Global production of natural rubber (NR) depends overwhelmingly on the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), a slow-growing tropical tree that is threatened by low genetic diversity and high susceptibility to fungal blight . Alternative rubber sources have been sought for more than a century, but very few species have been found that produce rubber of comparable quality . One of the brightest candidates, first noticed by breeders in Soviet-era Russia, is Taraxacum kok-saghyz (commonly called TKS). This close relative of the common weedy dandelion has a number of attractive features. As a native of central Asia, TKS can be cultivated as a hardy, annual field crop in temperate climates. Its natural latex, produced at highest levels in the roots, yields a high-molecular-weight NR that is chemically similar to the rubber tree and far superior to synthetic rubber. And, as an added bonus, TKS produces inulin, a dietary fiber and low-glycemic-index sweetener that can be fermented for industrial bioethanol production. What TKS has lacked—until now—is an assembled reference genome that could be used for genome-enabled crop improvement and elucidation of the pathways for rubber and inulin biosynthesis. In their paper published in this issue, Jiayang Li, Hong Yu and colleagues  have taken a major step in rectifying that problem.
Journal: National science review