You see them popping up in your garden, and soon the dandelion may also parked in your driveway. Dutch biotech firm KeyGene has plans to use the latex found in dandelion roots to create a new material for tire production. With global demand for rubber set to outstrip current supply by 20 per cent in 2020, the common weed could become a renewable alternative worth nearly $100 billion a year.
While the dandelion’s roots are too small to be viable for commercial production, the firm plans on developing a new variety using DNA profiling technologies. By crossing a Russian and common dandelion, they hope to beef up the root stock and increase the levels of latex in the plant. The process will involve analyzing different specimens in a greenhouse setting, looking for mutations, and and then isolating the genetic material that improves yield and tolerance to environmental stresses and disease. They do not introduce foreign genes from other species into the crop, preferring to utilize the natural process of evolution, but in a shorter time frame.
“Many of the growers in Europe want genetically improved crops, but not GM crops. So for them we can provide an alternative. We have developed a number of technologies which enable us to very quickly genetically improve crops in a very natural way without crossing the species barriers, but still achieving the yield improvements or the resistance improvements.” said KeyGene CEO Arjen Van Tunen.
International tire manufacturer Apollo Vredestein has joined KeyGene in a collaborative effort to take advantage of the flower. A prototype tire has already been produced, and the team estimates that commercial dandelion tires could be on the market in as soon as five years from now. Roll over rubber, there is a new plant in town.