GRDC - Ground Cover Issue 58 - Science award for academic

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By Alec Nicol

Former GRDC managing director Professor John Lovett has been awarded the Molish medal, the International Allelopathy Society"s top award for academic achievement. Professor Lovett and co-winner of the award, Dr Leslie Weston of Cornell University, were recently presented with their medals at the society"s fourth international congress at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

[Photo (left) by Brad Collis: Dr John Lovett: "Allelopathy fits well into the clean, green approach to food production."]

Recognised since ancient times, allelopathy is the ability of plants to use natural chemical reactions to out-compete their neighbours or to stimulate growth. However, in accepting the award, Professor Lovett queried whether this complex science had the ability to lead the next revolution in agricultural production.

"The credibility of allelopathy will remain in doubt until we can demonstrate its performance in practical terms," he said. "There are millions of plants with allelopathic potential but only a little over one per cent of the recently published material details management practices designed to harness this potential."

Citing work in Japan and Pakistan to harness the allelopathic potential of rice as a natural method of weed control, he wondered whether or not the opportunity for the science would come in the form of a marriage with genetic modification.

"Allelopathy fits well into the clean, green approach to food production. It carries no baggage with it," he said, "and we need to take advantage of this."

Dr Weston suggested that the success of many invasive weeds was due to their allelopathic properties, citing in particular the case of spotted knap weed, which now infests millions of hectares of the US, and of Japanese knotweed, which has begun to move away from its preferred wetland habitat.

Studies of these and other known plants with allelopathic properties promised the potential of new pharmaceutical and herbicide products.