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Highlights in Chemical Science

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Alternative source of rubber

20 February 2006

An alternative commercial source of high quality rubber has been uncovered by researchers in Canada.

Natural rubber, used in the production of over 40,000 commercial products, is produced from many different species of rubber plant. However, a lack of genetic diversity has made the rubber crops susceptible to pathogenic attack. Developing an alternative source of the material would therefore be beneficial, say the researchers. 

Tapping rubber

John Vederas and Andrew Scholte from the University of Alberta looked at the biosynthetic rubber making process, comparing the most commonly used source, the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), with an alternative, the desert shrub (Parthenium argentatum). They made deuterium-labelled analogues of isopentenyl diphosphates, a starting material in rubber synthesis, and converted them into rubber using rubber transferase enzymes taken from each plant.

Vederas and Scholte analysed the products' stereochemistries or 3D arrangement with deuterium NMR. They found that the stereochemistry of rubber transferase from the desert shrub was identical to that of the Brazilian tree, suggesting the desert shrub could be a commercial rubber source.

Details about the 3D arrangement of substrates in rubber transferase active sites give a better understanding of this key biosynthesis process, said Vederas.

Elinor L Richards


A A Scholte and J C Vederas, Org. Biomol. Chem., 2006, 4, 730 (DOI 10.1039/b515750a)