PULLMAN, Wash.—Scientists at Washington State University have published a study identifying prickly lettuce, a common weed, as a potential commercial source of natural rubber latex.
Writing in the Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry, scientists Ian Burke, Jared Bell and Michael Neff identified regions in the genetic code of prickly lettuce tied to rubber production.
With further research, the plant—a relative of cultivated lettuce—could be bred for latex production and could become a new cash crop for the Pacific Northwest, according to an April 6 news release on the Washington State University website.
Breeding prickly lettuce plants with multiple stems would allow for multiple harvests and maximum rubber yields, the scientists said. Selection of other traits such as water use efficiency would allow the plant to be grown with minimal rainfall, allowing it to be grown in rotation with other crops, they said.