Global Agriculture

Scientists Make Moves to Fundamentally Alter Weed Control

11 August 2021, UK: Today the International Weed Genomics Consortium (IWGC) announced a new multipronged initiative to advance the genetic sequencing of the world’s most troublesome weeds. The organization is genetically sequencing 10 new weed genomes and is hosting an international conference and training workshops focused on weed genomics. Members of the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) are among the broad global community of experts involved in the effort.

“Our goal is to use genomics to fundamentally alter the world’s approach to weed control,” says WSSA member Todd Gaines, Ph.D., an associate professor at Colorado State University and a founder of IWGC.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to IWGC to help the organization expand and accelerate its work – matched by another $1.5 million from industry sponsorships.

Ramping Up Genetic Sequencing

To date, the IWGC has helped teams of researchers improve and finalize genetic sequences for five major weeds, including Palmer amaranth, waterhemp, wild radish, smooth pigweed and junglerice. Nine additional genomic sequencing projects are either completed or underway by various groups around the globe, including work on horseweed, kochia, goosegrass, blackgrass, annual bluegrass, green foxtail, common morningglory, downy brome/cheatgrass and Italian ryegrass.*

With its new funding, IWGC plans to sequence 10 additional weed species over the next three years. Nine of those have been selected to date, including annual ryegrass, Sumatran fleabane, sourgrass, wild oat, johnsongrass, silky windgrass/loose silkybent, common lambsquarters, wild poinsettia and Chinese sprangletop.

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Industry partner Corteva Agriscience will lead the genetic sequencing effort, while plant genetics experts at Michigan State University will annotate each sequence – providing a “table of contents” indicating where specific genes are located.

Sequencing data will be posted online so that it can be used broadly by research teams as they advance their understanding of weeds and how they can best be managed.

“Our goal is to serve as a clearinghouse for those interested in conducting genome-based research,” Gaines says. “We plan to match people up, help them organize their work and provide user-friendly tools and training.”

Launching a Weed Genomics Conference and Training Workshops

A USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) conference grant will help support an IWGC weed genomics conference, scheduled for September 22-24 in Kansas City, Missouri. The “hybrid” event will offer options for both in-person participation and for live and on-demand streaming.

Examples of the many genomics-based topics on the agenda include:

  • Exploring how genomics can inform herbicide research
  • Resequencing genomes to characterize herbicide resistance evolution
  • Using population genomics to infer the origin of weedy plants and weedy traits
  • Uncovering genomics-based insights on plant adaptation
  • Applying genomics to “non-model” plants

Five hands-on training workshops will be offered, each designed to help build a more genomics-savvy generation of weed scientists. Topics include:

  • Molecular biology, including the role of DNA, RNA and proteins and how they can be measured
  • Population genomics and how to use readily available tools to import and calculate weed population statistics
  • RNA sequencing analysis and how to set up experiments
  • Herbicide resistance and other quantitative traits, including how to identify and map them
  • Command line prompts that can be used to explore genomic sequencing data

A facilitated workshop on the final day of the conference will focus on identifying weed genomics research priorities for the next five years.

Additional conference information and registration details are available online, including options for either two-day or three-day participation.