A Green Lawn And Lots More Leisure

WEEKEND YARD WORK MAY NEVER BE THE SAME. Researchers in Australia and Canada have discovered that a synthetic version of a plant hormone can slow the growth of ordinary lawn grass without diminishing its color or lushness. The compound--a type of growth regulator called gibberellin--causes grass to grow at only one-fifth to one-third the normal rate. With a monthly spraying, said Richard Pharis of the University of Calgary, mowing could be reduced to once every 30 days. Treated grass also requires less water and fertilizer--an urgent concern to people maintaining golf courses, large estates, or country clubs.

Serendipity played a classic role in the discovery. Pharis and investigators at the Australian National Laboratory in Canberra were synthesizing gibberellins to understand how they stimulate plant growth and flowering. A manufacturing error produced a variant. And when they tested it, the new synthetic stunted grass growth--possibly by competing with natural gibberellins in the grass. The researchers applied for a patent, and in the meantime, Abbott Laboratories, Dow Chemical, and DuPont have all expressed interest in licensing it. Shrubs and garden weeds, alas, are not significantly affected.

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