Delivering Hybrid Jatropha

Jatropha curcas is a perennial shrub or small tree that is native to Central America but was naturalized across the tropical and subtropical portions of the globe during the last three centuries. The plant produces fruits with three large seeds containing a high quality, non-edible oil. In addition to producing high volumes of plant oil, biomass is obtained from the annual or bi-annual prunings of this tree, and a high quality protein is obtained from the seed cake. Because it is a non-edible feedstock and can be effectively harvested on land that is considered undesirable for food crops, it does not compete with global food supplies.

Most early investments in Jatropha focused on planting cultivars that had not gone through any genetic improvement program. Early growers of Jatropha were disappointed in yields and many early plantations failed because breeders lacked the genetic diversity on which to create high performing selections. In addition, insufficient time was devoted to understanding agronomic best practices or in establishing a complete value chain.

Following the philosophy that technology drives results, SGB has addressed the deployment of successful Jatropha projects with a fundamentally different approach.

In 2007, SGB began developing a breeding and biotechnology platform based on a robust germplasm foundation. SGB currently possesses over 12,000 genotypes of Jatropha representing approximately 600 accession families. The accessions exhibit an amazing degree of phenotypic diversity including larger fruit clusters, larger fruit and seed size, oil content, variety in plant architecture, disease resistance and insect tolerance.

SGB’s extensive genetic library is a key differentiator: rather than providing a single line or several lines of genetics, SGB can evaluate hundreds of pre-screened hybrids with a multitude of key plant attributes in the local growing conditions of its customers. This, coupled with the integration of SGB’s agronomic practices with locally-developed agronomic solutions, provides far superior yields, as well as consistent performance under adverse growing conditions, driving increased productivity and profitability.

The value of genetic diversity and hybrids

Germplasm is the foundation for any crop improvement program, and Jatropha is no different from any other economically viable crop today. A wealth of diversity allows breeders the ability to begin selecting and combining naturally occurring traits or characteristics that can push the species towards a growth habit that is beneficial to our human needs (artificial selection), thus modifying the species from the traits and trait combinations imposed by nature (natural selection).

Because of the wealth of genetic and phenotypic diversity, the rapid generation time, and ease of performing sexual crosses, SGB breeders have been able to make stunning progress in developing elite parental lines. Key to SGB’s success has been its proprietary method for making hybrids of Jatropha. As with most all crops, hybrids perform better than open pollinated lines due to a phenomenon known as heterosis or “hybrid vigor.” Hybrid vigor provides not only higher yields, but benefits ranging from more vigorous germination to more vigorous growth and stress tolerance. The deployment of molecular strategies to organize the germplasm into groups reflecting their genetic relatedness (molecular clades) has been an invaluable tool for guiding the choice of parental lines that when crossed will provide the greatest degree of hybrid vigor. Such vigor improves grower's profitability while eliminating variability and inconsistencies.