|Driving on Dandelions|
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 12:29
When the writers of popular television show Pushing Daisies imagined a dandelions car, it was supposed to be an amusing flight of fantasy. Little did they know that a few years later researchers in Russia and Germany would discover rubber can be extracted from certain species of the plant.
Reuters reported yesterday that a Russian variety of dandelion produces rubber molecules similar to the gum extracted from more traditional rubber plants. Dandelions, being weeds, grow much faster, making them an ideal source of rubber for products such as car tyres.
Currently, synthetic rubber makes up the majority of car tyres because it is freely available. However, this synthetic rubber is produced using crude oil making it expensive and environmentally detrimental.
Despite the fact that the latex within dandelions was used during World War Two, the plants undergo “polymerisation” - a chemical process that makes the ends gummy after being cut and the latex difficult to harvest. Scientists at the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) have solved this problem by finding a way of switching off a key enzyme.
Car tyres are not the only products that could be produced using this natural rubber - Around 30,000 everyday products contain natural rubber according to IME.
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