Strigolactone analogues induce suicidal seed germination of Striga spp. in soil.
Striga hermonthica and Striga asiatica are obligate root parasites that cause serious problems in the production of staple cereal crops in Africa. Because of the high levels of infestation, there is an urgent need to control these weeds. A potentially useful control option is depletion of the soil seed bank by suicidal germination, which involves germination of the seeds in the absence of host plants. Suicidal germination is often mentioned in the literature, but not considered realistic, because of the alleged untimely decomposition of the stimulants in the soil, despite the fact that some encouraging results were reported around 1980. The alleged instability has prevented active research in this direction for the past 20-25 years. Five newly designed synthetic germination stimulants were investigated as candidates for suicidal germination. An important issue is the persistence of these stimulants in soil. Packets with Striga spp. seeds were put in pots with soil and then treated with aqueous solutions of the stimulants. All five compounds induced germination under these conditions, with percentages varying between 18% and 98% depending on stimulant and species. There were no noticeable signs of decomposition of the stimulants. The best performing stimulant is derived from 1-tetralone. We conclude that synthetic strigolactones analogues have excellent prospects for use in combating parasitic weeds. Further testing will be needed to evaluate whether such prospects can be realised in the field.