The study is reported in the journal Weed Science.
Any major stress that does not kill a plant can contribute to genetic mutations in its seeds and pollen, said University of Illinois crop sciences professor Patrick Tranel, who led the new research. Even the ultraviolet light in sunlight can stress a plant and increase the likelihood of mutations in its offspring, he said. Such mutations increase genetic diversity, which can be useful to a species' survival.
Resistance - Herbicides - Variation - Population - Tranel
"Resistance to herbicides comes from genetic variation in a population," Tranel said. "If an individual weed has the right mutation that allows it to survive a particular herbicide, that individual will survive and pass the trait to its progeny."
The relative contribution of new mutations to the problem of herbicide resistance is poorly understood, Tranel said. He and his colleagues hoped to determine the baseline mutation rate for a plant of the genus Amaranthus, a group that includes waterhemp, Palmer amaranth and other problematic agricultural weeds. They also wanted to test whether herbicide applications that failed to kill the plant increased that baseline rate.
Researchers - Seed - Amaranthus - Hypochondriacus - Weeds
The researchers started with a single seed of Amaranthus hypochondriacus, which is closely related to several agricultural weeds but is not known to harbor herbicide-resistance genes. Using a greenhouse to isolate their experiments from potential contamination from other Amaranthus species, the team cultivated this one plant, collected its seeds and began the long process of growing generations of related plants and harvesting the seeds.
"A good plant would produce about 100,000 seeds," Tranel said. "From this one plant, we eventually got more than 70 million seeds."
Laboratory - Isolation - Vigilance - Scientists - Amaranthus
Despite the laboratory's isolation and the vigilance of the scientists, a few other Amaranthus weed seeds made their way into the...
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