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News from the National Academies

Date:  Nov. 30, 2011

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Feasibility of Using Mycoherbicides to Control Illicit Drug Crops Is Uncertain;

Research Concerning Effectiveness and Risks Is Severely Limited

 

WASHINGTON -- The effectiveness of using specific fungi as mycoherbicides to combat illicit drug crops remains questionable due to the lack of quality, in-depth research, says a new report from the National Research Council.  Questions about the degree of control that could be achieved with such mycoherbicides, as well as uncertainties about their potential effects on nontarget plants, microorganisms, animals, humans, and the environment must be addressed before considering deployment.  The report states that additional research is needed to assess the safety and effectiveness of proposed strains of mycoherbicides.

           

Mycoherbicides, created from plant pathogenic fungi, have been proposed as one tool to eradicate illicit drug crops.  Congress requested an independent examination of the scientific issues associated with the feasibility of developing and implementing naturally occurring strains of these fungi to control the illicit cultivation of cannabis, coca, and opium poppy crops.

 

As an initial step, the report recommends research to study several candidate strains of each fungus in order to identify the most efficacious under a broad array of environmental conditions.  The resulting information would guide decisions regarding product formulation, the appropriate delivery method, and the scale required to generate enough mycoherbicide product to achieve significant control.  However, conducting the research does not guarantee that a feasible mycoherbicide product will result.  Furthermore, countermeasures can be developed against mycoherbicides, and there are unavoidable risks from releasing substantial numbers of living organisms into an ecosystem. 

 

Multiple regulatory requirements would also have to be met before a mycoherbicide could be deployed.  Additional regulations and agreements might also be needed before these tools could be used internationally, as approval to conduct tests in countries where mycoherbicides might be used has been difficult or impossible to obtain in the past. 

 

The study was sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org/studycommitteprocess.pdf.  A panel roster follows.

 

Contacts: 

Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Lorin Hancock, Media Relations Associate

Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu

Copies of Feasibility of Using Mycoherbicides for Controlling Illicit Drug Crops are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

 

Committee on Mycoherbicides for Eradicating Illicit Drug Crops

Raghavan Charudattan (chair)
Professor Emeritus
Department of Plant Pathology
University of Florida
Gainesville

Joan Wennstrom Bennett*
Professor
Department of Plant Biology and Pathology
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.

Jerome J. Cura  

Senior Environmental Scientist
Woods Hole Group
Falmouth, Mass.

William E. Fry  
Professor
Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.


Guy R. Knudsen
Professor
D
epartment of Plant, Soil, and Entomological Sciences
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
University of Idaho
Moscow

 

John F. Leslie
Professor and Head
Department of Plant Pathology
Kansas State University
Manhattan

Nu-May Ruby Reed
Staff Toxicologist
Department of Pesticide Regulation (retired)
California Environmental Protection Agency
Davis

 

Judith C. Rhodes
Professor
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati

 

John W. Taylor
Professor
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
University of California
Berkeley

David O. TeBeest
Professor
Department of Plant Pathology
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville

 

Ariena H.C. van Bruggen

Professor
Department of Plant Pathology
University of Florida
Gainesville

 

Maurizio Vurro
Senior Researcher
Institute of Sciences and Food Production
National Research Council of Italy
Bari, Italy

 

Alan K. Watson   
Professor
Department of Plant Science
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec

 

Charles P. Woloshuk  
Professor
Department of Botany and Plant Pathology
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

Susan Martel                                                                                  

Study Director

 

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* Member, National Academy of Sciences