Hannah Parks: A study of Glyphosate-resistant Amaranthus palmeri

I have spent the last 18 months studying the growth of glyphosate-resistant Amaranthus palmeri (pigweed) in response to increased temperature and drought stress. I was eager to start my project when I received seeds from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. I bugged my thesis mentor until he met with me, and we set up the seeds for germination. I showed up every day to check on and water the seeds, and a month later only one out of forty seeds would germinate – then die. My project was full of setbacks, but in those moments of frustration, I learned the most.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup®, a common herbicide. Since 1996, farmers have relied on glyphosate as a sole form of weed management because the introduction of genetically-modified, glyphosate-resistant crops made weed management convenient and lowered labor costs and demands. Glyphosate-resistance threatens current industrial agricultural systems because the weeds do not die upon glyphosate application, so the weeds stay in the fields, compete with crop species, and reduce crop yields. Farmers lose profit from reduced yields and the added labor cost of manual weed-pulling.

My project is important not only because glyphosate resistance is an intriguing case of evolution that has occurred in our lifetimes but also managing glyphosate-resistant weeds impacts agricultural sustainability and, therefore, the world at large. When I was down in the trenches, planting hundreds of tiny seeds with forceps, cutting thousands of leaf discs, watering and measuring hundreds of plants, and pipetting solution for hours straight, I did not feel that the work I was doing was important. I could really only feel proud of my work when I was looking at it in retrospect, talking about it with other professors or people, and presenting it in the last months of my undergraduate career.

My findings will not make a big impact on the scientific community, but completing this project helped me. The years I spent on this project taught me the true meaning of perseverance and dedication because I spent several hours in the lab each week, and I constantly had to overcome problems and redirect my project. My project gave me the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Most importantly, my project gave me direction and helped reaffirm my decision to attend graduate school and become a scientist and professor. It taught me that I was capable of completing scientific work independently, and when I talked about my project with others, I knew that I really loved what I was doing. Despite all of the setbacks I had, I would recommend an independent research experience to anyone. The frustration I felt was growing-pain, and in the end, I am better as a result of it.