Tires From Flowers? Scientists Look Into How Dandelions Form Rubber
A study was conducted by a group of scientists to know how dandelions produce milky and sticky fluid, known as latex, on its rubbery stems. Latex is created by dedicated cells inside the dandelion stem that generate globular particles filled with polyisoprene that are used as natural rubbers.
The researchers broke down a Russian dandelion and have identified a specialized protein, called rubber transferase activator, as a main requirement for latex production. So without this component, natural rubber biosynthesis in dandelion will not occur. Experts need to know how this process works so that they can mass produce biotechnologically rubber through these little flowers that are commonly regarded as just weeds on people's lawn.
Currently, rubber is harvested in forms of latex from rubber trees by tapping. The latex gathered is then refined into rubber ready for commercial processing. Unluckily, rubber trees are very susceptible to diseases and need expensive protection through pest control and the trees take up a good amount of space to grow.
A second study highlighted in the same paper, which was carried out with substantial input from researchers from Münster University and Münster branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, identified another important protein which plays a key role in the construction of the long polyisoprene chains, which contributes to rubber's common properties, its resilience and elasticity.
"Dandelions have become well-known recently in particular as a result of applied research. Now we are pleased to have some news again from the field of basic research: we have been able to identify no fewer than two key components of rubber biosynthesis," Dr. Christian Schulze Gronover, head of research (IME, Münster branch), explained in a statement.
As of the moment, it is not yet possible to mass produce natural rubber biotechnologically. With the results of this collaborative study, the identification of the main ingredients in the rubber synthesis process, they could definitely make natural rubber biotechnologically a very near possibility, the researchers say. The scientists are also checking other dandelion types that do not produce rubber for future experiments to know the role of the rubber in the flowers.
Around 70 percent of the world's natural rubber is utilized in manufacturing tires. They are also used in creating windshield wipers, marine products, conveyor belts and miscellaneous rubber goods. Other latex products include balloons, condoms and surgeons' gloves.
Photo: jolly_janner | Flickr