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Research / Discovery

Weed Lab seeks to improve Colorado crops

January 21, 2010

There appears to be some mystery surrounding the building located at 300 W. Pitkin. With no official sign, the Weed Research Laboratory houses valuable research to improve the quality of Colorado crops and the development of new herbicides.

Weed Research Laboratory mysteries revealed

C-14 labeled chemicals are an essential tool in their research. Galen Brunk, research associate and lab manager, helps solve the mystery surrounding the history of the building and the goals of their research:

“Once these facilities focused on research around the potato viruses and the building was named Potato Virus Building. Although the range of the work performed in the lab has broadened over the years, the name stuck and a lot of the old-school employees still refer to it by the old name. A few years ago the building was re-designated the ‘Weed Research Laboratory’ to better reflect work taking place in the building.”

New products for weed control

“The truth is, few people really know what is happening at the Weed Lab”, says Brunk. The Weed Lab is part of CSU’s Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, and works in cooperation with private herbicide companies – such as DuPont, BASF, SePRO, and Syngenta – to develop new products for weed control in crops, rangeland, natural areas, and aquatic environments.

The herbicide companies contact the lab to invest in research which will contribute to the development of new products. The group then performs on site experimentation that includes field studies, greenhouse studies and laboratory chemical analysis. The program is entirely self-supported with the assistance of the herbicide firms.

Students conduct key research

Four graduate students are currently performing experiments involving radiation, which will eventually be a part of their thesis. In order to work with radioactive isotopes, these students must undergo radiation training modules 0, 1, 2 and 4.

The group is supervised by the principal user, Scott Nissen, and the lab’s qualified user, Brunk, who assist the students to design and monitor their experiments, with the support of CSU's Radiation Control Office.

For those already wondering whether there is radioactivity in your produce, it is worth mentioning that radiation is used merely as a research tool, and Brunk reassures that it would never end up in agricultural use.

The C-14 labeled herbicide is usually obtained from sponsors and is used to trace the herbicide’s metabolism, translocation, and mode of action, which is facilitated with the use of the radioactive isotope.

Radioactive isotopes used to test efficacy of herbicides 

The experiments involve applying the radioactive labeled herbicide to plants and following where it goes. Data derived from experiments can provide information on how to make the herbicide more effective. Brunk clarifies:

“Utilizing C-14 is a natural choice because herbicides are nearly always organic compounds. The lab’s certification for radiation use gives us a broader approach to research and fosters cooperation with different labs on campus and visiting researchers. The companies are usually impressed with this capability, which they do not find often in other institutions.”

Galen Brunk has been employed at CSU for over 11 years, after working in a private pharmaceutical company and at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he performed his academic research in the field of cancer research. 

Originally published in the Radiation Control Office e-newsletter.

Contact: Fernanda Dore
Phone: (970) 491-4835