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Medicine Science

Monsanto Attacks Scientists After Studies Show Trouble For Weedkiller Dicamba (npr.org) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Dicamba, an old weedkiller that is being used in new ways, has thrust Kevin Bradley, a professor of weed science at the University of Missouri, and a half-dozen other university weed scientists into the unfamiliar role of whistleblower, confronting what they believe are misleading and scientifically unfounded claims by one of the country's biggest seed and pesticide companies: Monsanto. The tensions between Monsanto and the nation's weed scientists actually began several years ago, when Monsanto first moved to make dicamba the centerpiece of a new weedkilling strategy. The company tweaked the genes in soybeans and cotton and created genetically modified varieties of those crops that can tolerate doses of dicamba. (Normally, dicamba kills those crops.) This allowed farmers to spray the weedkiller directly on their soybean or cotton plants, killing the weeds while their crops survived. It's an approach that Monsanto pioneered with crops that were genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, or Roundup. After two decades of heavy exposure to glyphosate, however, devastating weeds like Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, developed resistance to it. So farmers are looking for new weedkilling tools. Dicamba, however, has a well-known defect. It's volatile; it tends to evaporate from the soil or vegetation where it has been sprayed, creating a cloud of plant-killing vapor that can spread in unpredictable directions. It happens more in hot weather, and Monsanto's new strategy inevitably would mean spraying dicamba in the heat of summer. Monsanto and two other chemical companies, BASF and DuPont, announced that they had solved this problem with new "low-volatility" formulations of dicamba that don't evaporate as easily. Yet the companies -- especially Monsanto -- made it difficult for university scientists to verify those claims with independent tests before the products were released commercially.
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Monsanto Attacks Scientists After Studies Show Trouble For Weedkiller Dicamba

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  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday October 26, 2017 @07:07PM (#55441161) Homepage Journal

    Scientists are only in it for the money.

    • by kiviQr ( 3443687 )
      ...and corporation are for glory and fame?
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        The Invisible Hand provides, and corporations are the minister of Its grace.

    • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @07:35AM (#55443285)

      Scientists are only in it for the money.

      That statement is incorrectly distributed. It would be more or less true to say that

      "Some scientists are in it for the money (and in many cases the prestige)".

      There are still a lot of scientists who are in it mostly because they are interested in their subjects of study, or because they honestly want to add to the human race's knowledge.

      • Yeah, every young, asthmatic brainiac dreams of going into science for the money. Yeah, every Jewish mother pressures her firstborn to become the next Dr Botany Weedkill.

        Unfortunately, even the most highly motivated shirker of the golddigger rat race ultimately learns that money is instrumental to opportunity.

        The Faraday inflation of big science. It's a bitch. The old glory days of "hey, Mom, can I have some lemon juice?" are long gone.

  • i won't eat that soybean slush called "health food".
    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      Now can we make fun of all the vegans too?

      Soy this and soy that...ugh, where's my steak? There's no weeds growing in there!

  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday October 26, 2017 @07:24PM (#55441225)
    Alway making their filthy tainted millions off the back of poor almost bankrupt Monsanto.
  • More info (Score:3, Interesting)

    by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Thursday October 26, 2017 @07:36PM (#55441269)
    I listened to this [npr.org] podcast about dicamba last summer. It was kind of interesting and fairly relevant to this story.
  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Thursday October 26, 2017 @07:42PM (#55441291)

    Just a slight quibble with the language that's commonly used when it comes to discussing weed resistance to herbicides. Weeds don't "develop" resistance to chemicals. Rather there are certain individuals in the plant population which, due to genetic variations, have natural resistance to herbicides (any specific herbicide, even ones not invented yet). As herbicides kill non-resistant weeds, the ones left behind are the ones that can tolerate and metabolize the chemical. And those are the plants that put down seeds into the soil. The non-resistant plants never put down any seed. So it's chemical use that selects for these plants and seeds for future generation. It's not like the plants are smart, or are being mutated by chemicals, nor are they being genetically modified, like the corn and soybeans are.

    I saw research the other day that showed that after four seasons in a row of applying a Group 2 wild oat herbicide, you can see your wild oat population go from 0.5% naturally resistant to over 95% resistant, all because of the selection pressure. Resistant plants put down the seeds which grow the next year.

