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11.02.2019

Weed killer from sugar molecule

In cyanobacteria, researchers at the University of Tübingen have discovered a molecule that is harmless to humans and that has the potential to replace the controversial glyphosate.

Das neu entdeckte Molekül könnte langfristig etablierte Herbizide ersetzen.
The newly discovered molecule could replace established herbicides in the long term.
Quelle: 
hpgruesen/Pixabay

There ia war raging in nature: to gain advantages, microorganisms permanently use chemical molecules to fight against other microorganisms. Researchers at the University of Tübingen have now identified a molecule that could be used as a potent herbicide and that is harmless to humans. In the specialist journal "Nature Communications", they report on the first experiments with the new active substance.

A simple sugar stops the metabolism

The special but relatively simple sugar molecule has the chemical name 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose. The sugar produced by cyanobacteria is an antimetabolite: it replaces a chemically similar molecule in the metabolism of an organism and thus blocks the metabolic process. This can be fatal for the affected organism.

In the case of 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose, the molecule inhibits the growth of numerous plants, bacteria and fungi. The researchers from Tübingen were able to use mass spectrometry to show that the sugar blocks an enzyme from the Shikimat pathway. This metabolic pathway does not exist in animal or human cells, which is why the sugar molecule probably poses no danger to humans. The scientists have already been able to prove this in initial experiments.

Safe for humans and animals

However, the Shikimat pathway is precisely the metabolic process that is also blocked by the widespread herbicide glyphosate. “In contrast to glyphosate, the newly discovered deoxy sugar is an entirely natural product. We believed it to have good degradability and low ecotoxicity," said first author Klaus Brilisauer. The long-term goal is to replace controversial herbicides and thus also their degradation products that are harmful to health. Until then, the efficacy in the field, the degradability in the soil and the harmlessness to farm animals and humans will have to be confirmed in long-term studies.

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