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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Solar Trackers

Solar Trackers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, August 6, 2016/Categories: natural history, sustainability, art and design, environment

                Sunflower Field for Oil Seeds Production (credit: ARS)

Cultivated sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are one of the largest oilseed crops in the world. According to the USDA, sunflower production represents 10% of a world oil-seed segment in a global plant oils market projected to reach $230 billion by 2019. Sunflower oil has uses as diverse as home cooking, as food ingredients and processing, to cosmetics, and for nutritional seeds for bird feeders. 

Biological research is in progress to improve sunflowers and the quality of oil seeds produced. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has a crop-specific program in sunflowers aimed at several genetic objectives:

1. to develop a diverse genetic base that leads to enhanced yield potential and oil quality characteristics; 2. develop methods to utilize genes from wild species and breed them into cultivated sunflowers; and, 3. to develop strategies for better pest management with reduced pesticide use.

One very promising physiological attribute where sunflowers already have genetic advantages over other oil seed crops, as such soybeans or oil palms, is the ability of the plant to track the sun using Heliotropism. From morning to night sunflowers utilize this solar tracking ability to maximize photosynthesis and thereby growth and biomass production. It's one of only a few crop plants with this ability.

An animation shows the capability of these powerful 'solar trackers':



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