A genetic discovery by a team of scientists from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), aided by scientists from Orion Genomics, paves the way for increased production of palm oil, which accounts for 45 percent of the world's edible oil, while also helping to conserve sensitive wild habitats at risk of being turned into agricultural land.
In the study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists identified the VIR gene as responsible for fruit color. 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, in the rare virescens oil palm, fruits change color from green to bright orange when ripe, signaling the optimal time for harvesting. Palm oil is used in a plethora of consumer products, from lipstick and toothpaste to cooking oil and countless grocery items.
Every day, across 15 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian palm plantations, harvesters spend their days gazing up at the fruit, which can be up to 60 feet above them, trying to determine if the purple orbs are at their peak ripeness and oil content. Often they look for fruit on the ground to indicate a mature bunch overhead. Still, it's a judgment call for harvesters to decide which bunch in which tree has dropped fruit and is therefore ready for harvest. Harvest fruit too early, and oil yields are significantly decreased. Overripe fruits yield lower quality oil as well.
Now equipped with the VIR gene knowledge, palm growers can begin to replace their 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 percent increase in Malaysian palm oil yield alone is worth i
|Contact: Carolyn Hawley|