Looking for Benefits in Weed Species
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” Well, based on the resent research of Washington State University Weed Science Associate Professor Dr. Ian Burke, the virtues of the lowly weed prickly lettuce is looking far more promising. Burke and a graduate student have succeeded in identifying genetic markers on the plant for rubber production. He shares more about the next steps in the research process.
Burke: “So we just self-plant multiple generations and now we are trying to pick out traits that would better for the prickly lettuce as a crop. So we want to have seed that is set very late or we don’t want to have the seed be wind-borne. We want it to produce high-quality rubber and lots of it. So now we are trying to advance it into a breeding program to select for those kind of traits.”
As well as providing an another option for cash crop for farmers, prickly lettuce has a an additional and unique benefit as a rubber source as Burke explains.
Burke: “Prickly lettuce rubber is hypoallergenic. People have a lot of allergies to natural rubber. So there is potential for using prickly lettuce rubber for pharmaceutical products.”