Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, St. Louis, MO and Cold Spring Harbor, NY-- A multinational team of scientists has identified a single gene, called Shell, that regulates yield of the oil palm tree. The fruit and seeds of the oil palm are the source of nearly one-half of the supply of edible vegetable oil worldwide, and provide one of the most promising sources of biofuel.
The discovery, the product of a multiyear effort to provide a high-quality full genome map of the oil palm plant and to scour the sequence for genes of importance to both science and industry, has major implications for agriculture and the environment.
"The discovery that regulation of the Shell gene will enable breeders to boost palm oil yields by nearly one-third is excellent news for the rainforest and its champions worldwide," says Datuk Dr. Choo Yuen May, the Director General of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), an agency of the Malaysian federal government.
The discovery was made by researchers at the MPOB in conjunction with scientists at St. Louis-based Orion Genomics. Also lending support were scientists in New York, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and the American Museum of Natural History. The international team's work is detailed in two papers published online today in Nature.
"The discovery of Shell indicates a clear path toward more intensive use of already planted lands, and thus should lessen pressures to expand the land area devoted to oil palm, notably onto endangered rainforest land a major concern for the environment and a rallying point for activists in recent years," says Robert A. Martienssen, Ph.D., scientific co-founder of Orion Genomics, who is also a professor of plant genetics at CSHL.
"Mutations in Shell explain the single most important economic trait of the oil palm: how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield," explains Dr. Rajinder Singh of the MPOB, first author of the N
|Contact: Peter Tarr|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory