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Bridgestone Makes Breakthrough in Rubber Tree Disease Detection

July 10, 2012
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A strong recent focus at Bridgestone Corp., as at several other tiremakers, has been on researching alternatives to natural rubber sourced from the Hevea brasiliensis tree.
Bridgestone research indicates that, despite its probing into Hevea brasiliensis alternatives, the tiremaker sees the rubber tree as an ongoing key source of raw materials.

At the same time, the tiremaker also has investigated the optimization of Hevea brasiliensis productivity, and as part of this basic research into molecular breeding Bridgestone has successfully decoded the main genome sequence for Hevea brasiliensis.

Bridgestone’s researchers have decoded an estimated 1.4 billion base pair (bp) genome for Hevea brasiliensis together with the Genome Informatics Laboratory at Japan’s National Institute of Genetics. The sequence data obtained through this research project is estimated to cover more than 90% of the genome’s gene-rich regions.

This new genome data is expected to facilitate development of improved breeding technologies and growing methods for Hevea brasiliensis. Bridgestone anticipates that the technologies used will enable a better clone of the plant to be developed, which should lead to improved natural rubber yield and quality. The data also may accelerate research applications in a variety of fields, including the development of a clone with superior disease resistance and stress tolerance.

While the benefits of breeding a disease-resistant Hevea brasiliensis are obvious, the Japanese tiremaker also has worked on developing technologies to improve disease diagnosis in existing Hevea brasiliensis varieties. This research has been carried out in collaboration with a group of organizations under the administration of NEDO, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization – a Kawasaki, Japan-based organization that focuses on research into oil alternatives.

Other participants include the Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology and Bogor Agricultural University, Tokyo University of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, and Kyushu University.

Bridgestone has been involved in the research since 2010 and focused its resources on the serious problem of white root disease (Rigidoporus microporus), which is plaguing Hevea brasiliensis in Southeast Asia, where more than 90% of the world’s Hevea brasiliensis trees grow.

White root disease is a fungal disease that, as its name indicates, infects roots, killing trees through rotting. The infected site sprouts mycelia, the spores of which are visible as fungus. Currently, white root disease is diagnosed through visual analysis, which leads to low detection accuracy and delayed discoveries or misdiagnosis. These shortcomings have permitted the disease to spread widely.

This collaborative research, said Bridgestone, has led to the development of four new technologies for early disease detection, namely:

• Pathogen detection based on DNA analysis, which accurately detects and quantifies white root disease directly from the soil and can thus assess infection risks prior to planting;

• Diagnosis based on latex component analysis, which detects changes in the quantities of some protein components present in the latex;

• Diagnosis based on leaf-surface spectral and temperature-measurements, which uses spectrometers and infrared thermography to accurately detect temperature and color changes in trees (diseased trees have higher reflection rates in the near-infrared range and a higher temperature value when measured with an infrared camera), enabling more reliable disease diagnosis;

• Regional health diagnosis based on satellite-image analysis, which enables the diagnosis of large plantation areas and the early detection of diseased trees. In short, the technologies enable early disease diagnosis using simple tools that don’t rely on visual analysis.

Looking ahead, Bridgestone said it will continue working with Indonesian and Japanese universities to advance and share these diagnostic technologies. This work is part of the research into biomaterials the company plans to undertake in order to reach its goal of developing tires from 100% sustainable materials.  (Tyres & Accessories)