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Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI)

Do plants pay a fitness cost to be resistant to glyphosate?

This paper reviews the literature to understand the effects of glyphosate resistance on plant fitness at the molecular, biochemical and physiological levels. A number of correlations between enzyme characteristics and glyphosate resistance imply the existence of a plant fitness cost associated with resistance-conferring mutations in the glyphosate target enzyme, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). These biochemical changes result in a tradeoff between the glyphosate resistance of the EPSPS enzyme and its catalytic activity.

Mutations that endow the highest resistance are more likely to decrease catalytic activity by reducing the affinity of EPSPS for its natural substrate, and/or slowing the velocity of the enzyme reaction, and are thus very likely to endow a substantial plant fitness cost. Prediction of fitness costs associated with EPSPS gene amplification and overexpression can be more problematic. The validity of cost prediction based on the theory of evolution of gene expression and resource allocation has been cast into doubt by contradictory experimental evidence.

Further research providing insights into the role of the EPSPS cassette in weed adaptation, and estimations of the energy budget involved in EPSPS amplification and overexpression are required to understand and predict the biochemical and physiological bases of the fitness cost of glyphosate resistance.

Authors: Martin Vila-Aiub, Qin Yu and Stephen B. Powles

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