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Biol Sci Space. 2003 Jun;17(1):6-13.

Allelopathy in the natural and agricultural ecosystems and isolation of potent allelochemicals from Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) and Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa).

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Chemical Ecology Unit, National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.


We have studied on allelopathy of plants and developed methods to identify the effective substances in root exudates, leaf leacheate, and volatile chemicals emitted from plants. We found traditional cover plants that show allelopathic activity are useful for weed control. It could eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals for this purpose. Allelopathy is a natural power of plants to protect themselves by producing natural organic chemicals. Some endemic plants in Asia, already known by farmers in the region, as either cover crops used in intercropping, hedgerow, or agroforestry, were found to possess strong allelopathic abilities. Our group identified several allelochemicals from these plants. These allelopathic cover crops, mostly leguminous plants, provide protein rich food, and grow easily without artificial fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. In this regards, these allelopathic cover crops could save food shortage in rural area, and are useful for environmental conservation. Screenings of allelopathic plants by specific bioassays and field tests have been conducted. Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) and Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) are two promising species for the practical application of allelopathy. An amino acid, L-DOPA, unusual in plants, plays an important role as allelochemical in Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens). Hairy vetch is the most promising cover plant for the weed control in orchard, vegetable and rice production and even for landscape amendment in abandoned field in Japan. We have isolated "cyanamide", a well known nitrogen fertilizer, from Hairy vetch. This is the first finding of naturally produced cyanamide in the world.

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