Scientists in the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) have been conducting research on an oilseed crop, Camelina, to develop new higher-yielding varieties of the crop for Irish growing conditions and new markets. The research team, led by Professor Charles Spillane, has been collaborating with scientists in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to sequence the genome of Camelina.
Camelina sativa (false flax or gold of pleasure) was cultivated in Europe for many centuries before being displaced by higher-yielding crops such as oilseed rape. However, Camelina is a low-input crop whose low environmental footprint is driving a resurgence of interest in the crop as a source of sustainable protein and oils for both nutritional and industrial applications (e.g. lubricants). In Ireland, Camelina is currently grown by a small number of farmers, in particular for the production of edible Camelina oil under the Newgrange Gold label.
Initial field trials of Camelina conducted in collaboration with Teagasc have already identified some promising high yielding varieties. In addition to field trials, the NUI Galway team has been developing new genetic tools for the breeding of new Camelina lines with higher yields and improved characteristics.
In the global aviation sector, Camelina has gained much attention as a crop whose oil profile is suitable for use as a renewable aviation fuel. The airline sector is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that sustainable next-generation biofuels for aviation could reduce CO2 emissions by 80%, on a full carbon life-cycle basis. A wide range of airlines (e.g. Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa) and the US military have already run successful test (and passenger) flights with planes flown on Camelina biojet fuel.
In 2013, Professor Spillane was an invited speaker on Camelina oilseeds at the Europe-Canada Biojetfuel Meeting in Saskatoon. The meeting aimed to advance the development of plant-based aviation biojetfuel supply chains for the European airline industry to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Reetu Tuteja, NUI Galway Bioinformatics PhD student who is working with Professor Spillane, identified genes within the overall genome which are specific to Camelina, and which could be responsible for some of the crop’s unique characteristics. The complete genome sequence of Camelina has now been published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Nature Communications.
“The publication of the genome sequence will accelerate research efforts in Europe and globally on this promising oilseed crop” said Professor Spillane.
Research on Camelina in Professor Spillane’s Genetics and Biotechnology laboratory is supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.