Rubber: Risk

ambience Rain forest, Manaos, Brazil


In Southeast Asia, they grow a plant that’s essential to the entire industrial world, and it’s hardly cultivated anywhere else. But this crop could be completely destroyed in one stroke. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

“We’ve created a scenario whereby a single act of biological terrorism, so simple that it could be perpetrated by your grandmother, could have a major impact on the international economy.”

Ethnobotanist Wade Davis is talking about our dependence upon rubber. Some decades ago, there were American rubber plantations in Costa Rica, with special disease-resistant plants that biologists had found in the Amazon. But in the 1950’s, U.S. officials decided to destroy those Costa Rican plantations and depend upon synthetic rubber. What they failed to predict was the development of the radial tire.

“The radial tire must have natural rubber in the sidewall for strength. And it must have natural rubber as an adhesive for the tread of the tire. There is no synthetic substitute. The bottom line is that we now depend upon natural rubber as never before in our history.”

The problem is that rubber trees are susceptible to leaf blight. It’s a fungus that, thus far, has not struck the plants of Southeast Asia.

“But in the era of airplane and jet travel it would be a simple matter for the spore, either deliberately, through biological terrorism, or inadvertently through the actions of a tourist, to be introduced into Southeast Asia, and if it gets established there it will run like wildfire through the plantations.”

Wade Davis says that, through grafting, scientists could develop disease-resistant rubber trees.

“And given the stakes of the overall scenario, it’s something that we should be doing.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

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Rubber: Risk

The entire industrialized world is dependent on a crop that could be destroyed by one tiny fungus.
Air Date:09/21/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

ambience Rain forest, Manaos, Brazil


In Southeast Asia, they grow a plant that's essential to the entire industrial world, and it's hardly cultivated anywhere else. But this crop could be completely destroyed in one stroke. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

"We've created a scenario whereby a single act of biological terrorism, so simple that it could be perpetrated by your grandmother, could have a major impact on the international economy."

Ethnobotanist Wade Davis is talking about our dependence upon rubber. Some decades ago, there were American rubber plantations in Costa Rica, with special disease-resistant plants that biologists had found in the Amazon. But in the 1950's, U.S. officials decided to destroy those Costa Rican plantations and depend upon synthetic rubber. What they failed to predict was the development of the radial tire.

"The radial tire must have natural rubber in the sidewall for strength. And it must have natural rubber as an adhesive for the tread of the tire. There is no synthetic substitute. The bottom line is that we now depend upon natural rubber as never before in our history."

The problem is that rubber trees are susceptible to leaf blight. It's a fungus that, thus far, has not struck the plants of Southeast Asia.

"But in the era of airplane and jet travel it would be a simple matter for the spore, either deliberately, through biological terrorism, or inadvertently through the actions of a tourist, to be introduced into Southeast Asia, and if it gets established there it will run like wildfire through the plantations."

Wade Davis says that, through grafting, scientists could develop disease-resistant rubber trees.

"And given the stakes of the overall scenario, it's something that we should be doing."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

music