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Pigweed is No Match for DNA Testing

Last summer, farmers in the Midwest got an unwelcome surprise after planting native seed on Conservation Reserve Program acres: Palmer amaranth (aka Palmer’s pigweed), an aggressive and hard-to-kill weed that is native to the Southern United States.

Pat Tranel, molecular weed scientist at the University of Illinois, noted that growers who sell seeds are in jeopardy due to the spread of this noxious weed.

“Unless they have a way to certify their product is Palmer-free, they can’t sell it,” Tranel said.

The typical testing method of testing seed lots (batches of seeds) involves growing a sample of seeds until the plants are large enough to be identified, but this is a slow and potentially unreliable process.

Tranel and graduate student Brent Murphy developed a way around these issues. Their low-cost method can identify Palmer amaranth DNA from within a mixed sample without having to grow the plants.

Using this research, the University of Illinois Extension’s Plant Clinic developed a protocol for commercial testing of seed lots, and is now offering the service at a low cost.

This project was made possible with support from NIFA.

Read the Lancaster Farming coverage.

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Agriculture systems and technology
U.S. States and Territories
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