The growth of weeds is a constant problem faced by agriculturists, horticulturists, and even those fond of kitchen gardening. Weeds must be removed frequently as they eat away the nutrients and stunt the growth of crops besides vegetables and fruit.
Even cattle and other animals do not eat such weeds due to their pungent smell. Obviously, the weeds, such as lantana and parthenium, also commonly known as congress grass, have no value and are seen as a menace… But not so by Assistant Professor Nitika Thakur, Faculty of Applied Sciences and Biotechnology, Shoolini University. She is researching the use of these weeds to prepare anti-fungal agents to preserve vegetables and fruit before and under transportation. She came up with the idea of using anti-microbial properties of the weeds to target some potential diseases affecting cash crops like tomatoes.
Alternaria alternata is a fungus which causes huge damage, even as high as 40 per cent, during storage and before the transportation of crops like tomatoes and cauliflowers. To counter the damage caused by the fungus, Dr Nitika and PhD scholar Dr Gaurav Sharma are researching on the development of biocontrol agents using the weeds growing in abundance.
To prepare the formulation, weeds are dried and powdered. Leaves of weeds, rather than flowers, have been found to be more effective. The extract is then added with anti-fungal solvents to prepare an antidote to the Alternaria alternata fungus. The preparation can be used to spray harvested vegetables and fruits.
Dr Nitika said the experiments in the labs have yielded very encouraging results. “In fact, there is 70 per to 80 per cent reduction in the damage caused by the Alternaria alternata fungus. We have now planned to introduce the formulation in field conditions by spraying vegetables and fruit before transportation,” she said, adding that the formulation would be tested vigorously before bringing it to the market.
In commercial terms, such a formulation could lead to huge savings for farmers by reducing the extent of damage caused before and during the transportation of crops.
The idea to use the weeds to formulate anti-fungus agents came to Dr Nitika when she saw parthenium weeds flourishing on the roadside. In future, she said, many synergistic combinations of these weeds can be tested and evaluated for antimicrobial properties. In addition, they can be positively implemented in organic agricultural practices.
This research is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals of Shoolini University. Earlier, the university has also been ranked in the category of Clean Water and Sanitation along with Affordable and Clean Energy utilisation.
The entire project has been supported and funded by the State Funding agencies (HIMCOSTE) and is being executed with the help of the management and colleagues at Shoolini University.