Some natural latexes are the main ingredient in the extraction of natural rubber, an indispensable raw material for all kinds of industries and essential for the manufacture of surgical gloves, condoms or tyres. All the latex used in Europe is imported, extracted fundamentally from the the Hevea brasiliensis tree. The largest producers in the world are Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, three Asian countries that have practically the worldwide monopoly of this resource. In order to find alternatives to this commercial dependence and promote the cultivation of latex-producing plant species in the European Union, within the VII Framework Programme, a research project is being undertaken in which twelve technological centres, universities and companies related to this matter are taking part.
The Basque Neiker-Tecnalia technological centre is part of this consortium and its function is to carry out research into, amongst other matters, the genotype and the possibilities of introducing into Europe the two plant species to substitute imported natural latex: the guayule bush (Parthenium argentatum) and the Russian dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz). Guayule is considered to be the most promising crop for Mediterranean zones while the Russian dandelion turns out to be more suitable for northern and eastern Europe.
The technical performance and economic potential of rubber extracted from guayule and the Russian dandelion are being evaluated through the production of specific prototypes, such as for surgical gloves or tyres. Likewise, the consortium anticipates the creation of a network of collaboration between European research and industrial organisations, to pool knowledge with scientists and government bodies so that Europe does not have to depend so much on imported natural latex.
This European project is studying the creation of a new germoplasm of both varieties, a study involving their biochemistry and genetics, geneti
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