Company expands genetic library for jatropha

By Bryan Sims | March 16, 2011

San Diego-based SG Biofuels stated it has applied more than 1.6 million genetic markers for jatropha toward the development of marker-assisted selection methods to produce high-performing cultivars of the energy crop. The company also said it expanded its library of genetic material that includes more than 12,000 unique genotypes of jatropha, claiming status of having the largest, most diverse library of jatropha germplasm in the world.

The company said this application marks a significant milestone for SG Biofuels’ jatropha biotechnology and breeding platform, led from its laboratory in San Diego in partnership with Life Technologies Inc., a strategic partner and investor. According to SG Biofuels Vice President Brian Brokowski, the work accelerates the company’s capability to identify and capture specific genetic traits in jatropha varieties that are able to improve yield, reduce input costs, enable synchronous flowering and provide disease resistance, among other desirable characteristics.

“The strength of any crop improvement program is having a diverse library of material to work from,” Brokowski told Biodiesel Magazine. “That’s been our focus since we started the company. We’ve just continued the process of expanding that. We’re very excited about that development.”

Brokowski added, “The sequence is great, but the sequence is only as powerful as the material you have to apply it to. That’s really the advancements we’re now making, having identified over 1.6 million genetic markers we can now begin to apply those markers against the reference genome and really accelerate the process of identifying the specific traits that impact yield, profitability, fruit size and so forth.”

Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are specific genetic variations in DNA sequencing that can be associated with key traits within the jatropha species, including fruit size and oil yield, flowering and other desired traits. Through jatropha re-sequencing efforts, millions of individual SNPs are discovered, which SG Biofuels uses to rapidly identify, track and capture the traits most responsible for increased yield and profitability.

SNP technology has advanced to the point where tens of thousands of markers can be analyzed from a large number of plants within a short period of time. The resulting dense genetic maps have led to many breakthroughs, according to the company, in identifying DNA sequences responsible for specific physical plant characteristics. In addition, the discovery of SNPs using high-throughput and low-cost sequencing methods enable the rapid and economical establishment of high-density genetic maps in plant species like jatropha that have previously seen few genetic studies or efforts devoted to marker isolation.

“Through our extensive library, we’re certainly showing that there’s an incredible amount of diversity within jatropha and that’s one of the things that has our scientists excited from a breeding standpoint,” Brokowski said. “Our library is a tremendous resource as we continue to breed better, stronger and higher-performing jatropha than what’s current on the market.”

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