GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods and the science behind them is a matter of concern to some people. But, it appears to be a technology that is here to stay. For example, many modern pharmaceuticals such as insulin are produced by genetically modified bacteria. (1)
Glyphosate, better known as RoundUp, is a popular herbicide used primarily in agriculture to control the growth of weeds but in fact will kill most plants. Important food crops such as canola, soybeans and corn have been genetically modified to survive glyphosate and are known collectively as RoundUp Ready.
An overview of this chemical and the GMO technology it entails is explored.
Herbicide vs Pesticide
Glyphosate was first synthesized in the 1950’s and was subsequently found to be a potent herbicide by a Monsanto scientist in the 1970’s(2) . It is important to note that herbicide and pesticide are not synonymous. A pesticide is a generic term for a chemical that can be used to eliminate undesirable plants, animals, fungi, etc. A herbicide refers specifically to a chemical which targets plants. To quote one reference verbatim(3):
RoundUp is considered a ‘friendly’ herbicide to the environment because:
- It is virtually nontoxic to mammals, birds, fish, and insects
- It exhibits essentially no pre-emergence activity. It won’t prevent plants in your garden from germinating
- It exhibits essentially no residual soil activity even when applied at high rates. Roundup binds tightly to soil particles and doesn’t move on or in the soil to affect untreated plants nearby
- It breaks down quickly into natural materials such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen
- It does not penetrate the woody stems of trees, shrubs, or grapevines
- Finally, the most important feature, once inside the plant, glyphosate inhibits a key enzyme found only in plants and bacteria – EPSP synthase
Glyphosate blocks plants from making the amino acids phenyalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan which in turn prevents the plant from producing proteins such as enzymes. Plants that have been engineered to be RoundUp Ready have been altered with a bacterial gene that gives the plant an alternative pathway to make these amino acids.
Glyphosate (RoundUp) The Molecule
You can construct a physical molecular model of this compound or any of the amino acids mentioned in the article using our 3D Molecular Model Builder.