Mapping of Oil Palm Genome Could Boost Productivity of Key Crop

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Scientists say they have identified the gene responsible for the yield of oil palm crops, a discovery that could boost the productivity of the world’s top source of vegetable oil and help reduce the size of oil palm plantations in the world’s tropical regions.

Writing in the journal Nature, Malaysian and U.S. researchers describe the mapping of the genome of the oil palm, whose products are used in everything from food to cosmetics to biofuels. According to the scientists, the so-called “shell gene” controls “how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield.”

The fruit of the African palm oil tree comes in three varieties: a thick-shelled dura, a shell-less pisifera, and a thin-shelled tenera, which produces a greater oil yield. According to scientists, the shell gene plays a key role in a mutation that produces the more commercially productive tenera variety.

“This gene mutation explains the single most important economic trait in oil palm and has implications for the competing interests of global edible oil production, biofuels and rain forest conservation,” the scientists said. In recent decades, palm oil development has been one of the leading causes of forest loss in some of the world’s most important tropical rainforests, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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