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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.


How we became Jatropha breeders

When we originally became interested in growing Jatropha in a synergistic mix with food crops (commonly called inter-cropping) we did not have the slightest intention to move into anything like crop research. We simply intended to find us some good planting material, copy agronomic practices from a planter with more experience than us and get started.

Our initial business plans were based on numbers and “facts” available on the internet which gave us profitability results that looked very good. So we acquired some bush land in the Greater Accra region of Ghana and started a test farm. That was roughly 3 years ago…

Like many others we were soon to find out, that the truth about Jatropha as an energy crop of the future was quite different to the original picture we found. Luckily, we had only started a test farm with a concept that relies on JcL at only 30%. Otherwise we would have not survived like so many other ambitious projects started by others.

In 2009 already I gave my first presentation at a Jatropha conference explaining in detail, why the current approach of the emerging industry could only fail. The core elements of this speech still form a major part of our standard plantation presentation which can by found here. It lines out a number of advances needed to make Jatropha the energy crop everyone wants. A major part of this list is about superior planting material which unsurprisingly is not available today as no domestication process had ever occurred.

We spent some time looking for superior cultivars around the world only to realize, that they are actually not available. consequently we began looking at what would be needed to initiate our own breeding program.

We teamed up with Geneticlab, a private Italian company which had been doing intensive genetic research on Jatropha for some time. Thus we were able to establish a modern, genetic marker assisted hybrid breeding program based on prior detailed genetic diversity studies.

We eventually kicked of the program in early 2010. Intensive study of available scientific reports led to a breeding strategy which was highly ambitious to say the least. Non-toxic interspecific hybrids are at the core of the process, which meant moving on terrain nobody had ever passed for Jatropha.

We decided, to initiate a fast track proof-of-concept (POC) to test the most risky breeding hurdles on the planned development path. The POC will end in December 2011, but today, 5 months before reaching that critical milestone, we can be confident, that all intended interspecific hybrid crosses are actually feasible.

During the POC phase we have also built up a strong selection of proven genetically divers accessions which will form the initial parental material for the main program starting from 2012. These include “commercial” accessions from Asia, Africa and Central America together with true wild accessions. 4 of them have been positively tested as non-toxic, 1 as low toxic. In addition we have established 4 Jatropha species other than Jatropha curcas L. which will be used for interspecific crossings to bring distinctively favorable traits into our future main Jatropha lines.