Early warning test for Black Grass


A simple test which can detect the presence of herbicide resistance in Black Grass could act as an early warning for farmers to help slow the spread of the UK’s most devastating weed.

It’s like a plague – the resistance is creeping up the country and our first line of defence, herbicides, are becoming less effective, just like antibiotics in medicine,” says Professor Rob Edwards, head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University.

The ‘pregnancy-test’-style prototype detects a glutathione transferase (AmGSTF1) – a protein that is found in high concentrations in populations of Black Grass that have evolved resistance to multiple classes of herbicides.  This is known as non-target site-based resistance, or NTSR (1)

The test takes just 15 minutes to work, and a red band appears in a small window on the hand-held device if the protein is present.

Sensitive enough to detect the molecule in the early stages of Black-Grass growth, the aim is to help farmers make management decisions early in the crop cycle and prevent costly losses later on.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) the underpinning science has been developed by scientists at Newcastle University, as part of the Black-Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI), a partnership with Rothamsted Research,Sheffield and York Universities and the Institute of Zoology.

The prototype device to be demonstrated at Cereals 2016, has been developed by the Newcastle team working with diagnostics company Mologic, in Bedfordshire.

Professor Rob Edwards explains:

“Black Grass is now the number one problem in weed control for UK growers, with herbicide resistance, and particularly NTSR, leading to a loss of chemical control and major crop losses.  Lost production due to black-grass now cost the UK an estimated £0.5 billion a year.
“At the moment, the only way of knowing if Black-Grass sampled in the field is resistant is to send seeds or plants off to the lab for analysis, resulting in delays in making informed decisions about control options.

“We now want to work with farmers and agronomists to see how this diagnostic tool could be used in counteracting herbicide resistance using a rapid field-based assay.

Early-indication diagnostic tests are common place in medicine, such as for pregnancy or diabetes, and are used to help people make decisions much earlier on with the aim of improving the long term outcome.  It should be no different in agriculture.”



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