The growing demand for rubber could transform the humble dandelion from a pesky weed into a cash crop.
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Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors found more than they bargained for in the Aztec metropolis of Tenochtitlan. Along with the gold that drew them to the city in 1519, Cortes and his men saw plenty of previously unimagined wonders, including the tomatoes now prized in Spanish cooking. But the ball used for the ritual game played in the royal court must have been particularly fascinating for the foreign intruders. Made from the sap of a local tree, the ball had several peculiar properties, not least of all its bounce. The tree's reputation, along with its seeds, soon traveled beyond the North American continent and around the world by way of trade routes. The French Academie Royale des Sciences published the first paper describing the properties of objects made from the tree's sap in 1755. And nearly a century later, Charles Goodyear stumbled across a process, known as vulcanization, to stabilize...
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