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How Glyphosate Works


Living things as diverse as plants, animals and some single-cell organisms show remarkable similarity in how they use “food” intake for energy, and in the structure of molecules necessary for their life processes. (It seems that nature seldom “reinvents the wheel.”) There are differences between plants and animals in the “food” they take in. Plants are autotrophic organisms – they can manufacture the nutritive substances (e.g., vitamins) from inorganic molecules (water and minerals) they take in from their environment. Humans are heterotrophic – we cannot manufacture all the vitamins we need, and must therefore find them in the plant and animal matter that we ingest.

Monsanto arrived at glyphosate through hit-and-miss greenhouse experiments. When Roundup was released with the permission of the EPA it was not known exactly how the glyphosate worked. It was only known that it interfered with the production of certain amino acids in plants, thereby causing their death. It was also known that animals are not capable of producing these amino acids, so it was assumed that animals were not affected by glyphosate. After the release of glyphosate, curious organic chemists who do basic research (for which funding money is being cut drastically), did some fine work in determining how it worked at the molecular level.

Both plants and animals use PEP (phosphoenolpyruvate) in all their cells as a core molecule in their life processes. Research has shown that part of the glyphosate molecule mimics a part of the PEP molecule and thereby blocks its action in a metabolic pathway that is specific to plants (the shikimate pathway). What has not yet been determined is whether this mimicry of the PEP molecule can be accomplished in other metabolic pathways that are common in all animal cells.

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Updated: Nov 17, 2006.