Rubber From Dandelions? Talk About Flower Power.

Rubber is all around us, in our shoes, toys, and strapped to our vehicles. Natural rubber comes from trees but experts say this resource won’t last forever. Global demand for natural rubber is expected to outstrip supply by 20 percent as soon as the year 2020. To combat this impending shortage, a biotechnology company called KeyGene is looking for answers in the root structure of one of the world’s most common weeds: the dandelion.

If ever there was a prolific plant, it would be the dandelion. Come spring, they emerge on lawns and in parks, showing off their spectactular yellow heads for just a short time before letting loose a bevvy of fuzzy, parachute-like seeds. According to scientists at the Dutch firm, however, the natural latex lurking in the dandelion’s roots could hold the key to an entirely new source of rubber.

dandelions, rubber, biotechnology

Image via Leo Seta/Flickr

In order to elevate the dandelion from scourge of the garden to a commodity more than $100 billion a year, KeyGene scientists have to up the weed’s latex production. According to a CNN report, KeyGene is putting the plant through a process of plant phenotyping in order to develop a variety of dandelion with a fatter root and higher yield, that would be better suited for industrial processing.

The possibility of making rubber from dandelion milk is so promising that it’s already caught the attention of multinational tire manufacturer Apollo Vredestein. Once volume of the dandelion latex is available for processing, commercial dandelion tires could be ready for production in as little as five to ten years.

For those who might feel uneasy about this process of altering dandelions to do what we want, be assured KeyGene isn’t engaged in the same time of genetic engineering that’s caused so much controversy in the agricultural industry.

“We don’t introduce a gene from a different species into our crops. We always take advantage of DNA that is already in that species itself,” said KeyGene CEO Arjen Van Tunen. “You might say we speed up the natural breeding system that is all ready there for hundreds of years … We are taking advantage of the natural evolution process and speeding it up.”

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog