Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub that is native to Central America that produces high volumes of plant oil, as well as biomass and protein. Because it is a non-edible feedstock and can be effectively harvested on abandoned land that is considered undesirable for food crops, it does not compete with global food supplies.
Most early investments in Jatropha as a row crop 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 little attention was made to proper germplasm selection, agronomic best practices or the establishment of 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 a considerable degree of phenotypic diversity including larger fruit clusters, larger fruit and seed size, oil content, variety in plant habit, disease resistance and insect tolerance.
Through advanced global breeding, biotechnology and genomics, and the introduction of hybrid seed production technology, SGB has developed elite Jatropha hybrids with significantly higher yields and reduced production costs.
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 locally-developed agronomic solutions and practices, provides far superior yields, as well as consistent performance under adverse growing conditions, driving increased productivity and profitability.
Historically, the rapid deployment of successful commercial row crops has been fueled by the ability to cost-effectively develop and produce elite hybrid material at an industrial scale. When divergent parental plant lines are crossed, a phenomenon known as heterosis can occur. Also known as "hybrid vigor," the progeny exhibit robust growth, disease resistance and achieve productivities much higher than the parental lines used to create them. Such vigor improves grower's profitability while eliminating variability and inconsistencies.
The greater the diversity in the inbred parents, the greater the hybrid vigor. SGB's germplasm library contains an unprecedented array of genetic traits including enhanced fruit yield, disease and pest resistance, high oil content, soil adaptation, improved flowering capabilities, and traits which improve the harvest index.
SGB has identified over two million individual genetic markers (SNPs) in its Jatropha curcas germplasm collection, confirming a genetic density comparable to corn and other domesticated crops, and validating the ability to drive significant yield and performance gains through molecular breeding.
From this collection, SGB has the ability to produce more than 2 million hybrid crosses. SGB has developed and advanced hundreds of Jatropha hybrids produced from this extensive genetic library in a range of growing and climate conditions around the world, including locations in Central America, Brazil and India. The introduction of hybrids in Jatropha compares to technologies developed in the 1940's which transformed the corn industry.
SGB has established a next generation DNA sequencing pipeline using the Ion Proton Sequencer from Life Technologies and is embarking on a large-scale Jatropha re-sequencing program designed to associate valuable agronomic traits and plant attributes with genome wide markers. The resulting dense genetic maps will dramatically accelerate the rate of improvement of SGB's elite hybrid cultivars.