Bayer looks to AI to combat herbicide resistance faster

FILE PHOTO: Logo of German drugmaker Bayer AG in Leverkusen

By Renee Hickman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Bayer's crop science division is increasingly turning to artificial intelligence in its battle against crop killing weeds, the company told Reuters.

Weeds are growing resistant to the herbicides already on the market, and agribusiness companies like Bayer are in a desperate search for new modes of action to help farmers kill them.

Bayer's Icafolin product will be its first new mode of action herbicide in some 30 years when it launches in Brazil in 2028.

Frank Terhorst, executive vice president of strategy and sustainability at Bayer's Crop Science Division, told Reuters on Monday that AI could help speed up finding that next new mode of action.

"You want to find the one where you have maximum performance on what you want to kill – weeds, and basically no impact on everything else. And that balance is extremely difficult," Terhorst told Reuters after an event in Chicago.

AI, he said, helps the company match the protein structure of a weed with a molecule that targets that structure, and enables it to use huge amounts of data.

It is a faster process, he said, and there are fewer dropouts.

Bob Reiter, head of research and development, crop science, at Bayer, said in a statement that with AI tools, the timeline for the discovery of the next new mode of action could be much shorter.

"If we take the example of early research only, we today have at least three times the number of new modes of action compared to ten years ago," he said.

(Reporting by Renee Hickman; Editing by Josie Kao)