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May Be "Rubber Factories"
By Marcia Wood
June 17, 2002
Lanky sunflowers may become latex and
rubber factories of the future. This might happen if tests by
Agricultural Research Service scientists
and their university colleagues continue to provide encouraging results. The
researchers joined forces to improve the quality and quantity of latex from
Inside plants, latex consists of rubber particles surrounded by water and
other compounds. Latex can be made into such products as household or surgical
gloves or rubber goods like automobile tires.
This innovative use of sunflowers would reduce America's dependence on
imported latex, natural rubber and manufactured rubber products, according to
ARS plant physiologist Katrina Cornish at Albany, Calif. She is with the
ARS Western Regional Research Center.
Too, the futuristic sunflowers could lessen the need for synthetic rubber made
from petroleum. In 2000, the United States imported about 1.2 million tons of
natural rubber, worth more than $1 billion, and more than $8 billion of
manufactured goods containing about 350 thousand tons of rubber.
Although the quantity and quality of latex from sunflowers is not yet good
enough for commercial use, Cornish and co-investigators expect to improve it
further through genetic engineering. The scientists are experimenting with
several different types or lines of sunflowers.
Cornish will insert laboratory-built genes for latex production into
sunflower tissue. Next, she will test the tissue to determine whether the new
genes are working inside the sunflower cells. Later, greenhouse and field tests
will identify the gene-engineered plants that produce the highest amounts of
the best-quality latex. In experiments after harvest, Cornish and
co-researchers will determine how to preserve sunflower latex while it's in
storage, awaiting processing.
Cornish, a world authority on how plants produce rubber, is doing the
sunflower project with colleagues from Colorado State University and
Oregon State University. Details are in the
June 2002 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.