[Updated 8/27/10 12:15 pm. See below] Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) and Encinitas, CA-based SG Biofuels are announcing today that they have completely sequenced the genome of Jatropha curcas, a hardy Central American bush that produces walnut-size seeds laden with oil. The entire genome was sequenced since January, when the two San Diego-area companies said they had formed a strategic alliance.
SG Biofuels has been working since it was founded in 2006 to develop ways of using the Jatropha shrub as a replacement for crude oil in the production of jet fuel, diesel, and other transportation fuels. Mapping the entire Jatropha genome will enable SG Biofuels researchers to identify the plant characteristics they want to cultivate and compare those genetic traits to a library of 6,000 unique Jatropha genotypes the company has amassed.
As a non-edible shrub that can be grown on marginal lands considered undesirable for food crops, SG Biofuels says Jatropha is a sensible alternative to diverting corn, sugar cane, and other food crops into alternative fuel production.
[Editor’s note, 8/27/10: I’ve been reminded that San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics, which is developing algae-based biofuels technology, among other things, announced they had sequenced the Jatropha genome in May, 2009. Their announcement is here.]
While creating a definitive “reference genome” for Jatropha is a valuable tool for researchers, SG Biofuels CEO Kirk Haney says the value of the whole genome is “enhanced significantly” by having a diverse collection of Jatropha genetic material for comparison. “The sequence adds a powerful new tool to our development platform, allowing us to rapidly unlock the true potential of Jatropha as the most profitable and sustainable biofuel feedstock.”
Haney, SG Biofuels’ CEO, told me in January that the company is looking to identify genetic traits that would better serve SG’s overall goal of maximizing the amount of oil that can easily be extracted from Jatropha seeds, as well as the agricultural production of Jatropha itself. The company could conceivably substitute genes that would enable the Jatropha to thrive in specific growing conditions, such as semi-arid regions of the American Southwest.
In a joint statement issued this morning by the two companies, Wendy Jozsi, director of synthetic biology at Life Technologies, says, “There is significant opportunity to use advanced molecular techniques in the optimization of plant-based biofuels, especially Jatropha, for increased yields and a faster development cycle.”
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