Glyphosate was discovered by John E. Franz, an organic chemist who synthesized the herbicide while working at Monsanto’s Company in 1970. This chemical became, and now remains, the active ingredient in Roundup, a broad-spectrum herbicide used and sold by Monsanto. Today, it is still used in agriculture, and by millions of homeowners to control weeds in their landscapes.
Roundup is applied directly to the leaves of weeds and works systemically. This means that once it is absorbed by the leaf, it spreads throughout the entire plant system. It kills the plant by interfering with the “shikimate pathway”.
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This seven-step pathway is a metabolic route that is vital to the lifecycle of bacteria, fungi, algae, and every living plant. When disrupted, the biosynthesis of necessary folates and aromatic acids such as phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan are halted. As the production of these proteins fails, plant death is inevitable.
Initially, Roundup effectively controlled weed growth, however, contact with the crop plant was detrimental. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum killer, which means it cannot distinguish between crop plants and unwanted weed species. In 1996, Monsanto set out to remedy this problem, by introducing Roundup Ready soybean. This was the first genetically engineered crop that was developed by Monsanto.
It was created by introducing a bacterial gene resistant to glyphosate into the DNA of the soybean. This gene was derived from a type of bacteria called Agrobacteria and now allowed farmers to spray Roundup not only the weeds but the entire crop without damage.