reiter said. Company executives said they expect farmers to use it along with Roundup to fight weeds. 

While the herbicide discovery sounds promising, it’s inevitable that weeds could become resistant to it, said Franck Dayan, a plant physiologist at Colorado State University.

“There are things that can be done to slow down resistance, but farmers will use that product over and over and sometimes won’t follow guidelines,” Dayan said. “[The molecule] is just going to be a new tool in the box. The key thing is for farmers to use that tool as wisely as possible to maintain its efficacy.”

Bayer plans to engineer crops — most likely corn and soy — that will be resistant to the new herbicide. Executives expect that after it receives approval from regulators, the company could market products with the compound by the end of the decade. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.