By Tyler Irving
Posted June 2011
The Russian dandelion isn’t much to look at, being a smaller version of the humble yellow blossom currently dotting your back yard. But for Dave Wolyn, professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, this weed could germinate a nascent natural rubber industry for southern Ontario.
The idea was first proposed during the Second World War, when traditional sources of East Asia rubber were cut off as hostilities escalated in the South Pacific. Research from this era showed that the rubber content from dandelion seeds varied from zero to 30 per cent. At least 10 per cent was required for economic viability. After the war, the restoration of trade links and the advent of synthetic rubber seemed to spell the end of the idea. But even today, natural rubber is still needed to make tires for heavy vehicles like airplanes. With increasing demand from China and India for rubber, and concerns that disease could wipe out the Asian rubber industry, the idea of growing rubber in Ontario holds promise. Wolyn plans to start by evaluating the rubber content in plants grown from seeds gathered in Kazakhstan. “Through breeding we can improve the plant for its rubber content,” says Wolyn. “As supply and demand changes, there’ll be new and interesting opportunities to start a rubber industry.”
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