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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Solar Track Stars

Solar Track Stars

Sunflower oil seeds production (credit: ARS)

Cultivated sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are one of the largest oil seed crops in the world. According to the USDA, sunflowers represents 10% of world production of seed oil in an international market with sales reaching $290 billion in 2023. The uses for all this seed production and pressed oil is diverse: from home cooking; as a food processing ingredient; as a constituent in cosmetics; and for use as nutritional seeds in backyard bird feeders. 

Biological research on sunflowers is progressing that will improve the quality of sunflower oil. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has a plant breeding program with specific goals:

1. to develop a broad genetic base leading to enhanced seed yield and oil qualities; 2. to utilize genes from wild sunflower species with disease resistance for breeding into cultivated varieties; and, 3. to develop strategies for better pest management for reduced pesticide use.

One promising sunflower attribute already has genetic advantages over other oil seed crops, like soybeans or palm oil. The golden flowers have the ability to track the sun using Heliotropism. From morning to night the flowers utilize this solar tracking ability to maximize photosynthesis and thereby growth and biomass production. Sunflowers are one of only a few crop plants with this photosynthetic ability so they are somewhat unique in the plant world. An animation illustrates how these powerful solar tracking 'super stars' actually work. WHB

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