Scientists map oil palm genome in quest for higher productivity

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Palm oil

Researchers have created the first genetic blueprint of oil palms, an important step in improving the productivity and sustainability of oil palm production.

Scientists at Sime Darby, Synamatix and Roche-owned 454 Life Sciences worked together to sequence, assemble and annotate the genome of the palm oil plant, which is used widely in food, cosmetics and as a biofuel.

Increased yeild, improved sustainability

The researchers say the initiative will lead to the development of more sustainable trees with increased oil yield.

Azhar Abdul, the head of Sime Darby’s plantation division told reporters at a press conference in Malaysia that the new sequence could lead to the development of oil palms that double current per hectare yields.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak, said the discovery could help stabilize price volatility and ease fears of supply problems in industry.

Malaysia is running out of land to plant oil palms and is currently experiencing dry weather, which is threatening to raise prices.

Demand for palm oil has skyrocketed in recent years and along with increased production has come increased concern about sustainability.

For example, Greenpeace published a report in 2007 claiming that corporations are creating an “environmental time bomb”​ in Indonesia by burning forests and draining peat lands to create oil plantations.

Finding a more sustainable and productive way of producing palm oil has therefore been made a priority.

Sustainable palm oil crisis

New figures released today by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that existing efforts to solve the problem have fallen flat.

The conservation charity said that only 1 percent of the sustainable palm oil available on the market has been bought, raising concerns that one of the major solutions to halting deforestation of tropical forests is not catching on fast enough.

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