It’s an alarming pattern affecting both agriculture and human medicine, say two experts.

On one hand, farmers are left scratching their heads wondering why certain weeds have become resistant to common herbicides, while medical physicians across the U.S. are seeing patients becoming resistant to common, prescription antibiotic drugs.

In both farming and human medicine, traditional tools used to solve routine problems may no longer be as effective as they used to be.

“In both agriculture and medicine, we may have been using too much of a good thing and it’s catching up with us,” said Dr. Paul Baumann, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service state weed specialist.

For example, Baumann said glyphosate (Roundup and other products) is highly effective, “because it binds a specific enzyme that’s needed to produce plant proteins.”

“It is a highly effective herbicide that controls a large number of weeds and can be used safely in crops that have glyphosate-resistant genes,” Baumann said. “These positive features have led to continued, widespread use, and in many cases as the only herbicide in the program. This has been the foundation for what we are seeing as weed resistance in some parts of Texas, but predominantly in the Southeastern U.S.”

Herbicide-resistant weeds such as Palmer amaranth began to pop up in Georgia cotton fields in 2004 and have since continued to escalate due to the repetitive use of glyphosate herbicide and nothing else.

“If it is only killing weeds one specific way, eventually there’s going to be a genetic anomaly that will show up that is not sensitive to the herbicide,” Baumann said.

Once this happens and nothing is done to control it, seed production will spread it all over the field, he said.

“The key to all of this is the development of new chemistries that have different sites of action or simply the use of other products that have a different site of activity in the plant,” Baumann said. “In years past, we have used three or four herbicides that had different modes of action and attacked different sites in a plant.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Wagner, clinic director of Scott and White Arrington Road Clinic in College Station, said in the 1960s, treatment of various skin infections would involve “a garden variety of penicillin.”

“But then in the late 1960s, patients developed penicillin resistance and synthetic penicillins followed which that worked for a while,” he said.

“Subsequently, the issue of antibiotic over-utilization emerged onto the scene. This resulted from a combination of several factors. Medical providers would inappropriately prescribe an antibiotic for the common cold. At times, patients would pressure a provider in the exam room for antibiotic therapy when any nasal congestion, sore throat or cough was present.”

Rather than always taking the extra time in a hectic schedule to educate the patient between the common cold and sinus infection, Wagner said a doctor or provider would commonly prescribe an antibiotic.

“Once antibiotic therapy was started, in many instances, the patient would start to feel better and would stop the antibiotic before it was all completed.”