    And it's not just chemicals that select in this manner. Hand weeding has the same effect. In China hand weeding of a particular weed in rice paddies has selected for weeds that look identical to rice seedlings. It's become quite a problem! I imagine in the future if a robot placed all the seeds and knew the location precisely, it could mechanically remove all plants not growing in that exact spot. That is probably the only sustainable way to control weeds in the long term. All other methods lead to this selection for resistance, or selection for confusing the weeder (person or robot).

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by torkus ( 1133985 )

      The overall weed population develops resistance - which is what everyone already understands from TFA.

      You're post is pedantic at best and probably qualifies as 'mansplaining' as much as I loathe the word. Particularly so since these are scientists talking about the topic. I'd suggest their language is considered the most appropriate and accurate since its...their freaking job. So unless you're also a weed scientist I suggest you stop trying to 'correct' those who DO know what's up.

      Next up, why not tell u

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Thank you! The armchair quarterbacks on Slashdot are plain annoying.
      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Wow!

        Actually no, it's not at all pedantic. It's very serious stuff in my line of work, and I believe in helping to educate the general public because there's a lot of emotion involved in this particular subject. I'm not a weed scientist, but I take my information from weed scientists. Yes I actually sit in meetings with these folks as they educate and help farmers manage weeds.

        And in my experience talking to people, most people don't realize where herbicide resistance comes from.

        Besides that I find it ve

    • I imagine in the future if a robot placed all the seeds and knew the location precisely, it could mechanically remove all plants not growing in that exact spot. That is probably the only sustainable way to control weeds in the long term.

      Anything short of on-the-spot DNA sequencing is by definition going to be an arms race. If you force your weeds to evolve into your food, you win.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      Just a slight quibble with the language that's commonly used when it comes to discussing weed resistance to herbicides. Weeds don't "develop" resistance to chemicals. Rather there are certain individuals in the plant population which, due to genetic variations, have natural resistance to herbicides (any specific herbicide, even ones not invented yet). As herbicides kill non-resistant weeds, the ones left behind are the ones that can tolerate and metabolize the chemical. And those are the plants that put down seeds into the soil. The non-resistant plants never put down any seed. So it's chemical use that selects for these plants and seeds for future generation. It's not like the plants are smart, or are being mutated by chemicals, nor are they being genetically modified, like the corn and soybeans are.

      That's the basic definition of natural selection. Bacterium evolve to tolerate various substances and conditions by the same mechanisms, and we say they "develop resistance". Why would plants use a different term?

      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Yes you're right... though this is not natural selection, it's unnatural selection.

        I choose to use a different term because of the loaded nature of talking about chemicals and their use in the environment. There really is a misconception on the part of some about what these chemicals are doing to organisms.

  • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday October 26, 2017 @07:43PM (#55441293)

    I think this is an area for future robotics development to really shine. It would be great if a robot could tirelessly weed around crops instead of relying on massive doses of chemicals and/or genetically-modified crops. Eventually, they might even help with pest control, like zapping harmful pests with a laser while helpful bugs (like bees, ladybugs, etc) are left alone.

    Beyond the obvious challenge of getting such tech developed (you can already see some early prototypes and research), the trick is whether such devices can be effectively scaled up to the required industrial scale of modern farms, and reduced in cost enough for it to make financial sense to switch to such a technology. Modern farms already use a huge amount of very high-tech machinery, so I wouldn't be surprised if this eventually happened.

    • by whh3 ( 450031 )

      There are some companies and farmers that are already doing something very similar: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chip-makers-are-adding-brains-alongside-cameras-eyes-1507114801 [wsj.com]. Registration required, sorry!

      I think that this is fascinating. Like you said, there's definitely a possibility for increased weed "resistance" without the potential for side effects from the herbicide.

      Will

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Once you develop more advanced techniques. Growing plants in fields becomes the stupid primitive activity. Genetically modifying kelp, can create a plant who leaves are a close parrallel to steaks and you could pluck a leaf from your plant in your kitchen aquarium, where you pet fish roam, rinse it, peel it and drop it in a fry pan (it will be genetically engineered not only to taste right and be the right texture but also be non allergenic and have the right trace elements to promote good health and peelin

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Duuude..... what if, like.... duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/german-preserves-see-76-percent-decline-flying-insects-180965328/

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Palmer amaranth is potentially ideal crop [wikipedia.org], substitute for spinach, resilient and low-maintenance. All you have to do is add fertilizer. Instead of unsuccessfully fighting it, we should use it.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll invite himself over for dinner. - Calvin Keegan

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