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Palm oil industry gets help from science

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Staff writer ▼ | July 31, 2013
Researchers identified a single gene in oil palm plant, called Shell, that is responsible for increasing the plant's yield of oil by 30%.
Palm oilResearchers identified a single gene in oil palm plant, called Shell, that is responsible for increasing the plant's yield of oil by 30%.


An increase in yield would reduce the palm oil industry's pressure on rain forests because less acreage would be needed to produce the same amount of palm oil.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board sponsored the research. Scientists from the M.P.O.B. and St. Louis-based Orion Genomics authored two papers that appeared in the journal Nature.

"Malaysia is the second largest producer of palm oil in the world, and we are committed to investing in technologies, such as genomics, that increase the sustainability of oil palm cultivation," said Datuk Choo Yuen May, director general of the M.P.O.B.

Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil. According to the M.P.O.B., two oil palm plants, Elaeis guineensis and Elaeis oleifera, are farmed in tropical regions to obtain palm oil. Combined the two plants account for 45% of the edible vegetable oil produced worldwide.

The gene Shell is responsible for three known shell forms, dura (thick), pisifera (shell-less) and tenera (thin). Tenera, a hybrid between dura and pisifera, is the most desirable as it produces 30% more oil per land area than dura palms.

The new research and the gene Shell identification has led to the development of a molecular screen that may be used with seeds and plantlets to prevent the cultivation of non-tera plants, which should raise the efficiency of oil palm plantations.

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