Successful experiment opens the door to bioengineering with natural rubber

Modifying tomato enzymes to make natural rubber

Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd., the parent company of Falken, and other research institutions in Japan have developed a process resulting in the further utilisation of the resource of natural rubber and therefore the development of new versions of rubber which also contribute to the properties of the overall tyre performance.

For this purpose, the researchers have identified a part of a natural rubber synthase which plays an important role in the management of the polymer chain length of natural rubber. Synthases are “active” enzymes which are responsible, among others, for producing a compound from elements or complicated composite substances from simply structured compounds.

This is where the enzymes of tomatoes step in: both enzymes – those of natural rubber as well as those of tomatoes – have similar structures and belong to the same enzyme group. With this knowledge, the researchers have succeeded in identifying a segment of the polymer chains in natural rubber which influences the length of the chain. This recombination of the tomato enzyme with the same segment from the natural rubber results in a biomolecule which has superior properties to natural rubber and tyre engineers are able to take advantage of these properties to further optimise the tyres.

“We have once again demonstrated that we are keeping our promise to work on technologies that contribute to a sustainable society”, said Dr Bernd Löwenhaupt, Managing Director of Sumitomo Rubber Europe GmbH, commenting on the results of the research. “We expect this research to allow us to make contribution to a stable supply of natural rubber and to offer tyres that combine safety and durability with a low environmental impact.”

In addition to engineers from Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd, Associate Professor Seiji Takahashi of Tohoku University, Associate Professor Satoshi Yamashita of Kanazawa University and Professor Yuzuru Tozawa of Saitama University participated in the research. The results of the research were recently announced at the DKT IRC 2021*1 trade fair and conference, which was held in Nuremberg at the end of June.

Further information: DKT IRC 2021 homepage:

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