[For further information on the FAO Biotechnology Forum see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 04 December 2008 09:39
Subject: 56: Reflections on biotechnological research and biofuels
I am Dr. E.M. Muralidharan, working with the Kerala Forest Research Institute located at Peechi, Kerala State in India. My main interests are in micropropagation of forestry species and medicinal plants and use of molecular markers for genetic diversity studies.
I have no direct experience with biofuels but read with great interest the messages in the conference so far. In the context of the developing countries, I think the danger of prime agricultural land being diverted for biofuel production is indeed great, particularly when commercial interests are involved. The misuse of biotechnology can make it worse. There is a spurt of interest by the private industry (at least in India) in biofuel plantations but many of them will be opportunists who have jumped on the bandwagon to make some quick money. Note how, even before any superior selections of proven performance have been made, micropropagated plants of the biodiesel species are being offered for sale. Farmers could be lured by the hype and the promise of high profits into shifting from their sustenance crops to biodiesel crops. Diverting acreage to biofuel is a danger that developing countries facing food shortages will have to avert unless the potential for generating clean energy efficiently from agricultural wastes (second-generation biofuels) is being simultaneously addressed.
We should instead discuss exhaustively all the other options so as to shift focus from conversion of sugar/starch to biofuel to other technologies including improvement of traditional ones. It is my belief that a permanent solution to the world's energy problems would come from advances made in technology for harvesting solar energy through photovoltaics or algae grown on wastewater or in the oceans. Any such technology would be covered by intellectual property rights and become too costly for developing countries to access.
For the present, the developing countries would do well to invest in biotechnological research aimed at modernizing the traditional and simple technologies that work in the rural backyards and will provide both food and energy security. The typical example is the rural biogas plant based on farmyard and kitchen waste that reduces the dependence on fossil fuels or firewood and also generates fertilizer for the farm. In urban areas, the wastewater and garbage could be similarly used. It would be desirable if, along with the popularization of these technologies, biotechnology can improve the efficiency of the processes involved or broaden the range of raw materials that could be used in biogas plants. Selection of most effective microbial consortia in biogas plants and development of enzyme biotechnology for production of second generation biofuels from agricultural and forestry residues are some of the interventions that are within the reach of current state-of-the-art knowledge. What is not efficient enough for an industrial/commercial process might still be good for a small scale farm.
Since many of the biofuel species, particularly the tree species, are in the early stages of domestication, there is great scope for selection of superior strains to suit a range of agronomic requirements - tolerance to salinity, drought, water use efficiency, frost tolerance etc. As has been mentioned already in many of the earlier messages, the use of molecular markers would make the selection process quick and efficient and, coupled with mass cloning of superior selections through tissue culture, rapid deployment of the clones to the appropriate locations is possible. In the rural setting typical of developing countries, these biofuel crops could be part of agroforestry systems as live fences or a multi-tier cropping system rather than commercial monoculture plantations so as to ensure a secure livelihood for small scale farmers. Large scale plantations on non-agricultural wastelands and deserts will be appropriate but feasible only when the 'super-biofuels crops' have been developed through conventional breeding and biotechnology.
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Scientist, Biotechnology Division
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi, Thrissur, Kerala
emmurali (at) kfri.org
emmurali (at) gmail.com
Sent: 04 December 2008 09:51
Subject: 57: Re: Tissue culture for Jatropha
This is John Atoyebi again, a scientific officer with the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology in Nigeria.
I must confess my inability to constantly access internet has hampered my contribution to this conference.
Fortunately we just concluded a training at the Centre with Dr Sola Ajayi on information sharing mechanism and this goes a long way to assemble elite materials of jatropha in Nigeria for biofuel considerations. It would be, like I said before (message 51), the interest of our tissue culture lab. to collaborate and assist in mass-propagation of high yielding species, as protocols for this are being perfected. Future high level biotech work is also feasible with the recent trend of events at the Centre.
Also, responding to message 54 talking about biotechnology and ethanol from sorghum: Developing countries don't have some of these genotypes as requested also by one participant. I pray that future projects and research on this can involve Nigeria, especially in solving some of our industrial problems.
National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology, P.M.B 5382,
Ibadan, Oyo State,
Tel office 00234-2-2312622
Tel mobile 00234-8033824752
johnyinka (at) yahoo.fr
Sent: 04 December 2008 16:40
Subject: 58: Biotechnology tools in Jatropha breeding
I am Wagner Vendrame, Associate Professor at the Environmental Horticulture Department, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. I work at the Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) located in Homestead, Florida, USA.
My research at TREC focuses on ornamental plant production and conservation using biotechnology tools, such as plant tissue culture/micropropagation, cryopreservation, molecular markers, and studies on plant cell response to microgravity.
We have a long-term research interest on Jatropha curcas for biodiesel production. We also have interest in its medicinal properties, reportedly anti-malarial activities, and uses of byproducts (biogas, composting).
We believe that biotechnology tools are essential to assist us with a breeding program for Jatropha, as already indicated in prior messages posted in the discussion.
The selection of superior genotypes to fit specific environmental conditions as well as tolerance to biotic (i.e., pests, diseases) and abiotic (i.e., climate, soil) stresses would be a must, thus allowing the expansion of cultivation areas for Jatropha. Molecular markers can assist in the selection process. Hybrids can also be generated using selected/superior genotypes. Mass clonal propagation of selected/superior genotypes and/or hybrids would assure availability of material. Cryopreservation could have a role in preserving germplasm of superior culture lines on a long-term basis.
I believe this discussion is just a starting point in determining the specific benefits of biotechnology in assisting Jatropha breeding and crop improvement programs. My hope is that this discussion will open up opportunities for us to continue talking about Jatropha biotechnology and to develop collaborative efforts.
Dr. Wagner A. Vendrame, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental Horticulture
Tropical Research and Education Center
IFAS - University of Florida
18905 SW 280th St
Homestead, FL 33031-3314
Phone: +1 (305) 246-7001 ext. 210
Fax: +1 (305) 246-7003
Email: vendrame (at) ufl.edu