Investigating the rheological properties of native plant latex.
Bauer G., Friedrich C., Gillig C., Vollrath F., Speck T., Holland C.
Plant latex, the source of natural rubber, has been of interest to mankind for millennia, with much of the research on its rheological (flow) properties focused towards industrial application. However, little is known regarding the rheology of the native material as produced by the plant, a key factor in determining latex's biological functions. In this study, we outline a method for rheological comparison between native latices that requires a minimum of preparatory steps. Our approach provides quantitative insights into the coagulation mechanisms of Euphorbia and Ficus latex allowing interpretation within a comparative evolutionary framework. Our findings reveal that in laboratory conditions both latices behave like non-Newtonian materials with the coagulation of Euphorbia latex being mediated by a slow evaporative process (more than 60 min), whereas Ficus appears to use additional biochemical components to increase the rate of coagulation (more than 30 min). Based on these results, we propose two different primary defensive roles for latex in these plants: the delivery of anti-herbivory compounds (Euphorbia) and rapid wound healing (Ficus).