Natural rubber



Natural rubber, also called by other names of India rubber, latex, Amazonian rubber, caucho or caoutchouc, as initially produced, consists of polymers of the organic compound isoprene, with minor impurities of other organic compounds, plus water. Thailand and Indonesia are two of the leading rubber producers. Forms of polyisoprene that are used as natural rubbers are classified as elastomers.
Many other plants produce forms of latex rich in isoprene polymers, though not all produce usable forms of polymer as easily as the Para. Some of them require more elaborate processing to produce anything like usable rubber, and most are more difficult to tap. Some produce other desirable materials, for example gutta-percha (Palaquium gutta) and chicle from Manilkara species. Others that have been commercially exploited, or at least showed promise as rubber sources, include the rubber fig (Ficus elastica), Panama rubber tree (Castilla elastica), various spurges (Euphorbia spp.), lettuce (Lactuca species), the related Scorzonera tau-saghyz, various Taraxacum species, including common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Russian dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz), and perhaps most importantly for its hypoallergenic properties, guayule (Parthenium argentatum). The term gum rubber is sometimes applied to the tree-obtained version of natural rubber in order to distinguish it from the synthetic version.
South America remained the main source of latex rubber used during much of the 19th century. The rubber trade was heavily controlled by business interests but no laws expressly prohibited the export of seeds or plants. In 1876, Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 Amazonian rubber tree seeds from Brazil and delivered them to Kew Gardens, England. Only 2,400 of these germinated. Seedlings were then sent to India, British Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Singapore, and British Malaya. Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) was later to become the biggest producer of rubber.
In Singapore and Malaya, commercial production was heavily promoted by Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, who served as the first Scientific Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1911. He distributed rubber seeds to many planters and developed the first technique for tapping trees for latex without causing serious harm to the tree. Because of his fervent promotion of this crop, he is popularly remembered by the nickname "Mad Ridley".
Rubber produced as a fiber, sometimes called 'elastic', had significant value to the textile industry because of its excellent elongation and recovery properties. For these purposes, manufactured rubber fiber was made as either an extruded round fiber or rectangular fibers cut into strips from extruded film. Because of its low dye acceptance, feel and appearance, the rubber fiber was either covered by yarn of another fiber or directly woven with other yarns into the fabric. Rubber yarns were used in foundation garments. While rubber is still used in textile manufacturing, its low tenacity limits its use in lightweight garments because latex lacks resistance to oxidizing agents and is damaged by aging, sunlight, oil and perspiration. The textile industry turned to neoprene (polymer of chloroprene), a type of synthetic rubber, as well as another more commonly used elastomer fiber, spandex (also known as elastane), because of their superiority to rubber in both strength and durability.
The parallel chains of stretched rubber are susceptible to crystallization. This takes some time because turns of twisted chains have to move out of the way of the growing crystallites. Crystallization has occurred, for example, when, after days, an inflated toy balloon is found withered at a relatively large remaining volume. Where it is touched, it shrinks because the temperature of the hand is enough to melt the crystals.
The required isopentenyl pyrophosphate is obtained from the mevalonate pathway, which derives from acetyl-CoA in the cytosol. In plants, isoprene pyrophosphate can also be obtained from the 1-deox-D-xyulose-5-phosphate/2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate pathway within plasmids. The relative ratio of the farnesyl pyrophosphate initiator unit and isoprenyl pyrophosphate elongation monomer determines the rate of new particle synthesis versus elongation of existing particles. Though rubber is known to be produced by only one enzyme, extracts of latex host numerous small molecular weight proteins with unknown function. The proteins possibly serve as cofactors, as the synthetic rate decreases with complete removal.