Dandelion Roots Enlarged to Make Rubber

Did you know that dandelion in Danish translates as “milk pot?”

“Um, no. Should I care?”

Well, maybe. Global demand for rubber is expected to be 20% higher than the supply by 2020, reports CNN Tech. So more supply is needed. A Dutch biotech firm, KeyGene, believes it has developed a method using the latex found in dandelion roots (which is milky white — see the connection?) to increase the global supply of natural rubber.

The roots of your average, found-in-the-meadow dandelion don’t contain enough latex to make it commercially worthwhile for rubberrubber production. That’s where KeyGene comes in. It’s performing plant phenotyping on the plant to develop a sort of super-dandelion, the one with fatter roots and higher latex yields.

A species of dandelion, commonly known as the Russian dandelion, is known for its ability to produce rubber. “We are making […] crosses between the Russian dandelion and the common dandelion using those modern DNA profiling technologies,” says KeyGene CEO Arjen Van Tunen. “We’re making and developing a better rubber dandelion, which produces more rubber because of an increased size.”

The path to a larger root system led through greenhouses. CNN Tech and Van Tunen explain further:

The company’s process, he said, involved analyzing different specimens of a given crop in its greenhouses, scanning them for mutations that delivered beneficial characteristics in terms of yield, quality, sustainability, or tolerance to drought and disease. The genetic material of strains with desirable characteristics was then isolated and sequenced to create improved crops — fungus-resistant wheat, high-yield rye, or heat-resistant cabbage — that were ‘better suited for the conditions’ of the future, he said.

Other companies see dandelions as a source for rubber. Bridgestone and Ohio State University are working together to produce rubber from Russian dandelion roots.

Apollo Vredestein, a multinational tire manufacturer, is working with KeyGene, and the two have developed prototype tires made from the plant. Tires made from dandelions should be commercially available in five to 10 years.

Source: “Dandelion tires? It’s not a Beatles lyric, it’s biotech,” CNN Tech, 2/15/13
Image by Robert Engelhardt.