Folta: Changing Weed Control Research and Gene Editing's Potential

AgriTalk ( AgriTalk )

Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the university of Florida, looks forward to the future of ag technology. This week on AgriTalk he told Chip Flory of projects he continues to work on and what technology excites him for ag’s future.

First up, the potential next wave of weed management technology.

“We’re coming up with molecules that never existed on the planet before now that might be our next new generation of herbicides,” Folta said.

They’re shirking the traditional discovery method that focuses on the chemical and instead focusing on the plants.

“This is so cool because, normally, we spend our time understanding how different chemicals have some sort of effect on killing a plant,” he said. “What we’re doing is exactly the opposite. We’re standing next to a very complicated machine, the plant, and we’re throwing monkey wrenches out there completely randomly. Most of the time they bounce out, but once in a while they’ll stick in the gears.”

By doing this they’re starting to understand whether or not potential new chemistry will affect the way plants grow and develop. More importantly though, they’re finding new vulnerabilities within the plant to target chemistries to kill weeds.

They’re doing this research in a way that will protect human and animal health while proving deadly to unwanted plants.

Gene editing beckons a new era of discovery.

“Things that are getting me really stoked [for the future of technology] are around the area of gene editing,” Folta said. “This goes into the billions of letters in the DNA blueprint and erasing one. It’s like being able to remove one second out of 100 years.”

This technology isn’t being regulated as stringently as biotechnology—another exciting piece to the puzzle. It means it’s a less expensive form of advancement and could bring more, and smaller, companies into the fold of discovery.