Tiny Plants Could Cut Costs, Shrink Environmental Footprint

Tall, waving corn fields that line Midwestern roads may one day be replaced by dwarfed versions that require less water, fertilizer and other inputs, thanks to a fungicide commonly used on golf courses.

Burkhard Schulz, a Purdue University assistant professor of plant biochemical and molecular genetics, had earlier found that knocking out the steroid function in corn plants would create tiny versions that only had female sex characteristics. But brassinazole, the chemical used to inhibit the plant steroid biosynthesis, was prohibitively expensive.

One gram of brassinazole could cost as much as $25,000, so Schulz started looking into other options. He found that propiconazole, used to treat fungal dollar spot disease on golf courses, is more potent and costs about 10 cents for the same amount.

“Any research where you needed to treat large plants for long periods of time would have been impossible,” Schulz said. “Those tests before would have cost us millions of dollars. Now, they cost us $25. This will open up research in crops that was not possible before.”

Schulz’s earlier work showed that inhibiting steroids in maize produced short, feminized versions of the plants that developed more kernels where pollen would normally grow. Those findings came from adding chemicals and altering genes to disrupt steroid production. His new finding shows that a widely available fungicide can do the same thing.

“We can change the architecture of a plant the same way that has been done through breeding,” said Schulz, whose findings were published in the journal PLoS One. “We can treat plants with this substance throughout the plant’s life and it will never be able to produce steroids.”

That could be significant for seed producers, who must mechanically remove tassels, the male portion of the plants, so that they do not pollinate themselves. The process is labor-intensive.

Shorter plants that produce the same amount of grain could also reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. Those plants would need much less water, fertilizer and pesticides. Schulz said wider application on golf courses could also slow grass growth, minimizing the amount of mowing that would have to be done.

“This could significantly reduce costs for golf courses,” he said. “If you could eliminate one cutting per week even, it would be considerable because there are so many golf courses.”

Schulz said propiconazole is recognized as a safe chemical for humans.

“They treat golf courses with it. People are around it every day,” he said.

Schulz plans to test other grain crops to see if propiconazole would retard steroid production in those plants, or whether the effect is specific to maize. He is also determining which genes the fungicide affects. The research project is a collaboration between Schulz’s Purdue team and researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea.

A National Science Foundation CAREER grant funded his work.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Stewardship Stories
StewardshipA Multi-Layered Approach To Water Quality
October 6, 2014
Illinois event highlights research and technology designed to better monitor and improve water quality — and the benefits of cooperative, coordinated effort. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
StewardshipBayer Lands Honor For Bee Care Center, Other Initiatives
June 3, 2014
Bayer Corp. has been named a 2014 Responsible Care Company of the Year by the American Chemistry Council, thanks in large part to its Drive Toward Zero initiative and North American Bayer Bee Care Center. Read More
StewardshipStrip-Tillage: A Sustainable Effort
March 3, 2014
As sustainable agriculture grows in popularity, interest in custom strip-tillage is growing. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
CropLife 100Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
March 3, 2015
Two CropLife 100 retailers — South Dakota Wheat Growers (ranked No. 11) and North Central Farmers Elevator (No. 19) — have entered into a Letter of Intent to unify the two companies into a newly named cooperative. Read More
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
Carl Casale of CHS
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
Latest News
ManagementRetail Week: The Future Of Mycogen Seeds; The 4Rs At Na…
March 27, 2015
Editors Eric Sfilijoj and Matt Hopkins discuss recent trips, including a look at the future of Mycogen Seeds at Dow Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto Hears The WHO
March 27, 2015
Another challenge to the safety of glyphosate, and the responses from supporters and opponents, calls to mind a classic Dr. Seuss story. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Plant Food Expands Sales Team
March 27, 2015
Monty’s Plant Food Company, a leader in natural soil enhancement and  plant fertility products, has hired Andrew Bullock as a Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Louisiana Plant Poised For 2015 Production
March 26, 2015
As the 2015 planting season gets underway, growers across the country will need crop protection products to combat pests and Read More
Lake Erie Nutrient Stewardship
LegislationOhio Lawmakers Finalize Phosphorus Restrictions
March 25, 2015
State lawmakers on Wednesday finalized new rules designed to curb toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie, calling the regulations a major step forward in addressing the problem. Read More
Spreaders17 Fertilizer Spreaders For 2015
March 25, 2015
Manufacturers shoot for versatility and accuracy in this year's crop of fertilizer spreaders. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Hires Mid-South Product Consultant
March 25, 2015
Monty's Plant Food Co. has hired Matt Woodring as a Product Consultant for portions of Central Kentucky and Tennessee.    Read More
StewardshipMapShots Integrates With DriftWatch
March 23, 2015
Growers and agricultural providers using AgStudio FARM and AgStudio PRO can now view vital information about specialty crops and apiaries through a recent integration with the DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site Registry from FieldWatch, Inc. Read More
Crop InputsWorld Health Organization Report Contradicts Scientific…
March 23, 2015
A new report from the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate with a “2A” rating as a probable carcinogen, a Read More
Eric SfiligojSeed Treatment Stays Necessary
March 20, 2015
Grower-customers looking to scale back spending in 2015 won’t consider seed treatment, say experts. Read More
HerbicidesMARCH MADNESS: Industry Rallies Around Glyphosate Safet…
March 20, 2015
A newly published report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies the herbicide glyphosate as a "2A-rated possible carcinogen" and the ag industry responds by circling the wagons. Read More
ManagementRetail Week: Precision survey, a technology acquisition…
March 20, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sflilgoj discuss recent travel, the upcoming precision adoption survey, and an unusual sighting at a Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Launching TerraGrow Soil Inoculant
March 20, 2015
TerraGrow is a blend of beneficial bacterial and fungal spores and nutrients carefully designed to promote healthier soil and crops. Read More
Winter Wheat
AdjuvantsMax Systems Debuts New Adjuvant NanoRevolution 2.0
March 18, 2015
Added to a tank mix of glyphosate at the conservative rate of two to four ounces per acre, NanoRevolution 2.0 has proven effective in killing resistant weed species that had already had up to two applications of the leading glyphosate product. Read More
Photo credit: United Soybean Board/the Soybean Checkoff
Seed/BiotechAgnition Launches Microbial Catalyst Seed Treatment
March 18, 2015
Agnition it has launched Commence for Soybeans, a microbial catalyst seed treatment for soybeans that stimulates microbial activity for healthier soil and a superior growth environment. Read More
4R Certified, Nutrient Stewardship Council,
StewardshipTyler Grain & Fertilizer Now 4R Certified
March 18, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced Tyler Grain & Fertilizer Co. in Smithville, OH, has been added to Read More
V.R. "Swede" Roskam
ManagementFormer MACA President V.R. ‘Swede’ Roskam P…
March 17, 2015
Former Mid America CropLife Association President V.R. “Swede” Roskam died unexpectedly in Wheaton, IL, on March 13, 2015 at the age of 85. Read More