Castor

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Abstract

Castor (Ricinus communis L.) is a very ancient oilseed crop cultivated because of the high oil content of the seeds, which ranges between 42 and 58%. The oil contains a high proportion (84–90%) of ricinoleic acid, a monounsaturated hydroxy fatty acid with multiple industrial applications such as paints and varnishes, cosmetics, polymers, biolubricants and biofuels. This chapter summarizes breeding objectives and crop improvement methods and techniques used to breed cultivars in castor. The most important breeding objectives are related to plant architecture and adaptation to mechanized harvest, development of male sterility systems for exploitation of heterosis, agronomic traits associated with high yield and yield stability, adaptation to specific environments, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, high seed oil content, diversification of seed oil quality and elimination of toxic compounds of the seeds. Despite being a highly cross-pollinated species, castor shows little inbreeding depression, which determines that breeding methods for self-pollinated crops together with common methods for cross-pollinated species such as recurrent selection are suitable for castor breeding. Additionally, hybrid breeding as a means of exploitation of heterosis has been an important aspect of cultivar development. Major landmarks in castor breeding have been the identification of dwarf-internode mutants, male sterility systems that facilitated the development of commercial hybrids, the identification of strains with high oleic acid content and low content of toxic compounds, and the development of efficient regeneration and transformation protocols. In the near future, the increasing demand for the use of vegetable oils in non-food applications such as biofuels and biolubricants is expected to stimulate the development of castor as an industrial crop that do not compete in the food markets.