TOKYO—Bridgestone Corp. claims its researchers, in cooperation with Indonesian authorities and university researchers, have developed a technique for identifying a disease that threatens to decimate trees that are the primary source for natural rubber used in tires and other rubber applications.
The target of the research is “white root rot disease,” which is caused by Rigidoporus microporus, a type of filamentous fungi that affects para rubber trees. By infecting the root and destroying its system, the disease causes the para rubber tree to wither, Bridgestone said.
Early detection of the disease is difficult, the tire maker said, and there currently is no fundamental countermeasure for the disease.
When an outbreak occurs, the diseased area of the tree is cut off, and the portion of the tree that remains is treated with drugs.
In Southeast Asia, where more than 90 percent of the world's natural rubber is grown, white root rot disease is spreading due to pathogens in the soil. Since the disease can be identified only by visual inspection, detection accuracy is low.
Visual inspections can only be performed by digging into the soil around the tree. The complexity is time-consuming and often leads to late detections and misdiagnoses, causing damage from the disease to spread.
Bridgestone said it has adapted a gene amplification technique called LAMP (Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification)—developed by Eiken Chemical Co. Ltd.—into what it calls a “groundbreaking and advanced technique” that can confirm the presence of the pathogen in the field easily, without the use of special equipment.
The company has developed a reagent kit based on the genetic structure of the disease-causing pathogens. With the LAMP Method, the early detection of white root rot disease is now possible, and it is anticipated that this technique will help control the spread of the disease from infected trees to healthy ones.
By expanding this technique, which can be used regardless of knowledge and experience, damage control and maintenance can be performed easily. In this way, the tire maker said the LAMP Method is expected to have an enormous effect in terms of plantation management as well.
Bridgestone has been working for the past six years with the Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology and numerous universities to help develop technologies that diagnosis white root rot disease in a prompt manner.
The Tokyo-based tire maker said it will continue to cooperate with universities in both Indonesia and Japan to reinforce and promote the development of technologies to improve natural rubber production.
Through various R&D activities for raw materials—including the development of technologies such as the LAMP Method—Bridgestone is aiming to make raw materials for tires 100 percent sustainable by 2050.