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November 10, 2009

Oil palm genome research to help increase yields

by Emma Ritch

A consortium including the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and St. Louis, Mo.-based Orion Genomics announced they sequenced and assembled three oil palm genomes in an ongoing project to find ways to increase yield, protect against disease, and strengthen plants against environmental stress.

The three oil palm genomes came from two oil palm species: E. oleifera, which is native to South America, and E. guineensis, which originates in Africa.

E. guineensis is more widely planted in Malaysia because of its high productivity, but E. oleifera offers increased resistance to disease and oil with higher quantities of unsaturated fats.

The group says its work provides a comprehensive genetic blueprint that could blend the benefits of the two species of the plant, increasing yields and productivity for the growing food and biodiesel markets.

The potential benefits of genome sequencing also prompted La Jolla, Calif.-based Synthetic Genomics to partner with Malaysia's Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology on research of oil palm genomes for biofuel feedstocks.

The consortium announcing the findings said their work is unique because it provides comprehensive genetic and transcriptional maps that could help oil palm researchers as they seek to understand the genes responsible for yield, disease resistance and resistance to environmental stress.

The group also included St. Louis-based MOgene, The Genome Center at Washington University, South Korea-based Macrogen, and Adelaide, Australia-based GeneWorks.

MPOB, Orion and MOgene also announced plans to study the epigenetic makeup of oil palm in 2010 in an effort to improve yields.

Last week, researchers from Duke University, Stanford University and Brazil unveiled two studies that examined the genome structures of biofuel yeasts in order to increasing ethanol production.


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