Rubber from Dandelions? Talk About Flower Power
By Cory Bickel
Anyone who’s gotten sticky hands from picking dandelions is familiar with the milky liquid they produce. This liquid is latex, a compound that can be processed to make rubber, and scientists are working to take this latex and turn it into tires.
Dandelions produce latex in their roots, and biotech companies KeyGene and Kultevat are teaming up to make these small plants more productive in order to harvest large amounts of latex from them. Scientists at KeyGene found varieties of dandelions from Russia with mutations that cause helpful changes like larger roots and increased latex production, and are in the process of introducing these mutations into common dandelion varieties. Kultevat will take these improved varieties and get them growing in amounts large enough to support industrial-scale production of rubber.
The tire manufacturer Apollo Vredestein developed prototype tires from dandelion latex. As soon as the biotech companies have enough plants pumping out latex, they can begin to manufacture tires, possibly in as soon as five years.
Photo Credit: kikiricky via Wikimedia Commons
Keeping Up With Demand
Most natural rubber comes from rubber trees, grown mainly in Southeast Asia. As more countries have become developed, the demand for rubber and its cost have risen drastically. Finding an alternative source, especially one as tough and easily cultivated as the dandelion, will enable rubber production to keep up with the growing demand. And because KeyGene’s techniques use genes found naturally within dandelions, these plants aren’t considered genetically modified, and can be grown in the European countries that currently ban genetically modified crops.
While dandelions are often considered weeds and nuisances, the pesky plants already have nutritional and medicinal uses. Soon their fast growth and ability to grow seemingly anywhere will be put to another good use, and someday we may drive past weedy yards on our dandelion tires and smile.
- What other products could be made from dandelion latex?
- What problems might the scientists have to overcome in developing the processes to make tires from dandelions?