Could the lowly dandelion solve a crisis? If Key Gene CEO Dr. Arjen van Tunen and his fellow scientists are correct, this yard pest may be the basis of sustainable and highly profitable rubber production. A growing middle class worldwide has produced a need for high-quality rubber, mostly for tires. Rubber tree (the genus Havea) plantations in Southeast Asia are threatened by climate change, disease, and sustainable harvesting is costly and labor intensive. However, the dandelion produces latex, just not in huge amounts.
KeyGene has identified a high production version in Kazakhstan and combined its genetics with those of the larger, common dandelion. The result is a plant that could revolutionize the rubber industry and provide a new high-value, easy-to-grow crop for farmers. Environmental impacts are also discussed. In the process, the scientists at KeyGene also identified genes related to apomixis, the ability to produce seeds without fertilization, essentially clones of the parent. Understanding these genes could dramatically change agriculture, as any plant could potentially be made to produce clonal seeds from the mother plant.
In the second part of the podcast, correspondent Vern Blazek–a pseudonym for Kevin Folta–talks to University of Florida geneticist Curt Hannah, who answers a listener question about corn varieties and just how much genetic variation there is in modern modern hybrids.
Plus some thoughts by Flota on the Borlaug CAST Agriculture Communications Award
Visit Kevin Folta’s Talking Biotech