Oil palm genetics may provide more reliable clues for ripeness

New genetic research has helped to identify a variety that could help palm oil producers increase yield.

New genetic research could help palm oil producers to improve yields by aiding them in knowing when fruit is ripe, say scientists.

The research, undertaken by theMalaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) in conjunction with scientists from Orion Genomics, paves the way for increased production of palm oil - which accounts for 45% of the world's edible oil - and could also help to conserve sensitive wild habitats at risk of being turned into agricultural land.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists identified a gene - known as the VIR gene - to be responsible for fruit colour changes in oil palm. Armed with this knowledge, the team identified that a rarely used variety known as virescens oil palm may provide producers with more reliable clues as to when fruits are ready to harvest.

"For more than four decades, Malaysian scientists have been collecting wild specimens of oil palm from across the globe, and without these materials, it is unlikely that we would have identified the VIR gene," explained Raviga Sambanthamurthi, PhD, director of MPOB's Advanced Biotechnology and Breeding Centre and lead author of the paper. "This collection, along with the recently completed genome sequence, is accelerating discoveries in oil palm genetics and epigenetics, and paving the way to increased productivity."

The guessing game

The team noted that currently, the majority of the oil palm fruit harvested in Malaysia and Indonesia is the nigrescens variety of fruit, which has black to deep purple skin that changes little when ripe. 

However, Sambanthamurthi and colleagues noted that the virescens fruits change colour from green to bright orange when ripe - signalling the optimal time for harvesting.Such 'guess work' is a judgment call for harvesters to decide which bunch on any tree may be ready for harvest. Harvest fruit too early, and oil yields are significantly decreased. Overripe fruits yield lower quality oil as well.

Equiped with this new genetic knowledge of the oil palm and the VIR gene, the team suggest that palm growers can begin to replace nigrescens palms with virescens plants - which will eventually eliminate the need for harvesters to make a judgment call on over 20 billion bunches of oil palm fruit harvested annually.

This will increase the efficiency of the harvest and the oil yield from existing agricultural lands.

Even a 1% increase in Malaysian palm oil yield alone is worth in excess of RM 1 billion (USD 330 million) annually, said the team.

Genetic discovery

The authors documented five naturally occurring mutations in the VIR gene conferring the desirable trait were found in different populations of oil palm collected in Africa by Malaysian-government sponsored scientists during the last 40 years.

This identification of the VIR gene complements the same scientific team's earlier discovery of SHELL, a gene that studies published in Nature last year show leads to a palm fruit with oil yield up to 30% superior.

By combining the VIR and SHELL gene traits, breeders can develop palm lines that will further boost the efficiency of harvest and profoundly impact oil yield, they suggested.

"Feeding the world's growing population may be possible through the application of technologies to boost crop yields on existing agricultural lands," explained Robert A. Martienssen, Ph.D., co-author of the study, scientific co-founder of Orion Genomics.

"The identification of VIR and SHELL are just early steps. With the oil palm genome sequence in hand, thanks to decades of work by MPOB scientists, there is now tremendous potential to identify additional genes that increase yield for years to come."

Source: Nature Communications
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/ncomms5106
"The oil palm VIRESCENS gene controls fruit colour and encodes a R2R3-MYB"
Authors: Rajinder Singh, Eng-Ti Leslie Low, et al

Related News

The expansion of palm oil plantations risks fresh water streams that millions of people rely on, warn researchers.

Palm oil plantations threaten water quality, warn researchers

New sustainable palm oil manifesto accused of greenwashing

New sustainable palm oil manifesto accused of greenwashing

The oil palms were developed using conventional plant breeding and micro propagation techniques. © iStock

New oil palms promise highest crude palm oil yields in industry: GAR

The changes in the volatile composition of orange juices during different processes such as thermal processing, pasteurization, freezing or even during harvest has been noted. ©iStock

Fruit freshness ripe for innovation with use of coated fabric

All NBPO palm oil is certified sustainable according to RSPO standards

Mystery shrouds New Britain Palm Oil takeover rumours

Cargill has called on the RSPO to renew its principals

RSPO needs to broaden its principles: Cargill

Mondelēz uses palm oil in a range of confectionery and biscuit products

Mondelēz throws down sustainable palm oil gauntlet

Food firms that don't use sustainable palm oil are at risk of being exposed online

Food firms risk exposure over non-sustainable palm oil

Indonesian Minister and RSPO open to collaboration on joint sustainable palm oil standard

Indonesian Minister and RSPO open to collaboration on joint sustainable palm oil standard

Related Products

See more related products

Comments (1)

darwin - 03 Jul 2014 | 06:05

Need explain how yield improve.

do you mean farmer need to identify the bean DNA before harvest? and the test for DNA is not cheap. The objective of research and yield improve is hard to connected. I do not think the research bring any big benefit to farmers. Need to explain how this could improve yield. sound miss-lead reader.

03-Jul-2014 at 06:05 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.