A scientific note on glyphosate

January 2015

In 2013, a novel use for 'glyphosate' and its major metabolite 'AMPA' was examined in a paper in the Journal Drug Design, Development and Therapy.

Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient of the weed-killer 'Roundup', which is sprayed on GM Roundup-tolerant crops. Other exploitable (patented) properties of glyphosate include its ability to bind strongly to metal ions and its antibiotic effects.

A Chinese-American team of scientists suggested the possibility of using glyphosate or AMPA as a drug due to their chemical similarity to 'glycine'. Glycine is the simplest amino-acid, a building block of proteins, and is an intermediate in many biochemical pathways and physiological processes.

Although normal healthy cells can manufacture all the glycine they need, rapidly proliferating cancer cells have an abnormally high requirement for this amino-acid, and their growth can be suppressed by interfering with their ability to synthesise it. 

Using cultured cells, the scientists found that glyphosate, as an unusable glycine analogue, effectively starved the cancer cells of glycine and prevented them from growing. AMPA also interfered with cancer cell growth, and also triggered cell death. Normal cells and slowly proliferating cancer cells were not affected by the presence of the glycine analogues.

Because both glyphosate and AMPA at high concentrations are toxic, and because there was little margin between the level which prevented growth of cancer cells and the level which killed healthy cells, the authors proposed their study as a model for the use of glycine-interfering analogue drugs as a cancer treatment, rather than the use of glyphosate or AMPA.


This highlights an aspect of glycine and AMPA which doesn't normally receive much attention: both the herbicide and its derivative are analogues of glycine, and can potentially interfere with multiple cellular processes which involve the amino acid.

Chronic interference caused by glycine analogues in the diet could contribute to a number of diseases. For example, glycine is a neurotransmittor whose effects can be inhibitory or excitatory to nerve cells depending on the type of nervous tissue. 

Swanson's data of increasing disease in America in line with increasing glyphosate use included rising autism and dementia [1]. There could be a role for a chronic neurotransmittor interference in both these conditions.

Glycine has been used as a drug to treat schizohrenia and to aid memory. If it's truly beneficial to these problems, adding a glycine-analogue to the diet of sufferers could be truly non-beneficial.

In-depth research into the neurotoxic effects of glyphosate, AMPA, and Roundup with all its extra secret ingredients, is clearly called for. Keep asking for it.



  • Qingli Li, et al., 2013, Glyphosate and AMPA inhibit cancer cell growth through inhibiting intracellular glycine synthesis, Drug Design, Development and Therapy, 7
  • Mohit Jain, et al., 2012, Metabolite Profiling Identifies a Key Role for Glycine in Rapid Cancer Cell Proliferation, Science 336 25.06.12
  • Wikipedia and - Glycine
  • Rosemary Mason, How Roundup Poisoned my Nature Reserve, Science in Society 64 Winter 2014
  • Nancy L. Swanson, et al., 2014, Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United states of America, Journal of Organic Systems 9(2)

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