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Rubber from sunflower!

Aravindan

KOTTAYAM, July 30

IN an effort to produce an alternative to natural rubber, scientists at the Colorado State University in the US have almost succeeded in developing sunflower as a source of rubber.

These scientists have enhanced the natural rubber content in sunflower from 1 per cent to 10 per cent by cross breeding it with guayule or Mexican rubber (Parthenium Argentatum Gray), a desert shrub native to Chihuahuan desert of Texas and Mexico where rainfall is low and erratic.

Guayule provided about 10 per cent of the world's rubber in the first half of the 20th century. Now this plant is again receiving considerable attention as a source of rubber in countries as Mexico and the US. However, guayule has become useful for the manufacture of hypo-allergic latex products for medical use.

Guayule cultivation demands high input for mechanised operations and its productivity is very low. The rubber is inferior to the hevea variety in general aspects and therefore the cultivation has not become popular. But sunflower is grown almost everywhere and if cross breeding it with guayule becomes a success, it is likely to break the Asian monopoly in natural rubber.

Currently, the US is the largest consumer of rubber in the world.

If this development through genetic engineering turns successful, it may impact the exports of Asian rubber producing countries. The US imports about 9.7 lakh tonnes of rubber annually worth $80 million from Asian countries.

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