Campus as a Test Bed

Ohio State supports "campus as a test bed" activities, in which the university is a resource for testing and improving new industrial technologies; helping faculty teams to obtain research funding; improving campus operations; and engaging students in cutting-edge sustainability science. Find out more about existing and potential projects at Campus as a Living Laboratory.

TIRE – Building a sustainable future for the rubber industry

Feb. 2, 2016

The world is facing a daunting natural rubber shortage due to decreasing natural rubber production and increasing demand from economic expansion in India, China and Brazil. Ohio State’s Center for Applied Plant Sciences (CAPS) is addressing the rubber shortage through its development of the research team, TIRE.

The TIRE team is improving rubber farming in Ohio and the northern United States by uncovering sustainable methods of producing natural rubber. TIRE’s efforts are crucial as the U.S. ranks near the bottom internationally in rubber production but is the second largest consumer behind China. Projected demand calls for 8.5 million more rubber trees over the next 10 years, which would cause immense ecological damage in Southeast Asia.

According to TIRE’s leader, Katrina Cornish, Ohio Research Scholar and Endowed Chair in Bioemergent Materials, departments of horticulture and crop science and food, agricultural and biological engineering, the TIRE team hopes to alleviate our dependence on rubber from tropical regions by establishing domestic rubber production. TIRE’s current project involves developing rubber-producing cultivars of the innovative BuckeyeGold dandelion. BuckeyeGold is a promising choice, as its rubber is very similar to the rubber tree rubber that is used to construct aircraft tires, balloons and latex gloves, alleviating the need for petroleum-based synthetic rubber.

Over the past two years, TIRE has advanced its BuckeyeGold genome-sequencing efforts, identifying more than 10,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for rubber concentration. The team has also designed controllable transgenic dandelions, the pollen of which cannot contaminate native dandelions, to enable weed control and facilitate annual crop rotations. TIRE is expanding research and conducting field trials of its farming methods. Cornish says further development of BuckeyeGold will lead to important innovations in rubber production.

“TIRE’s most influential developments will involve rubber crop domestication,” Cornish says. “Continuous development and application of modern modified breeding tools will help support our goals for sustainable, efficient rubber-production.”

Research conducted by the TIRE team aligns with Sustainable and Resilient Economy, one of the investment areas in Ohio State’s Discovery Themes initiative. This focus area centers on fostering a “circular” economy that converts waste materials into valuable resources and protects critical ecosystems. Through partnerships with industry, government and other organizations, the aim is to develop new knowledge and transformative solutions that enable a transition to a sustainable world.

The Discovery Themes initiative is a significant investment in four thematic areas in which the university will make a global impact: Energy and the Environment, Food Production and Security, Health and Wellness, and Humanities and Arts. As the nation’s most comprehensive university and one of the top institutions for industry-sponsored research, Ohio State is able to collaboratively develop solutions that will transform our world.

In addition to Cornish, the TIRE team are members Josh Blakeslee, John Cardina and Pablo Jourdan, horticulture and crop science; and Ajay Shah and Scott Shearer, food, agricultural and biological engineering.

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