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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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

Location: Soil Management Research

2011 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

ARS scientists at Morris, Minnesota, are collaborating with Aveda Corporation to expand research on the new oilseed crop cuphea, which is one of the new crops we are developing to diversify northern U.S. cropping systems, a primary objective of project 3645-21220-004-00D. Aveda is a subsidiary company of Estee Lauder that 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 replacement for imported tropical plant oils in their products. The overall goal of the project is to develop cuphea as a commercially viable source of seed oil for cosmetic and personal care product manufacturing. Project funds were also used to hire a college undergraduate student intern during 2010 who learned the fundamentals of conducting field research while participating in the project. The primary objectives are to i) develop an efficient method to grow and harvest Cuphea wrightii (which sheds its seed profusely) that optimizes its seed yield, and to ii) further our knowledge of harvest management of PSR23 cuphea, a variety that we have researched previously. Cuphea wrightii is a species whose seed is rich in lauric acid and PSR23 is rich in capric acid, both are important ingredients in personal care products. For the study, C. wrightii was planted into various mulching fabrics used to cover the soil. The objective of using the fabrics, was to aid in capturing shattered (i.e., shed) seed from the plants, so that it could later be harvested using a prototype vacuum harvester. Based on published work by others for vegetable crops, we further hypothesized that mulching might also enhance plant growth and potentially seed yield. Indeed, we found that mulch fabrics helped trap and collect shattered seed thus, improving harvested seed yields by more than twice that of control plants that were not grown in mulch. However, at least at the present time, the seed yield of C. wrightii was still too low to justify the additional production cost of using mulching fabrics as a harvest management aid. Depending on the fabric used, the mulch added approximately $418 to as high as $3000 an acre to the production cost. Currently, we are collaborating with Aveda to explore new ways to improve the potential of the high-laurate-producing cuphea species such as C. wrightii for commercial production. One of the avenues we have chosen to follow is to use a process of chemical mutagenesis of seed (i.e., mutation breeding) to generate unique traits in plants and then screen these plants for phenotypic traits such as better seed retention that will make the plant more amenable to commercial-scale production and harvest. Communication with the cooperator has been done by on-site and phone meetings, through mutual participation in a annual Field Day event, and by frequent phone and email contact.


Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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