Date Published: 12 April 2006

Gatton rubber research set to curb life-threatening allergies

Health News from Australia.

Research being undertaken at The University of Queensland (UQ) Gatton Campus in Australia could prevent potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to conventional latex rubber which occur in 10% of the population.

A study funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) has evaluated new varieties of a latex rubber producing plant known as guayule, pronounced 'whyoole'.

Unlike the species traditionally used to produce latex rubber (Hevea brasiliensis), guayule has the advantage of being non-allergenic. Guayule also has the potential to be much cheaper to produce than synthetic alternatives which are based on petroleum products.

According to Dr Doug George and Dr Madan Gupta, who supervise PhD students undertaking field trials, the studies have concentrated on variety evaluation, harvesting, seed production and processing, direct seeding and seed dormancy.

" Guayule is a semi-arid plant with the potential to become a commercial crop in Australia," Dr George said.

" Guayule rubber possesses high performance properties such as resilience, elasticity, abrasion resistance, efficient heat dispersion, impact resistance and malleability at cold temperatures.
_ Due to its superior quality, this natural rubber is an essential raw material for many products and is often being blended with synthetic rubber. However, the highest quality rubber products are made from 100% natural guayule latex, for example medical gloves, catheters and condoms."

Dr George said previous intermittent attempts to commercialise guayule in Australia had highlighted the need for further research to increase rubber yields and decrease production costs.

" Latest research in the USA resulted in the release of high yielding lines," he said.

" New releases have produced significantly higher rubber and resin yields compared to existing lines both here and in the USA. The broad objective of this study was to investigate the commercial potential of guayule in Australia."

Guayule is a perennial crop native to Texas and Mexico. After two years of growth, the plant is harvested and the latex removed from the bark at the processing plant. Subsequent harvests occur annually until year five when the plants are removed in their entirety and processed roots and all.

Dr Premanwansa Dissanayake has completed his studies and Mr Guta Bedane expects to finalise his research in early 2007. Both PhD students have made a substantial contribution to guayule research.

Source(s): University of Queensland, Australia

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