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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Solar Trackers

Solar Trackers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, February 16, 2018/Categories: natural history, video, sustainability, art and design, environment, plants

                                Sunflower Oil Seeds Production (credit: ARS)

Cultivated sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are one of the largest oilseed crops in the world. According to the USDA, sunflowers represents 10% of a world oil-seed production 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 as nutritional seeds used in for backyard bird feeders. 

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

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 such as disease resistence and breed them into cultivated sunflowers; and, 3. to develop strategies for better pest management with reduced pesticide useage.

One very promising physiological attribute where sunflowers already have genetic advantages over other oil seed crops, such as soybeans or palm oil, is the ability of the plant to track the sun by Heliotropism. From morning to night sunflowers utilize this sun-tracking ability to maximize photosynthesis and thereby growth and biomass production. It's one of only a few crop plants with this photosynthetic capability. An animation shows how these powerful 'solar trackers' work:

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