SGB, Inc. (SG Biofuels), an energy crop company delivering high performance bioenergy solutions for the renewable fuel, biomass and chemical markets, has identified more than two million individual genetic markers (SNPs) in its Jatropha curcas germplasm collection, confirming the non-food energy crop has a genetic diversity comparable to corn and other domesticated crops, and validating the ability to drive significant yield and performance gains through molecular breeding.

Through the use of emerging genetic technologies, SGB's scientists have revealed that the company's germplasm collection can be divided into a number of distinct heterotic clades, or genetically-related groupings of plants. In contrast to previous studies, these findings confirm significant genetic diversity in Jatropha, which enables SGB breeders to maximize hybrid vigor by identifying the most genetically diverse parental lines to use for the creation of elite hybrid seeds. Hybrid vigor, also known as heterosis, results in higher yields, improved plant health and increased stress tolerance. SGB's first-generation hybrids have outperformed commercial Jatropha planting materials at 13 hybrid trial sites located across Brazil, India and Central America.

"Once thought to be a species with sparse genetic variation, our molecular studies have confirmed that Jatropha curcas is indeed genetically diverse and well-suited for significant yield improvements," said Eric Mathur, chief technologist at SGB. "Based on these results, the performance of our first generation hybrids merely scratch the surface of the underlying genetic potential of Jatropha; not only in terms of continued yield improvements, but also through reduction of input costs and improvement of the harvest index."

SGB's molecular and genetic technologies have advanced to the point where millions of markers can be analyzed from a large number of plants within a short period of time. SGB has established a next generation DNA sequencing pipeline using the Ion Proton™ Sequencer from Life Technologies Corporation 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.

In another technological achievement, SGB scientists have developed a state of the art, high throughput genotyping pipeline for DNA sequence-based allelic assignments. This genotyping platform enables rapid and precise DNA barcoding of parental and hybrid lines with unique digital sequence identifiers. These technologies, combined with advanced genomic selection studies and tissue culture serve as the foundation for SGB's molecular breeding program.