Natural Fungus Could be Tool Against Illegal Drugs

Natural Fungus Could be Tool Against Illegal Drugs
Posted by FoM on February 23, 2000 at 15:25:23 PT
By Michael Hedge, Scripps Howard News Service
Source: InsideDenver
The world's illicit narcotic crops, from opium poppies in Central Asia, to coca plants in South America, may soon be preyed upon by the same type of fungus that has been the bane of backyard tomato growers.Tests conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as some international agencies, have found strains of fusarium fungus effective in leeching the life out of drug-producing plants.
But using a fungal predator against drug plants is controversial _ raising fears among environmentalists of voracious mutations that could attack other plants as well as concerns among policy makers that the practice will be a public relations nightmare.The UN is already conducting tests on opium poppies in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan to determine if using "mycoherbicides," as the variations of fusarium fungi are called, could be an effective way to cut into the world's heroin trade.And the UN and the government of Colombia are close, according to top U.S. officials, to signing a deal that would allow tests in Colombia of a strain of fungus that USDA researchers have found to be deadly to coca plants, which are the raw product from which cocaine is produced..Also, the state of Florida has done at least some preliminary research about using fusarium fungus against marijuana in the state, though any field testing of the fungus has been indefinitely postponed.Congress appropriated $23 million for research on naturally occurring predators to drug producing plants in 1998. The use of fungus, or any "biological control" to fight drugs is controversial, and has been since the early 1980s when the use of the toxic herbicide paraquat on marijuana plants touched off a huge public backlash.Scientists say fusarium fungi are much different than chemical herbicides.Eric Rosenquist, of the USDA's agricultural research service, which has been doing testing on fusarium fungus against coca plants, said in a series of tests in Hawaii, the fungus killed the coca plants. But perhaps more importantly, it killed nothing else _ supporting the belief of many scientists that each specific type of fusarium had an appetite for only one host plant."It is possible the fungus could mutate, but usually when that happens it is to something very close," he said. "A more likely problem would be that the fungus would lose its potency _ that some of the coca plants would develop a resistance."A naturally occurring fungus believed to be very close to the one being tested by the USDA devastated Peru's coca crop in the early 1990s.U.S. anti-drug officials noted that Colombia and other South American countries already spray chemical herbicides on coca crops, something potentially more environmentally damaging than naturally occurring fungus.Using the fungus in Colombia could be critical to overall efforts to curtail cocaine trafficking, top U.S. officials have said. With enforcement efforts pressuring coca growers in Peru and Bolivia, the percentage of the overall coca crop produced in Colombia has risen dramatically in recent years, U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey told Congress earlier this month.Tim Schubert, an administrator with Florida's division of plant industry, a sub-agency of the state Department of Agriculture, said he didn't believe one form of fusarium developed to attack a narcotic plant would pose a danger to other useful plants."The likelihood of a mutation of that type is not very high," he said.But the scientific opinion on the matter is not unanimous.John McPartland, a researcher at the University of Vermont, has written that, "once a self-perpetuating fungus has been released, it is impossible to recall or control." McPartland said, "fear of collateral damage to non-target plants is justified." Some groups are committed to preventing even testing of fusarium against drug producing plants in the U.S.Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said lawyers for that group were preparing to file court papers seeking an injunction against such testing, if that became necessary."The government has not done anything like the environmental testing necessary to determine if this would be safe," Stroup said.Florida conducted preliminary research into testing fungus against marijuana, and once appeared headed toward a limited field test against illegal cannabis crops.But James McDonough, head of Florida's Office of Drug Control, said despite the advice of scientists that the testing could be done safely, the project has been shelved."It became so much of an environmental concern, that it was clear so much political capital would have to be expended to go forward that it wasn't realistic," he said. "I'm still interested in seeing where science can go with this. Most of the knowledgeable scientists said it could be done safely."Michael Hedges is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service.  Published: February 23, 2000  Copyright, Denver Publishing Co.Related Articles On Anti-Marijuana Fungus & Cocaine: Fungus May be Used to Fight War on Cocaine 
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on February 24, 2000 at 16:14:16 PT
Other reasons for this
Quite simply, economic ones. Think of it. Imagine. We have oil cartels. They control vast amounts of wealth, and can determine the fates of whole *continents* not to mention nations. Now, imagine 'health cartels'. Or more correctly, 'pain cartels'. If the only source of painkilling drugs is the government 'approved' pharmaceutical companies, (because they wiped out the criminal cartels that produced more than the legitimate operations such as in Posti,India and Afyon,Turkey) and you need an operation, you're in trouble.Money. Always follow the money.
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Comment #1 posted by Earth Citizen on February 23, 2000 at 20:31:34 PT
using fungus? against hemp? Environmental Impact? Bad Karma?
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