Biotech Updates

USDA Scientists Use Biotech Tools to Improve Guayule Plant As Natural Source of Tire Rubber

April 6, 2017

Rubber is usually made from petroleum or from the Asian rubber tree plant. But rubber can also be produced from the guayule plant, a woody desert shrub cultivated in the southwestern United States as a source of natural rubber (latex), organic resins, and high-energy biofuel feedstock.

Using biotech tools, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) team has developed an improved variety of guayule plant as a natural source of tire rubber. The improved plants have unique DNA modifications that may translate into increased rubber and biomass. More than 2,000 experimental guayule plants have been delivered to their research partner, Bridgestone Americas, for field testing.

In 2013, Bridgestone Americas and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Albany, California began a research agreement to evaluate ARS's genetically improved guayule. The modification increased the plant's rubber content dramatically in both laboratory and greenhouse trials. In a separate project with Cornell University, the team sought guayule types that were not in included ARS's collection. One source was the National Park Service's Manzanar Historic Site in California, an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II where guayule plants were selected, bred, cultivated and processed into natural rubber to aid the war effort. The park donated seed from its heirloom plants.

For more details, read the article from the USDA AgResearch Magazine.