Research Foundation News

February 28, 2019

In the weeds: A new approach to keeping crops, people safe

New herbicide proving effective at controlling weeds, keeping consumers and the environment safe

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Weeds cause tremendous damage in yield and productivity of crop plants. Losses from weeds account for more than $40 billion in annual revenue for corn and soybean crops alone in North America, according to the Weed Science Society of America.

Genetically engineered crop plants have been developed to allow for better control of weeds using herbicides, but excess use has raised concerns about the impact on human health and some weeds have developed resistance to common herbicides.

Now, Purdue University researchers have developed a compound effective for controlling weeds that is also safe for people and the environment. They also developed a method to create plants resistant to this new herbicide without using genetic engineering technology.

“Herbicide use is essential for modern agricultural production worldwide,” said Chunhua Zhang, an assistant professor of botany and plant pathology in Purdue University’s College of Agriculture. “The herbicide we developed can contribute to global food production and security, and is expected to be safer for the environment than conventional herbicides because of its selective nature.”

The Purdue herbicide targets and kills broad weed species while not affecting crop plants that carry the resistance to the herbicide.

“There have been no new herbicides with novel mode of action developed for decades in the world herbicide market,” Zhang said. “We identified a new small molecule that could target the conserved catalytic site of an enzyme that is required for plant growth.”

The Purdue team developed the new chemical inhibitor to stop weed growth. They also found that by editing the gene encoding the enzyme, they could easily produce crop varieties that are resistant to the new herbicide without sigfinicantly interfering with plant growth. Thus, Purdue's herbicide can effectively be used together with non-genetically modified crop plants.

Their work aligns with Purdue's Giant Leaps celebration, celebrating the global advancements in health and sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. These are two of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

The team has worked with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization to patent their technology. They are looking for additional research partners.

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization                       

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University.         

Writer: Chris Adam, 765-588-3341,

Chunhua Zhang,

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