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Glyphosate was discovered by J.E. Franz in Monsanto Corp. in 1971 and released commercially in 1974.  In the early 1980's it became the first individual pesticide with world-wide sales of over $1 billion.

Glyphosate (Roundup) is a non-selective herbicide used primarily in Iowa for perennial weed control and in no-till grain production systems. Beginning in the growing season of 1997 its importance was dramatically increased with the introduction of glyphosate resistant soybean cultivars (RoundupReady soybeans). This importance was again increased in 1998 with the introduction of glyphosate resistant corn.  Roundup Ready crops of many types have subsequently been commercialized.

Due to its behavior in soils, it is used strictly as a postemergence herbicide.


Structurally, glyphosate resembles that of an amino acid. Specifically, it is reminiscent of phosphorylated glycine. Glyphosate (Phosphono-methyl-glycine):


Physiology and Metabolism of Glyphosate

Mode of Glyphosate Action
Glyphosate inhibits the shikimate pathway enzyme EPSPSase, and enzyme that acts late in that pathway. The pathway is responsible for, among other things, the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids: phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophane. This pathway is also responsible for biosynthesis of such diverse plant compounds as phytoalexins, plastoquinone, alkaloids, cinnamate, coumarin and flavonoids

Mode of Glyphosate Lethality
Glyphosate rapidly moves to apical areas of the plant and inhibits protein synthesis. Cessation of growth happens almost immediately after the herbicide reaches the apical areas. Plants stop growing and many plant tissues and parts slowly degrade due to lack of proteins. Symptomology on plants usually develops very slowly, with gradually increasing chlorosis, yellowing, and necrosis. Death ultimately results from dehydration and desiccation.

Uptake and Movement of Glyphosate in plants
Glyphosate is readily absorbed by foliage and other shoot portions of plants. Once absorbed into the plant, glyphosate readily and extensively translocates symplastically. Once in the phloem, it generally follows the source-sink photosynthate movement pattern in the plant and accumulates in areas of active growth (meristems).

Basis of Selectivity between Plant Species
Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide and is not metabolized, detoxified, in plants.   Some selectivity in crop production has been achieved with placement selectivity by the use of specialized application equipment:

Selectivity has also been gained by appling glyphosate to dormant conifers in forestry production. Selectivity in that case is due to lack of herbicide uptake and translocation.

Resistance: Weeds
Because glyphosate is non-selective, Monsanto Corp. has insisted that glyphosate resistant weeds will not appear with the use of this herbicide. With the release of glyphosate resistant corn and soybeans, this hypothesis will soon be tested on millions of acres. Resistant weed populations have been reported already in locations outside the USA.

Glyphosate resistance has been found in field bindweed (Convolvulvus arvensis ) by Steve Weller at Purdue University. In that research, variable levels of resistance to glyphosate was found in several biotypes at the whole plant and cell culture level. Ongoing studies have indicated the mechanism of resistance is gene amplification: greater copy numbers of the gene coding for EPSPSase. The result of this is greater EPSPSase activity in the presence of glyphosate, enough for both inhibition and continued enzymatic activity.

Resistance: Crops
This same resistance mechanism of gene amplification has been exploited in the development of glyphosate resistant crops. Glyphosate resistant crops have been aggressively sought due to this herbicides desirable environmental qualities (low toxicity, rapid unavailability in the soil) and excellent weed control properties

Fate of Glyphosate in the Environment

Glyphosate is strongly adsorbed to soil particles, the colloidal fraction upon first contact with the soil. Once it is strongly adsorbed, it is unavailable for plant uptake. As such, seeding and other activities bringing plants in contact with glyphosate do not cause injury to those plants. Some isolated instances of glyphosate injuring adjacent plants subsequent to application are believed to be caused by root exudation directly to neighbor plants.

Microbial breakdown is the primary decomposition mechanism of glyphosate in the soil, although chemical hydrolysis, oxidation and photodegradation also play a role. These long-term degradative process are not apparent in the field in terms of bioavailability due to its strong adsorption to soil particles.

Glyphosate is a polar, water soluable, molecule (solubility 12 PPT[housand] in water at 25oC). It may reach surface waters by movement with soil erosion, but is unlikely to be a ground water contaminate due to its strong soil adsorptive qualities.

Glyphosate vapor pressure is negligible, but movement to off-target plantss due to drift often occurs. This potential for drift injury may be a major problem with the introduction of glyphosate resistant crops and high use of glyphosate in them.

Animal Toxicity
Glyphosate has a very low acute toxicity.

Plant Injury Symptomology of Glyphosate in Plants

1259t.JPG (8743 bytes) Treated plants stop growing very rapidly, but symptom development after that often occurs very slowly.

Chlorosis on leaves occurs gradually, often in a mottled or interveinal pattern (below).

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1253t.JPG (10632 bytes) Stunting (left) becomes more obvious as uninjured adjacent plants continue to grow, but glyphosate injured plants still appear somewhat normal, despite cessation of growth.

These symptoms usually are evident on new growth, meristem areas (below).

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1266t.JPG (12606 bytes) Necrosis and tissue destruction follow more slowly after cessation of growth and slowly increasing chlorosis. These symptoms develop gradually (1-4 weeks) in perennial plants, but in small annual plants they can occur very rapidly (days), depending on rate of herbicide and environmental conditions

Underground perennial plant parts (rhizome buds, rootstock buds) become necrotic, brown (below).

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1265t.JPG (11887 bytes) Death ultimately results from dehydration and desiccation.


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