A Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Kazakh National Agrarian Research University (KazNARU) in 2019 continues to build on the long-term research of Prof. Katrina Cornish, who holds joint appointments in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science as well as the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering. Her lab has developed a variety of dandelion from Kazakhstan (Taraxacum kok-saghyz) they call Buckeye Gold. Above the ground, it looks like the dandelions that in the US are considered weeds. Taraxacum kok-saghyz dandelions’ roots are comprised of 10-15% natural rubber and are thus not weeds but rather a viable way for the US to protect itself from looming shortages of rubber gained via traditional methods from the tropics. Lands dedicated to rubber cultivation there are now often converted to palm oil production, leading to more deforestation for new rubber cultivation. By contrast, Buckeye Gold can be grown in existing fields and does not cross-pollinate with dandelions common in the US. Cornish advocates this in a TEDx talk at OSU.
Meirambek Mutalkhanov was a visiting scholar in the Cornish lab on a Bolashak International Scholarship, who returned in late 2022 to the Department of Biodiversity and Biological Resources in the Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (like Kazakh National University located in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty) under Prof. Kenzhe-Karim Boguspaev. He presented on his work and country in November 2021 as part of the Wooster-based series Cultural Connections “Where Culture Meets Agriculture.” Claiming both the first apples and the first taming of horses for Kazakhstan, Mutalkhanov also spoke of leaf blights on rubber trees in seven countries and the doubling of demand for protective gloves with the advent of COVID-19 conspiring to make the need for alternative rubber all the greater. While synthetic rubber has surpassed natural rubbers in quantity produced, the quality of natural rubber irreplaceable for high-performance applications, he said.
Visiting Fellow Kuanysh Sissemali is the latest researcher to join the project. He came to study the rubber plants and learn the methods of their analysis.
Other accomplishments from CFAES’s cooperation with (KazNARU) include many projects by Dr. Rafiq Islam, director of the Soil Water & BioEnergy program at OSU’s South Centers in Piketon. Another timely project involves Renukaradhya Gourapura, Professor at the CFAES Food Animal Health Research Program (FAHRP) and the Veterinary Preventive Medicine Department. He hosted Dr. Kaissar Tabynov, Head of the International Center for Vaccinology at KazNARU in 2019, working on animal vaccines. They have funding from the government of Kazakhstan for developing a COVID-19 vaccine for preclinical studies. Dina Bugybayeva is a graduate research associate working with Prof. Gourapura in Wooster and Dr. Tabynov in Almaty.
Americans have heard more about Kazakhstan in recent years. Although it is the ninth largest country in the world, it is home to just 18 million and middle-aged or older people did not learn about Kazakhstan as it was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. But such cooperation ensures that the bands that tie our institutions are growing tighter.