Higher Yield Energy Crops Thru Polyploidy
Plants sometimes have more than one set of chromosomes -- called polyploidy. When this occurs in crops, they tend to produce higher yields per acre. Sometimes much higher. Some bio-energy scientists want to use polyploidy to create higher yielding strains of oil and biomass crops, without the stigma of genetically engineered crops.
Polyploidy occurs in the first stage of mitosis, where a cell splits into two. In a normal cell, the DNA in the cell is replicated and then spindle fibers pull the cell into two different directions until two identical, independent cells emerge. The cell multiplication process then continues until you have a full-fledged organism.Since these polyploid crops are not transgenic (they do not use genes from other species), they should be able to avoid many restrictions in place against genetically modified crops.
In a polyploid plant, the fibers never manage to pull the initial cell into two. That results in a single cell with twice the number of chromosomes. The diploid cell then becomes the basis for the organism. (If cell division fails again, a tetraploid results)
To recreate the polyploid process in a lab, scientists have bathed the cell in colchicine, a harsh chemical solvent. By contrast, Kaiima does not bathe its cells. It targets its solvent (which he says is gentler than colchicines) directly at the spindle fibers so that less is required. After trial and error, it manages to produce seeds that can give rise to stable crops that do not revert back to single chromosome sets.
....Kaiima, based in Israel, says it has devised a technique for multiplying the number of chromosomes in biofuel and other agricultural crops in a way that will increase harvests while at the same time skirting some of the technical and regulatory risks surrounding genetically modified organisms.
The company already sells seeds for castor plants with four sets of identical chromosomes that can produce about 4 to 7 tons of feedstock per acre, or more than double the 1.5 tons associated with naturally occurring castor. The oil can be used for biofuel or bioplastics.
"We want to get to 10," says CEO Doron Gal. In 2010, it hopes to come out with seeds for canola oil plants and follow in 2011 with high-yield wheat and rice. It is also working with partners in Mexico on a version of corn. _greentechmedia