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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics

Research Project: Cuphea as a Potential Source of Lauric Acid for Personal Care Products

Location: Soil Management Research

2012 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
Successfully produce Cuphea wrightii as a source of C12:0 (lauric acid) seed oil.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The intern will study effects of seeding depth on the establishment of Cuphea wrightii, whose seed is a rich source of lauric acid, a valued plant oil for cosmetic and personal care product manufacturing. Additionally, the intern will develop and study different methods of harvesting C. wrightii and determine most optimum approach. The intern will also be responsible for establishing and maintaining research plots.


3.Progress Report:

Our ARS research team in Morris, Minnesota, is collaborating with Aveda Corporation (owned by Estee Lauder) to expand our research on the new oilseed crop, cuphea. Aveda specializes in the development and manufacturing of cosmetics and personal care products using only raw materials from plants and is interested in using cuphea oil as a feedstock replacement to imported tropical plant oils. The overall goal of the project is to develop cuphea as a commercially-viable source of seed oil for manufacturing cosmetic and personal care products. The primary objectives are to i) develop an efficient method to harvest Cuphea wrightii (a wild species that sheds its seed profusely) that optimizes its seed yield, and to ii) further our knowledge of harvest management of PSR23 cuphea, a cultivar that currently has the greatest agronomic potential. Progress with regard to the first objective this period includes focusing our attention on mutagenizing seed of C. wrightii with the chemical EMS (ethylmethane sulfonate) and propagating plants in the greenhouse to transfer to the field with the hopes of identifying a mutant plant or plants that exhibit improved seed retention and other improved agronomic traits. This period, we have identified and are collecting M1 seed of mutants exhibiting erect, compact (less branching) plant structure, which may be a useful trait for improving row-crop management of this species. Progress towards the second objective includes demonstrating that large-scale swathing of cuphea at physiological maturity and using a Draper pickup-head on a combine worked well for efficient cuphea harvesting. Swathing allowed seed to dry in the field prior to harvesting; thus, reducing drying costs, and seed loss due to shattering was no worse than straight combining. We expanded field testing to on-farm sites that include one local area farmer and another in Staples, Minnesota, and we are cooperating with Aveda to develop a life cycle analysis (LCA) of cuphea. Lastly, we have been able to supply Aveda with enough cuphea seed from our field testing to allow them to research and develop potential new personal care products from the oil they extracted from the seed.


Last Modified: 11/26/2014
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