Washington: An international group of scientists has identified the first step toward engineering a hardier variety of Jatropha, a potential biofuel plant, which is known for its drought resisting quality.
Jatropha has seeds with high oil content. But the oil`s potential as a biofuel is limited because, for large-scale production, this shrub-like plant needs the same amount of care and resources as crop plants.
"It is thought that Jatropha`s future lies in further improvement of Jatropha for large-scale production on marginal, non-food croplands through breeding and/or biotechnology," John E. Carlson, professor of molecular genetics at Penn State, said.
"The more that is known about the genetic basis of Jatropha`s key attributes such as drought tolerance, the more readily Jatropha improvement will progress," he said.
According to Carlson, Jatropha currently grows best in tropical countries and is already being cultivated as a biofuel on a small scale in India, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Breeding a strain that could do well in arid, barren conditions could enable mass cultivation, but large-scale production may still be decades away.
By growing unmodified Jatropha samples in conditions simulating high soil salinity and low water availability, the researchers showed that Jatropha was normally more vulnerable and slower to recover from high salinity than from drought conditions.
The findings are published in the Journal of Plant Physiology.