Glyphosate is the most widely used broad spectrum herbicide. Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland have developed a new bioinformatics tool to predict whether a microbe, such as human gut bacteria, is sensitive to glyphosate.
“Glyphosate targets an enzyme called EPSPS in the shimatic pathway. This enzyme is needed to synthesize three essential amino acids. Based on the structure of the EPSPS enzyme, we can classify 80-90% of microbial species into sensitive or glyphosate-resistant,” says Docent Pere Puigbò, developer of the informatics tool The new vitality.
Based on analyzes with the new bioinformatics tool, 54% of bacterial species in the human gut are potentially sensitive to glyphosate.
“This groundbreaking study provides tools for further studies to determine the actual effect of glyphosate on microorganisms in the human and animal gut and thus on their health,” explains Docent Marjo Helander.
Glyphosate is thought to be safe to use because the schimate pathway is only found in plants, fungi, and bacteria. Nevertheless, glyphosate may have a strong effect on bacterial species in the human microbiome, and several recent studies have shown that disturbances in the human gut microbiome are associated with many diseases. Therefore, the widespread use of glyphosate may have a strong effect on the gut microbiome as well as human health.
The dominance of this herbicide in the pesticide market is mainly due to the use of GM crops, such as soybeans, corn and canola, which are often grown as glyphosate-resistant varieties outside Europe. In Europe, glyphosate is most commonly used to dry cereal, bean and seed crops before harvest. It is also used to eliminate weeds before sowing in no-till farming systems.
The risk of encountering glyphosate residues in food grown in Finland is minimal, as drying of grain fields with glyphosate is not permitted in Finland.
A rich and diverse microbial community lives in the soil, on the surfaces of plants and in the guts of animals. It is possible that even low glyphosate residues may indirectly influence the emergence of pests and pathogens in these communities.
“In addition to bioinformatics, we need experimental research to study the effects of glyphosate on microbial communities in changing environments,” Hylander adds.