Potato pathogen yields natural herbicide

09/27/2012 11:00:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

The bacterium that causes potato scab may have a beneficial side to it and could actually be harnessed to produce a naturally occurring herbicide.

The herbicide, thaxtomin, occurs naturally in Streptomyces, the organism responsible for potato scab, according to a news release.

Rosemary Loria, a professor and chair of the University of Florida's plant pathology department in Gainesville co-authored an article on the subject in the current issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

She started the work while at Cornell University and has continued it since joining UF in 2011.

In the study, she and colleagues describe an enzyme in the Streptomyces bacterium that is essential to producing the herbicide.

Without it, the herbicide isn't produced.

By knowing this, researchers could increase the amount of thaxtomin the bacteria produces.

Thaxtomin works as an herbicide by causing abnormal growth of plant cell walls.

As a result, it could be used as a pre-emergence herbicide to kill weeds just as they're starting to germinate.

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