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Glyphosate is the world's most widely used herbicide. Because it's considered safe for animals, it's extensively used not only in agriculture, but also for weed control in urban areas and home gardens.
It's the active ingredient in the controversial weedkiller Roundup, which has been in the news after a recent lawsuit in the US. A jury found that it had caused terminal cancer in a former school groundskeeper who was heavily exposed to the herbicide. The manufacturer, Monsanto, was ordered to pay damages amounting to $289m. The legal battles are continuing.
Glyphosate - Herbicide - Plants - Plants
Glyphosate has been labelled a perfect herbicide. It's non-selective, killing all plants. And it's easily translocated in plants and is slow-acting and stable.
From a toxicology point of view, it targets a metabolic pathway involved in manufacturing certain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Glyphosate binds to a particular enzyme and inactivates it. This metabolic pathway, called the shikimate pathway, is present in plants but not in animals, so glyphosate is assumed to be harmless to animals. Animals, lacking this enzyme, obtain the amino acids from food.
Development - Crops - Glyphosate - Weeds - Crops
Until the development of transgenic crops, glyphosate was used to get rid of weeds before planting. Now crops are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. "Roundup-ready" transgenic crops can be directly sprayed with glyphosate, which kills the weeds without damaging the crop. The crops are tolerant to the herbicide but the weeds are not. Naturally, the use of glyphosate increased dramatically around the world after the development of Roundup-ready crops.
It seems that glyphosate may not be so innocuous after all. Studies are beginning to reveal deleterious effects of glyphosate on non-target species—animals. One of these species, whose pollinating activities are hugely important to biodiversity and to human food security, is the honey bee. This insect is the main pollinator in the agricultural environments in...
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