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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.

The Conservation Alliance

Solar Trackers
Hugh Bollinger

Solar Trackers

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 the international plant oils market projected to already be $230 billion market. The oil has uses as diverse as home cooking, as a food ingredient, in cosmetics, and as nutritional seeds used in for backyard bird feeders. 

Biological research on sunflowers is in progress to improve the quality of the sunflower oil. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has a breeding program with specific improvement goals:

1. to develop a diverse genetic base leading to enhanced yield and oil quality characteristics; 2. develop methods to utilize genes from wild species like disease resistance to breed into cultivated sunflower varieties; and, 3. to develop strategies for better pest management with 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 sunflowers utilize their 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. An animation illustrates how these powerful 'solar trackers' actually work. WHB

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