Unexpected new findings from researchers at Johns Hopkins University are indicating the world’s most commonly used herbicide appears to weaken the immune systems of insects. One experiment with mosquitos known to spread malaria suggests the chemical can increase the insect’s susceptibility to parasitic infection, possibly increasing risk of human disease transmission.
Glyphosate is a weed-killer that has been in wide agricultural use since the 1970s. It kills plants by disrupting a crucial metabolic process called the shikimate pathway. The pathway is only present in plants, so for many years glyphosate was thought to be an ideal herbicide – harmless to everything but plants.
Over recent years, however, concerns have been raised over the chemical’s effect on the surrounding environment and humans. Austria and Vietnam were two of the first countries to outright ban the herbicide, while several others are undergoing a staged phase-out of its use over the coming years.
The effects of glyphosate on insects is still a source of much debate. Studies have found the herbicide can disrupt gut bacteria in insects, and this can lead to behavioral or physiological changes. A new study is suggesting glyphosate could impair immunity in insects, and this may lead to damaging consequences for human health.