A new study has been conducted by scientists that has allowed them to understand how dandelions produce a milky and sticky material, known as latex, on its stems. Latex is created by the stem of the dandelion that generates globular particles that are filled with polypropylene, which is found in natural rubbers. Therefore, dandelions create the very desirable material of rubber. Scientists are now hoping that they are closer to new breakthroughs that will lead to the biotechnological production of it.
Dandelion is the common name for the plant Taraxacum, a native species to Eurasia and North America. An initial study used a Russian dandelion, which has a number of identified specialized proteins, known as a rubber transferase activators, one of the main requirements for the making of latex. They stated without the protein, the biosynthesis of rubber in the dandelion cannot happen. Scientists are searching for the answer of how this process works in the little yard weeds to create a way to mass produce it biotechnologically, so it will become a renewable source of rubber.
Rubber is harvested from rubber trees by tapping into it and retrieving forms of natural latex. Though, rubber trees are scarce, only growing in a few select regions on Earth. As well, rubber trees are susceptible to many diseases, requiring expensive means of care.
A second study conducted on the dandelion proteins that can be used to make rubber was from a team of researchers at Münster University and the Münster branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME. They located another protein vital to the creation of long polyisoprene chains, contributing to the characteristics of rubber, including its elasticity. Dr. Christian Schulze Gronover, the head of reasearch at IME, stated dandelions have given scientists a plethora of data on applied research. She explained, “we have been able to identify no fewer than two key components of rubber biosynthesis.”
Currently, scientists have not found enough information to produce enough latex from a synthetic dandelion protein to cut down on the over harvesting of rubber trees. Though, the road to making natural rubber biotechnologically, the team says, has been shortened due to their identification of the main proteins used in the latex production of dandelions. Furthermore, scientists have been examining and experimenting on other types of dandelions that do not produce rubber to find out more about role of rubber in the structure of flowers.
Another idea scientists have been researching in dandelions is how providing protection agents and certain herbicides affects the little flowers. The team stated they found that the milky fluid inside dandelions helps the plant from contracting some diseases.
Rubber is used is many types of products, including marine products, machine belts, medical gloves, and over 70 percent of the world’s tires. While it may not be possible to manufacturer tires and other rubber products biotechnologically right now, discovering new information on the main components used in the synthesis of rubber is a big step forward to making the process happen.
By Alex Lemieux
Photo by Marcy Leigh – Creativecommons Flickr License