Ciprofloxacin a commonly used antibiotic could be the basis of a new herbicide

24Feb2016

West Australian scientists are exploring the possibilities for an antibiotic to be used as a new herbicide.

Ciprofloxacin is effective at killing bacterial infections in humans, and has recently been discovered to kill plants.

Senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr Josh Mylne, said what was most significant about the research was how ciprofloxacin killed plants. "It kills plants in a very similar fashion to the way it kills microbes, by binding and interfering with an enzyme called gyrase, which helps the DNA unwind as it's being replicated.

"This is only something you can find in plants and bacteria," he said. According to Dr Mylne, the way in which ciprofloxacin worked was different to existing herbicides. "The machinery that ciprofloxacin affects is not currently targeted by known herbicides, making this an untried mode of action to focus on," Dr Mylne said.

A new mode of action has not been discovered in the last 15 to 20 years.

Antibiotics used to make herbicides in the past

Antibiotics are often used in plant research. In the early-1960s the well-known herbicide glyphosate was derived from an antibiotic. "Glyphosate was an antibiotic, I don't think it was an especially good one and then some lucky soul discovered that it was a fantastic herbicide as well," Dr Mylne said. "It was re-patented for herbicidal activity and it was used as a herbicide from thereafter," he said.

From ABC Rural