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A NEW STRATEGY FOR GLYPHOSATE TOLERANT CROP PLANTS

Linda A. Castle and Michael W. Lassner


September, 2004
Introduction
Transgenic crops are integral to modern agriculture. In 2003, 81% of U.S. soybean,
73% of cotton, and 40% of maize acres were planted with genetically engineered
varieties. Herbicide tolerance is the most widely planted transgenic crop trait,
followed by insect tolerance. Nearly all transgenic soybeans are engineered for
tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate. A large proportion of transgenic cotton, maize,
and canola crops are also tolerant to glyphosate. Glyphosate acts by inhibiting
enolpyruvyl-shikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), an enzyme in the pathway
leading to biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids
1
. Because this enzyme and pathway is
unique to plants and microbes, glyphosate is not toxic to animals. Certain EPSPS
enzymes are insensitive to glyphosate inhibition. When expressed in chloroplasts of
transgenic plants, the insensitive enzymes confer tolerance to the herbicide. This
mode of action accounts for all the commercial glyphosate-tolerant crops. Low cost,
low toxicity, effective broad-spectrum weed control and availability of transgenic
crop tolerance have resulted in glyphosate becoming the world's most valuable
agrochemical.