In the study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists identified the VIR gene as responsible for fruit color. Currently, the majority of the oil palm fruit harvested in Malaysia and Indonesia is the nigrescens variety of fruit, which has black to deep purple skin that changes little when ripe. However, in the rare virescens oil palm, fruits change color from green to bright orange when ripe, signaling the optimal time for harvesting.
Now equipped with the VIR gene knowledge, palm growers can begin to replace their nigrescens palms with virescens plants, which will eventually eliminate the need for harvesters to make a judgment call on over 20 billion bunches of oil palm fruit harvested annually. This will increase the efficiency of the harvest and the oil yield from existing agricultural lands.
Even a one percent increase in Malaysian palm oil yield alone is worth in excess of RM1 billion (US$330 million) annually.
Five naturally occurring mutations in the VIR gene conferring the desirable trait were documented in different populations of oil palm that were collected in Africa by Malaysian-government sponsored scientists during the last 40 years, long before the widespread adoption of genetic sequencing.
“For more than four decades, Malaysian scientists have been collecting wild specimens of oil palm from across the globe, and without these materials, it is unlikely that we would have identified the VIR gene,” said Dr. Raviga Sambanthamurthi, Director of MPOB’s Advanced Biotechnology and Breeding Centre and lead author of the paper. “This collection, along with the recently completed genome sequence, is accelerating discoveries in oil palm genetics and epigenetics, and paving the way to increased productivity.”
This identification of the VIR gene complements the same scientific team’s earlier discovery of SHELL, a gene that leads to a palm fruit with 30 percent superior oil yield published in Naturelast year. By combining the VIR and SHELL gene traits, breeders can develop palm lines that will further boost the efficiency of harvest and profoundly impact oil yield.
The article can be found at: Singh et al. (2014) The oil palm VIRESCENS gene controls fruit colour and encodes a R2R3-MYB.
Source: Orion Genomics.
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