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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DISCOVERY AND DEVELOPMENT OF NATURAL PRODUCT-BASED WEED MANAGEMENT METHODS Title: Allelopathy: Current Status of Research and the Future of the Discipline: A Commentary

Author
item Duke, Stephen

Submitted to: Allelopathy Journal
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: December 12, 2009
Publication Date: January 10, 2010
Citation: Duke, S.O. 2010. Allelopathy: Current Status of Research and the Future of the Discipline: A Commentary. Allelopathy Journal. 25(1):17-30.

Interpretive Summary: The study of allelopathy as a discipline has a long and varied history. Since Hans Molisch coined the term before World War II, allelopathy research has grown from a trickle of papers before 1970 to a burgeoning subdiscipline of chemical ecology represented by hundreds of papers each year. Yet, allelopathy research still suffers from a reputation for poor quality papers that equate the presence of a phytotoxic phytochemical as proof of an allelochemical function without regard for proving that the compound is bioavailable in soil at sufficient concentrations to affect vegetation either directly or indirectly through effects on soil microbes. Synergism has often been invoked without proof to explain why effects of crude extracts are sometimes greater than even the additive effects of phytotoxins known to be in the extract. Much of this work may be correct, but to be widely accepted more rigorous proof is needed. Much of this literature also makes the assumption that allelochemicals must be highly water soluble, when there are good scientific reasons to hypothesize that the most effective allelochemicals would have very limited water solubility. Very little is known about the mode of action of and mechanisms of resistance to putative allelochemicals. Nevertheless, the quality and quantity of papers on allelopathy has increased steadily over the past several decades, and knowledge gaps are being filled at an ever increasing pace. There can be little doubt that allelopathy plays an important role in plant/plant interactions in nature and in agriculture. Translating this growing knowledge to technology to manage weeds in agriculture has been slow. There is only one good case of discovery of an allelochemical (leptospermone) leading to the development of a major class of herbicides (triketones). There are examples of allelopathic cover crops being used for weed management in other crops, as well as other cultural methods to employ allelopathy. However, to my knowledge, there are still no cultivars of crops being sold with allelopathic properties as a selling point. Enhancement or impartation of allelopathy in crops through the use of transgenes could eventually be used to produce such a cultivar. Some of the most high profile recent examples of research in our discipline will be discussed. The study of allelopathy appears to have a bright future, especially if we can translate our research into technologies that will reduce our reliance on synthetic herbicides.

Technical Abstract: The study of allelopathy as a discipline has a long and varied history. Since Hans Molisch coined the term before World War II, allelopathy research has grown from a trickle of papers before 1970 to a burgeoning subdiscipline of chemical ecology represented by hundreds of papers each year. Yet, allelopathy research still suffers from a reputation for poor quality papers that equate the presence of a phytotoxic phytochemical as proof of an allelochemical function without regard for proving that the compound is bioavailable in soil at sufficient concentrations to affect vegetation either directly or indirectly through effects on soil microbes. Synergism has often been invoked without proof to explain why effects of crude extracts are sometimes greater than even the additive effects of phytotoxins known to be in the extract. Much of this work may be correct, but to be widely accepted more rigorous proof is needed. Much of this literature also makes the assumption that allelochemicals must be highly water soluble, when there are good scientific reasons to hypothesize that the most effective allelochemicals would have very limited water solubility. Very little is known about the mode of action of and mechanisms of resistance to putative allelochemicals. Nevertheless, the quality and quantity of papers on allelopathy has increased steadily over the past several decades, and knowledge gaps are being filled at an ever increasing pace. There can be little doubt that allelopathy plays an important role in plant/plant interactions in nature and in agriculture. Translating this growing knowledge to technology to manage weeds in agriculture has been slow. There is only one good case of discovery of an allelochemical (leptospermone) leading to the development of a major class of herbicides (triketones). There are examples of allelopathic cover crops being used for weed management in other crops, as well as other cultural methods to employ allelopathy. However, to my knowledge, there are still no cultivars of crops being sold with allelopathic properties as a selling point. Enhancement or impartation of allelopathy in crops through the use of transgenes could eventually be used to produce such a cultivar. Some of the most high profile recent examples of research in our discipline will be discussed. The study of allelopathy appears to have a bright future, especially if we can translate our research into technologies that will reduce our reliance on synthetic herbicides.

Last Modified: 11/23/2014