Scientists have sequenced the genome (the complete set of genetic material of an organism) of the oil palm, one of the world's most important crops. They have also pinpointed a gene called SHELL that should boost yields and ease pressure on tropical rainforests.
About oil palm
The oil palm is grown widely in the tropics, accounting for 45 percent of edible oil worldwide.
It comprises two species — Elaeis guineensis and E. oleifera , which has a higher content of unsaturated fatty acids and resistance to disease.
About the genome
With 32 chromosomes and around 35,000 genes, the oil palm has a lineage dating back to the origins of flowering plants during the Cretaceous period some 140-200 million years ago, says the investigation.
The SHELL gene is responsible for the three known forms of oil palm shell: dura (thick); pisifera (shell-less) and tenera (thin), says the study.
Tenera, a highly desired hybrid of dura and pisifera, contains a normal version of SHELL and one of two different mutations of the gene.
This combination results in 30-percent higher yield of palm oil per fruit than dura palms.
Why is the oil palm controversial?
The oil palm’s image has been badly damaged by destruction of rain forest and peatland to create plantations.
Land clearance by illegal burning on the Indonesian island of Sumatra has been blamed for last month's smog scares in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.
How can this discovery help?
Oil palms have a notoriously long reproductive cycle, lasting up to a dozen years.
As a result, it can take growers six years to identify whether a plantlet is of the high-yielding type. Being able to get a genetic marker at the seedling stage will speed the process and dampen demand for acreage.AFP