SCIENTISTS have used the surprisingly close relationship between plants and malarial parasites to turn a molecule developed for possible malaria treatment into a new herbicide.
A team of plant biologists and chemists from The University of Western Australia in collaboration with staff from chemical company BASF have come up with the ground-breaking procedure.
Published in Angewandte Chemie, the research builds on recent work by the group that found many off the shelf antimalarial drugs are herbicidal; a twist on an evolutionary connection made in the 1990s when herbicides were shown to interfere with processes in the malarial parasite.
Dr Joshua Mylne, a principal investigator with UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences and affiliated with the national ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, said there was a desperate need for new herbicides, especially ones that work differently.
“As we ponder herbicidal applications, we expect to be able to repurpose some of the molecules and discover new ways of using them,” Dr Mylne said.
“Herbicides are integral for modern day agriculture, but the spiralling costs to develop new herbicides have hindered their progress.”
Associate Professor Keith Stubbs, a chemical biologist also from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences said it was exciting to find so many new herbicidal molecules.
“In the past 30 years, no truly new herbicidal molecule has entered the agrochemical market,” he said.
“By using tiny seeds of the model plant Arabidopsis we examined a library of antimalarial compounds and selected the best one – MMV006188. We then examined several variations of it to determine which points were important for its potency.
“This is just the first example we have and a test case of what we can do to develop new herbicides. We may not just find new herbicides, but by working with plants could reveal how some antimalarial molecules work, which could also contribute to drug development in the fight against malaria.”