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October 8th, 2009:

Superweeds

I’m sure everyone reading this has heard the term ‘superweed.’ These are the terrible new creations that will, or in some cases have, been created by herbicide resistant crops. What makes them so super and terrible? They’re resistant to the same herbicide as the herbicide resistant crop they grow among. Treating crops with herbicides selects for herbicide resistance crops in the same way treating infections with antibiotics selects for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Taking antibiotic drugs kills all the bacteria susceptible to the antibiotic. That means any individual bacterium which can survive the treatment is much more likely to reproduce and thrive now that all its competitors were killed by the drug. In the same way, spraying fields with an herbicide, while good at killing off weeds, also gives a big selective advantage to any weeds that carry traits which allow them to survive the spray. Thusly are the superweeds born. Why isn’t that the end of the world? Read on the find out.

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