Glyphosate, a risk to human and environmental health?
It is the most commonly used chemical herbicide in the world and can be sprayed wherever there are unwanted plants. Find out what glyphosate is and how this chemical compound works as an effective and controversial herbicide.
Learn more about glyphosate
At first, it was developed to be used as a pharmaceutical product , without success.
But twenty years later, two chemists (John and Franz) from the agrochemical company Monsanto synthesized glyphosate independently when they discovered that chemicals similar to it efficiently killed plants.
Monsanto patented the chemical and started selling its glyphosate herbicide under the trade name Roundup in 1974.
The popularity of this product came when it was sold to plants, such as soybeans and corn, which were genetically modified to survive spraying with Roundup.
Use of the herbicide
Between 1995 and 2014, global use of glyphosate grew 12-fold. When Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, the product became available to other companies and today there are hundreds of glyphosates on the market.
In this way, farmers use the herbicide as a practical way to kill weeds that compete with crops for sunlight, water and soil nutrients.
When spraying glyphosate, it usually penetrates the plant through the leaves, said Ramdas Kanissery, a weed scientist at the University of Florida. From there, it travels from cell to cell and spreads through stem and roots. Then, infecting the entire plant.
First of all, we explain that glyphosate is derived from an amino acid called glycine and plant cells treat glyphosate as if it were an amino acid. In turn, plants use the amino acid to build the enzymes and proteins they need to grow through the synthesis of amino acids.
Thus, glyphosate ends in this amino acid synthesis cycle and messes everything up, as Kanissery said, because glyphosate interferes with the crucial enzyme production pathway that prevents the plant from creating the necessary proteins. After exposure to glyphosate, the plant will die.
Concern about the use of glyphosate
The question is: is glyphosate a risk to human and environmental health?
Recent research has shown that the chemical can harm the wrong plants because it is a non-selective herbicide, in addition to wild animals and ourselves.
This means that it can harm even the native plant that it usually protects, in addition to traveling to roots of non-target plants with a large portion of the solution persisting in the soil for months.
Researchers found in a 2018 study that the chemical can harm animals.
In that study, it was discovered that it can alter the microbial communities in the intestines of some bees. In addition to another study from the same time showing that bees exposed to glyphosate had smaller larvae and more delayed in development.
But glyphosate made headlines even for its suspicious link to a cancer class called non-Hondgkin’s lymphoma. This link has been debated since 2015 and continues to be tested by scientists.
A 2019 review published by independent researchers examined data from several studies on the chemical’s potential carcinogenic effects and found that workers exposed to the highest amounts of this chemical had a 41% higher risk of developing this cancer.
That is, those most at risk are farmers, who can inhale and absorb relatively large amounts of this product through their skin and eyes when they spray, said Luoping Zhang, a toxicologist at the University of California.