Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bionic Palm's Jatropha hybrid breeding program

1 year ago BPL started breeding for high yielding non-toxic Jatropha hybrids as part of the ambitious BIONIC JCL 3.0 program. Early interspecific hybrid results are very promising. An ongoing proof of concept phase should be completed before the end of 2011.
Jatropha curcas Lin (JcL) is a relatively new discovery for the world of non edible plant oils for energy and chemical use as a sustainable substitute for fossil crude oil. However, it is considered a very promising plant by experts given its ability to survive even under the hardest environmental conditions.

JcL hedges form the back bone of Bionic Palm's innovative food and fuel farming concept covering 30% of the farmed land and facilitate the recovery of previously depleted African farmland. 

The planting material currently in use by most plantation projects around the world is commercially insufficient and  mostly defined as wild accessions by scientists. An optimization through professional breeding programs  is desperately needed if this crop is to make it. Only domesticated hybrid varieties will eventually be able to meet investors and farmers expectations in terms of yield, oil quality and other important traits.

In addition, it would be of high commercial value, if "non-toxic" elite varieties could be developed. The byproduct from pressing oil, the oil cake, could be used as a high quality feed material for poultry and fish.
There is evidence from many scientific reports that the development of high yielding and non-toxic hybrids can be achieved through traditional breeding methods. However, the genetic variability of JcL has been reported to be very limited  recently. Therefore, an intraspecific breeding approach as marketed by some protagonists in the industry like SG Biofuels and Quinvita (former D1 plant sciences, just to name two), who are usually boasting with their large collections of Jatropha curcas material from around the world, does not promise stunning break throughs.

Bionic Palm's management team has been listening carefully to the scientific community and is following a radically different approach in its fast track program to make the first non-toxic true elite Jatropha cultivars available. Based on yet unpublished scientific work from the recent past, we have selected the most genetically suited 10 JcL accessions from around the world (including 4 non-toxic ones) together with a number of related varieties from the genus Jatropha as parent plants and mapped out a detailed interspecific hybrid breeding path.

The breeding process will be backed by genetic marker technology thus reducing time requirements by a factor of at least 3. We expect the first patentable results in 24 to 36 months. Bionic Palm has already spent over 18 months, to get the selected parental material in place at its Ghana research facility. The program has taken off in December 2010 with performing the first crossings of the program map.

The program has been designed with three guidelines in mind: Quick results, highly manageable and low risk. Successful results will not only change the economics of JcL profoundly, but also improve the working conditions for farm workers, who often suffer from allergic reactions after some years of intensive exposure to the plant and its seeds.

A special blog called "The Jatropha Breeder" shares more specific information and highlights about this activity.