Monthly Archives: February 2012

Flowering H1 hybrid

Interspecific Jatropha hybrid flowering

Flowering H1 hybridWe have arrived at and actually already passed one of the most important milestones of our breeding program: our first interspecific  Jatropha hybrid has opened flowers this morning.

While we are still awaiting the outcome of a large number of other breeding results, this hybrid clearly exhibits several of the expected traits: a very short period of time from seeding to flowering (less than 4 months), a very positive female:male flower ratio and a relatively good resistance against the mealy bug.

This plant is a key outcome of our proof-of-concept phase and represents a highly successful intermediate step on the way to our core breeding objective: the creation of a high yielding, non-toxic Jatropha variety exhibiting a high level of horizontal resistance specifically in West African ecosystems.

The three visible female flowers have already been pollinated manually according to the pre planned breeding paths of which the most important one will be back crosses with selected non-toxic and toxic Jatropha accessions with superior traits. According to current experience we expect a next generation of breeding plants within 6 months.

 

The Bionic Jatropha breeding program in 2012

Since we started our JcL breeding program we focused primarily on elite non-toxic hybrid cultivars. We have completed the main phase of a proof of concept (PoC) meant to significantly reduce the commercial risk involved in a full scale program go ahead.

By the end of 2011 we have succeeded in showing the validity of all three of our principal approaches, one involving traditional intra specific hybridization, one an already well documented inter specific hybridization path and one a completely innovative bottom up inter specific hybridization method.

We have recently decided, to add a 6 months extension to the PoC to gather more useful planning data especially by reaching the third generation of hybrid breeding, but also by further verifying and confirming protocols developed over the last 18 months.

During the PoC we have worked with 5 different toxic JcL accessions from Africa and Asia as well as 4 distinct non-toxic accessions from the center of origin and a number of accessions from 2 related species. All that parental material has been used to establish a stable, mature selection of germplasm ready to be used in larger scale breeding approaches.

We have also expanded our carefully selected population of parental material for further breeding by another 8 unique non-toxic and 15 toxic JcL accessions. Especially useful is a male sterile, high yielding non-toxic accession and a line exhibiting natural polyploidy.

Currently we have approximately 50 intra and interspecific hybrids growing and we expect some of them to set flowers within the next few weeks. With the resulting BC1F1 and F2 generations we will soon enter the core breeding phase.

Over the coming 6 months we will initiate some systematic feed trials with the first generation non-toxic material we have planted at our farm. For this purpose we have established a small poultry test farm comprising of chicken, guinea fowls and turkeys.

 

Where is the Jatropha industry headed in 2012?

This is the first post after reformatting this blog and transferring it from wordpress.com to our own domain. So welcome back to this renewed effort of bringing more insight about a fascinating plant to a wider audience. Today I will comment on recent industry and put it in the context of the general development of the Jatropha industry in 2012.

A lot of significant changes occurred in the industry over the recent year. I like to look at them from the perspective of an obvious ongoing move from generation 1 to generation 2 in the development of new Jatropha curcas projects around the world. The focus is still restricted on Jatropha as a commercially viable energy crop. While the more recent years already saw the majority of the generation 1 projects radically cut back or disappear all together, in 2011 we saw a few more serious generation 1 protagonists leave the scene. Above all Sun Biofuels Ltd., a UK company active in Mozambique and Tanzania suspended operations in October after a very upbeat report in Businessweek only a few months earlier. And only a few days ago the incumbent self-declared Jatropha heavy weight Mission NewEnergy Limited publicly announced a severe scale back of their Jatropha operations after admitting extremely disappointing harvesting results in 2011. Had they only listened to us 2 years earlier… ;)

Here are the key statements from Mission’s news announcement and my personal comments about them:

“The harvest is significantly lower than company expectations.”

—> How come they woke up all of a sudden? Welcome to reality…

“The company believes that the lower than expected harvest season is a result of historically planting wild seed varieties which have large yield variability in its early years of growth before the trees mature.”

—> Seems like they are among the last in the industry finally realizing what was written in endless reports over and over again the last 2 years.

“The Company expects maturity to be achieved in the seventh year of planting.”

—> They still prefer to dream on. Their current planting material will simply never become a winner how ever long they wait.

“The company expects that both productive acreage and yield estimates will be materially down graded and awaits the completion of the 2012 harvest season in December 2012 to provide further clarity.”

—> No reason to wait any longer. Admit complete failure now, apologize to your investors and restructure your business immediately.

“The company has decided not to undertake further planting of Jatropha until yield from existing acreage is determined.”

—> so what are they going to do instead? Just sit on their hands and wait for their investors’ cash to completely melt away?

Now this incident is like a flash back on the phase out of generation 1 projects, but we also saw some clear indications of generation 2 coming up on the horizon. So what should we look for in the next round? Quite simple: Better, commercial planting material coming from truly professional breeders and used by experienced farming professionals (Yes, there are a few around!). The first rank in plant development capabilities I would give to Joil from Singapore as probably the best funded and staffed breeder worldwide today. While I still believe that as a “boutique breeder” we are better positioned for a generation 3 Jatropha strategy with high yielding, non-toxic hybrid cultivars especially for Africa.

And finally a brief look at the ever increasing flow of scientific reports is encouraging too. There is not only an increase in numbers but seemingly also in quality and amount of knowledge established. On a special page I will start listing some of the most important scientific documents for Jatropha development and provide download links whenever possible.