'Rubber Root' alter ego: Guayule

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Apparently the rubber world is at a crossroads. Natural rubber, which makes products like latex gloves, predominantly comes from the sap of Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber tree. Unfortunately, more and more people are developing allergic reactions to the proteins of latex, and rubber trees are increasingly prone to a fungal disease that has already wiped out large stands in Central and South America.

On the other hand, synthetic rubber, which composes 60 to 70 percent of the world’s rubber products, is solely produced from petrochemicals and could face challenges as the price of oil rises.

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Enter guayule. A perennial, pest-resistant shrub native to arid regions of the U.S. and Central America, guayule produces natural rubber proteins that do not seem to induce the allergic reactions of latex products. Guayule rubber producers tout the plant as a renewable rubber source — it’s already in production in parts of Arizona and Australia — that does not compete with commercial food cropland, and that could reduce demand for synthetic petro-rubber products.

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