Turning failed antibiotics into herbicides to fight weeds

If your backyard is anything like mine, weeds are setting up home everywhere. Unfortunately, this is not only happening in our backyards, but also in farms across Australia and the world. 

Weeds have been at war with food crops for many years. They battle with crops for resources, such as food, water and sunlight, reducing the quality and size of our harvests. For decades, we have used herbicides to control weeds and they have become an essential tool in agriculture to ensure food supply. Unfortunately, our current herbicides are failing as weeds have become resistant to their effects. 

Honours Project Weeds Herbicides

Herbicide resistant weeds have now invaded over 40% of cropping land in Australia and they are costing our farmers over $5 billion every year. To make matters worse, very few new herbicides have entered the market in the past 40 years and the world population is set to pass 10 billion people by 2050. How are we going to keep feeding people if weeds are winning the war against crops? 

This project aims to tackle herbicide resistance by re-purposing failed antibiotics as new herbicide candidates that are less prone to developing resistance. The Soares da Costa lab has discovered similarities between weeds and superbugs, and we have found that weeds could be attacked and killed with molecules similar to those shown to be active against the superbugs. This could help us develop herbicides quicker and cheaper by leveraging the research already done on superbugs and applying it to weeds.

The expected outcomes of this exciting project include advances in our knowledge of the structure, function and inhibition of novel herbicide targets, the identification of compounds with herbicidal activity, and significant long-term contributions towards food security.

The Honours project will integrate innovative approaches in biochemistry, molecular biology and plant biology. The successful candidate will be an integral part of the team of researchers in the Soares da Costa lab at the Waite campus.

Techniques that will be employed throughout Honours

Protein overexpression and purification techniques; enzyme assays; X-ray crystallography; cell culture; bacteriology assays; metabolomics and transcriptomics; inhibitor discovery and characterisation techniques.

For more information about this project, please contact Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa.

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