Dr. Jones was working with the naturally occurring plant auxin, indole acetic acid (IAA). IAA is present in all plant matter and humans consume it daily whenever we eat fruit, vegetables and cereals. In an effort to work with a more chemically stable, auxin-like compound, Dr. Jones included 2,4-D, an analog of IAA, in his experiments and discovered that monocots (e.g. grasses) were left unharmed when sprayed with 2,4-D while growth was suppressed in dicots (e.g. broadleaf plants).
Today, after 7 decades of scientific study, it is approved for use in more than 90 countries with over 100 label uses.
2,4-D plays an important role in protecting crops, improving agricultural yields, reducing the risk of invasive and poisonous species, protecting wildlife habitats, and protecting infrastructure. While improving food production and reducing food costs are what 2,4-D is best known for, environmental benefits include decreased soil erosion and decreased greenhouse gases through reduced soil tillage.
2,4-D is also not only the world’s most studied herbicide, but the world’s most studied chemical. With more than 40,000 studies, 2,4-D is such a well-known quantity that scientists use it as a standard to judge the performance of their own evaluation methods and practices.
Recognizing its importance, in 2004 The Henry Ford organization in Michigan identified 2,4-D as one of the 75 most important innovations in the previous 75 years.
A 1996 U.S. Department of Agriculture study concluded that if 2,4-D and two related phenoxy herbicides were no longer available, the cost to growers and to consumers would total $1.683 billion annually in the U.S. alone. A 2007 study conducted in Canada concluded the costs would amount to $338 million.