By Daisy A. Martinez, Ulrich E. Loening, and Margaret C. Graham.
Based on experimental data from laboratory and field, numerous authors have raised concern that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) may pre-dispose crops to damage by microbial pathogens. In this review, we distinguish and evaluate two principal pathways by which GBHs may affect the susceptibility of crops to disease: pathway 1—via disruptions to rhizosphere microbial ecology, and pathway 2—via restriction of nutrients to crops. We conclude that GBHs have the potential to undermine crop health in a number of ways, including: (i) impairment of the innate physiological defences of glyphosate-sensitive (GS) cultivars by interruption of the shikimic acid pathway; (ii) impairment of physiological disease defences has also been shown to occur in some glyphosate-resistant (GR) cultivars, despite their engineered resistance to glyphosate’s primary mode of action; (iii) interference with rhizosphere microbial ecology (in particular, GBHs have the potential to enhance the population and/or virulence of some phytopathogenic microbial species in the crop rhizosphere); and finally, (iv) the as yet incompletely elucidated reduction in the uptake and utilisation of nutrient metals by crops. Future progress will best be achieved when growers, regulators and industry collaborate to develop products, practices and policies that minimise the use of herbicides as far as possible and maximise their effectiveness when used, while facilitating optimised food production and security.