NPR

Rogue Weedkiller Vapors Are Threatening Soybean Science

Scientists at four leading universities have seen their soybean experiments injured by a stealthy vandal: drifting fumes from a weedkiller called dicamba, now popular among farmers.
Pengyin Chen, professor of soybean breeding and genetics at the University of Missouri, in his test plots of soybeans near the town of Portageville. Source: Dan Charles/NPR

Something strange is happening to Pengyin Chen's soybean experiments at the University of Missouri's Fisher Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo.

"You see how small they are?" says Chen, gesturing at a field filled with thousands of small plots of soybeans.

The leaves ought to be wide and flat; instead, they're curled into cups. Instead of growing straight up, the plants are putting out fragile little side branches. Chen pulls a plant out of the soil to show me. "This plant is not supposed to have a branch there," he says, pointing.

Chen, a professor of soybeans. The biotech company Monsanto had genetically modified these new soybeans so that they tolerate a herbicide called dicamba. It allows farmers to spray dicamba on their soybeans; it kills the weeds, but their dicamba-tolerant crop is fine.

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