Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany have genetically modified a dandelion species to produce natural latex that doesn’t immediately polymerizes when exposed to air. This can lead to large scale production of natural latex that, so far, has not been shown to cause allergies in people. If the plants prove themselves viable for agriculture, they may supplant synthetic latex altogether for medical applications.
“We have identified the enzyme responsible for the rapid polymerization and have switched it off,” says Prof. Dr. Dirk Prüfer, Head of Department at the IME. “If the plant is cut, the latex flows out instead of being polymerized. We obtain four to five times the amount we would normally. If the plants were to be cultivated on a large scale, every hectare would produce 500 to 1000 kilograms of latex per growing season.” The dandelion rubber has not caused any allergies so far, making it ideal for use in hospitals.
In the lab the researchers have genetically modified the dandelion. Their next step will involve cultivating the optimized plants using conventional breeding techniques. In around five years, Prüfer estimates, they may well have achieved their goal. In any case, the dandelion is not just suitable for rubber production: the plant also produces substantial quantities of inulin, a natural sweetener.
Press release: Dandelion rubber