Environment

Promising sugar-based natural herbicide targets same pathway as glyphosate

The newly discovered natural molecule could be as effective as Roundup but potentially safe and non-toxic to humans and animals
The newly discovered natural molecule could be as effective as Roundup but potentially safe and non-toxic to humans and animals
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The newly discovered natural molecule could be as effective as Roundup but potentially safe and non-toxic to humans and animals
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The newly discovered natural molecule could be as effective as Roundup but potentially safe and non-toxic to humans and animals

A team of scientists from Germany's University of Tübingen has discovered a novel and unusual sugar molecule that is harmless to animals and humans but can effectively disrupt the growth of various plants and microorganisms. The researchers propose the new molecule as a possible natural herbicide with the same efficacy as the increasingly controversial glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup.

The impressive new research began with the identification of a new sugar molecule that was isolated from a freshwater cyanobacteria called Synechococcus elongatus. The researchers knew this particular organism could significantly inhibit the growth of other similar bacterial strains, however, exactly how it did this was unknown.

Eventually, the research team homed in on a previously undiscovered, and unusual, sugar molecule they referred to as an antimetabolite, due to the molecule's novel ability to disrupt metabolic processes. The molecule is called 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose (7dSh) and after developing a new process to synthesize the compound, its mechanism of action was extensively studied.

It was discovered that 7dSh exerts its inhibitory actions by blocking an enzyme that plays a role in the shikimate pathway. This pathway is a metabolic route fundamental to the growth of many plants, bacteria and fungi, but it is not found in humans or animals. This means a targeted disruption of the shikimate pathway is ideal for herbicides used to manage weeds in farming.

Glyphosate (aka Roundup), one of the world's most widely used commercial herbicides, exerts its renowned weed-killing actions by targeting this same shikimate pathway. In recent years, however, concerns have been growing surrounding the human safety of glyphosate, and many countries are beginning to regulate the infamous chemical's use.

"In contrast to glyphosate, the newly discovered deoxy sugar is an entirely natural product," says Klaus Brilisauer, one of the researchers on the project. "We believed it to have good degradability and low ecotoxicity. We see an excellent opportunity here to use it as a natural herbicide."

Needless to say, there is much more work yet to be done before 7dSh could be commercially deployed as a natural herbicide. While early indications suggest the compound is an effective herbicide, and also non-toxic to human cells, broader studies are needed for verification. The signs are promising though, with the compound offering not just potential as a natural herbicide but also demonstrating antibacterial and antifungal properties, suggesting human medical potential as well.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Tübingen

8 comments
Tinnal
"Harmless to animals and humans"? That what glyphosate proponents falsely claimed. If this new herbicide does result in targeted disruption of the shikimate pathway it, like glyphosate, will certainly reduce populations of beneficial bacteria in animal and human gut microbiome (and will likely allow overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi).
Signguy
... .years, however, concerns have been growing surrounding the human safety of glyphosate, and many countries are beginning to regulate the infamous chemical's use. This has ALWAYS been known to be Extremely hazardous to ANY lifeforms on earth & recently a judge ruled for a gardener in a case against Monsanto to the tune of $289 Million.
paul314
There are a lot of things that are perfectly natural and really, really bad for humans and others.
aksdad
Remembering, of course, that glyphosate is also extremely low in toxicity with no known toxic effect on humans, fish or wildlife unless you bathe in it regularly and supplement your diet with several quarts a day. Despite "growing concerns" in recent years, decades of testing have showed it to be remarkably safe. There have also been "growing concerns" about vaccines and GMOs in recent years by the same gullible, low-information crowd, but none of it is born out by scientific studies.
john75
@aksdad- The stupidity of anti-vaccers aside there's nothing more predictable than the short-term greed of big pharma/petro chem corps. The same PR company that directed the disinformation campaign that smoking was good for you is now paid by the oil industry the blow smoke about climate change. Only a matter of time before they join this discussion. But sure, sugars never hurt anyone. The explosion of sugary foods and the epidemics of obesity and diabetes just happens to coincide with when big companies jumped categories like tabacco companies making our food... One sign that the effected pathway isn't quite so specific would be that huge legal judgment that was recently handed down. I would think "he drank quarts of it a day" would've been a fairly effective defense by the chem companies if it held any water at all
stephen906
LOL at the posters who think a legal finding has anything to do with science. And you have the logical fallacy of 'science was wrong before..." geeez please get some science education what I read here is shamefully ignorant.
LarryStevens
I wonder whether "RoundupReady" crops will also tolerate this herbicide. Otherwise, this substance may replace home use of glyphosate, but that's a pretty small fraction of the total. If not, some more genetic engineering may produce crop strains that do tolerate it. It's worth noting that by definition, herbicides are poisonous, at least to plants. One herbicide may be more or less toxic to the environment than another. Interesting to wonder which of these two is less toxic.
Coolijive
It is dangerous to appeal to “science” as some kind of body of knowledge rather than a method for seeking truth in the face of the unknown. This is Science... Observation: Both glyphosate and 7dSh harm microorganisms. Question: Can harming microorganisms harm humans indirectly? Research: Scientists are only recently uncovering the importance of bacteria to human health. There are many articles here on New Atlas about scientific discoveries related to gut bacteria and the microbiome. We are finding impact on everything from immune response to mental health. Hypothesis: If a substance kills healthy gut bacteria, it has the potential to indirectly harm humans. Experiment: For one year or more, expose two groups of human subjects to a diet of food treated with glyphosate and 7dSh as variables. Expose a control group only to untreated food, and another control group to a placebo substance. Measure: Measure microorganisms in the microbiome of all subjects before and after the diet period. Determine whether bacteria found to affect human health are harmed or eliminated by these substances when introduced at the levels a human would experience through normal diet. Conclusion: If healthy bacteria are eliminated from the microbiome of those in the variable groups and not from those in the control groups, we can conclude that the hypothesis is supported.
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