I think dandelion flowers are beautiful, much prettier than grass.
Research News September 2009
Most natural rubber comes from rubber trees in Southeast Asia, but this source is now under threat from a fungus. Researchers have optimized the Russian dandelion to make it suitable for large-scale rubber production.
Researchers are therefore turning to other sources – such as the Russian dandelion. Germans, Russians and Americans produced rubber from this plant during the Second World War. Once it is cut, latex seeps out, albeit difficult to use as it polymerizes immediately. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Aachen have now come a step nearer to large-scale rubber production from dandelions. “We have identified the enzyme responsible for the rapid polymerization and have switched it off,” says Prof. Dr. Dirk Prüfer, Head of Department at the IME. “If the plant is cut, the latex flows out instead of being polymerized. We obtain four to five times the amount we would normally. If the plants were to be cultivated on a large scale, every hectare would produce 500 to 1000 kilograms of latex per growing season.” The dandelion rubber has not caused any allergies so far, making it ideal for use in hospitals.
In the lab the researchers have genetically modified the dandelion. Their next step will involve cultivating the optimized plants using conventional breeding techniques. In around five years, Prüfer estimates, they may well have achieved their goal. In any case, the dandelion is not just suitable for rubber production: the plant also produces substantial quantities of inulin, a natural sweetener.