At a test track in Texas last month, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. researchers discovered they are getting close to accomplishing a feat that eluded the great American inventor Thomas Edison.

The tires in their road test outside of San Antonio were among the first made with rubber extracted from guayule (pronounced why-YOU-lee), a desert shrub native to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. Commercial development could upend an industry that relies on oil-based synthetics and natural rubber from the Hevea tree, supplied almost exclusively by five countries in the Asian tropics.

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