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AGRICULTURE REPORT – June 18, 2002: Sunflower Rubber - 2002-06-17

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Many farmers grow sunflower plants. The tall plants produce beautiful flowers and seeds that are good to eat. They also produce a high quality oil for cooking.

American scientists are hoping that sunflowers soon will become known for their rubber. The scientists are attempting to improve the quality and amount of latex from sunflower plants. Latex is made of rubber particles, water and other plant substances. It is a higher value product than solid rubber.

The scientists believe that sunflowers could reduce America’s dependence on imported natural rubber and rubber made from oil products. The United States imports more than one-million tons of natural rubber each year. The Department of Agriculture says the rubber imports cost about one-thousand-million dollars a year.

Katrina Cornish is an expert on how plants produce rubber. She works with the United States government’s Agricultural Research Service office in Albany, California.

Mizz Cornish notes that more than two-thousand-five-hundred kinds of plants produce natural latex. However, she says that few of the plants have the qualities that scientists want. Most plants are too small or grow too slowly. Others do not produce enough latex, or the latex they produce is not good enough.

Mizz Cornish says sunflowers are large and grow quickly. Currently, the quality and amount of latex produced from sunflowers is not good enough to be used to make products. However, scientists expect to improve it through methods of genetic engineering.

Mizz Cornish and her team are experimenting with several different kinds of sunflowers. She is working with scientists from Colorado State University and Oregon State University. They are interested in the kinds of plants that produce the highest amounts of latex in stems and leaves. They are working with sunflower plants that grow in northern areas where most of the American sunflower crop is grown.

Mizz Cornish plans to add laboratory-made genes for latex production to sunflower tissue. Next, she will test the tissue to find out if the new genes are working inside the sunflower’s cells. Later tests will identify the genetically engineered plants that produce the highest amounts of the best quality latex.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.