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The future of oil palm as a major global crop: Opportunities and challenges

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In recent years, the oil palm sector has witnessed a period of historically high prices with buoyant global demand and high levels of production driven largely by economic development in major Asian countries such as India and China. However, the oil palm sector is also confronted by many important challenges that require attention. Such challenges include fragmentation of the industry, stagnating yields, and an image problem that is largely due to the conversion of tropical rainforest and peatlands in a few regions in South-east Asia. The biological and managerial tools to surmount these challenges already exist but need more focussed application and political support. Potentially groundbreaking biological tools include the new molecular breeding technologies, such as those made possible by the recent publication of the oil palm genome sequence (Singh et al., 2013a, b). Two key R&D targets for the industry are: • higher oil yield in fruits and trees; and • higher mesocarp oleic acid composition - preferably over 65% w/w. The more focussed use of new and traditional technologies can also help to confront pest and disease problems, to redesign of crop architecture, and to facilitate yield and harvesting efficiency. In the mediumterm future, we can look forward to a considerable geographical extension of oil palm cultivation in a broad zone across the tropics of Africa, Asia and the Americas. If these and other measures can be taken, increased palm oil output could more than meet the highest projections for future vegetable oil requirements while minimising adverse environmental consequences. Improved oil palm varieties could also considerably increase the global market share for this highly productive tropical crop at the expense of some of the less efficient temperate oilseed crops.
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Journal of Oil Palm Research Vol. 26 (1) March 2014 p. 1- 24
In recent years, the oil palm sector has witnessed a period of historically high prices with buoyant global
demand and high levels of production driven largely by economic development in major Asian countries
such as India and China. However, the oil palm sector is also confronted by many important challenges
that require attention. Such challenges include fragmentation of the industry, stagnating yields, and an
image problem that is largely due to the conversion of tropical rainforest and peatlands in a few regions in
South-east Asia. The biological and managerial tools to surmount these challenges already exist but need
more focussed application and political support. Potentially groundbreaking biological tools include the
new molecular breeding technologies, such as those made possible by the recent publication of the oil palm
genome sequence (Singh et al., 2013a, b). Two key R&D targets for the industry are:
• higheroilyieldinfruitsandtrees;and
• highermesocarpoleicacidcomposition–preferablyover65%w/w.
The more focussed use of new and traditional technologies can also help to confront pest and disease
term future, we can look forward to a considerable geographical extension of oil palm cultivation in a broad
zone across the tropics of Africa, Asia and the Americas. If these and other measures can be taken, increased
palm oil output could more than meet the highest projections for future vegetable oil requirements while
minimising adverse environmental consequences. Improved oil palm varieties could also considerably
increase the global market share for this highly productive tropical crop at the expense of some of the less
Keywords: oil yield, high oleic, genomics, breeding, management.
Date received: 19 August 2013; Sent for revision: 11 September 2013; Received in nal form: 16 January 2014; Accepted: 16 January 2014.
* University of South Wales, CF37 4AT, United Kingdom.
Oil palm is a uniquely productive tropical crop with
a potential yield capacity well in excess of 10 t of
oil per hectare (t ha-1). However, current yields are
well below this gure and are typically about 4-6
t ha-1 for the best commercial plantations and 3-4
t ha-1 for smallholders. Palm oil is mainly used as
an edible product and is an increasingly important
dietary component for well over one billion people
worldwide. The oil palm also has many uses in the
non-food sector, with examples ranging from high
value oleochemicals to more basic biomass-derived
materials such as paper and plywood (Suleiman et
al., 2012). In commercial terms, the major product
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
of the crop is the oil that accumulates in the eshy
mesocarp of the fruits, which is often referred to
as palm oil, crude palm oil or mesocarp oil. About
84% w/w of the mesocarp oil is made up of palmitic
(C16:0) and oleic (C18:1) acids and this oil has been
used as a traditional food source in parts of Africa
for many thousands of years.
Palm fruits also contain a single hard seed, or
kernel, which is enriched in a dierent type of oil,
often referred to as palm kernel oil, that makes up
about 11% of the total oil fraction of the crop. Palm
kernel oil is enriched in the medium chain fatty acids,
lauric (C12:0) and myristic (C14:0) acids, which
together make up 74% w/w of this oil. These fatty
acids make palm kernel oil a useful source of many
industrial and cosmetic products such as soaps,
detergents and cleaning agents. Lauric acid is also
used in several edible applications including as a
shortening agent for margarine and cream products
and can even be applied as an anti-microbial agent.
Both types of palm fruit oil have been used
historically as fuels, most commonly for lighting in
traditional settings. Since 2000, increasing amounts
of palm oil and other vegetable oils have been
converted into their methyl ester derivatives in
order to produce biodiesel fuel for vehicles (Rosillo-
Calle et al., 2007). This has led to concerns about
the diversion of some palm oil from edible uses
with possible increases in food prices and increased
pressures to convert undeveloped forest and peat
habitats to oil palm plantations (Bringezu et al.,
2009; Johnston et al., 2009). However, to put this in
context, in 2013 the biodiesel sector accounted for
well under 10% of total palm oil production and
the future growth of this sector is far from assured.
For example, concerns about the environmental
credentials of some biofuels have recently led
the European Union (EU) to reduce targets for
renewable fuels for transport. This reduction applies
specically to biofuels (such as palm oil biodiesel)
from food crops where the 10% target of replacing
fossil fuels has been halved to 5% (Van Noorden,
2013). The result of this policy shift will be a
decreased demand for biodiesel in the EU, which
is currently the largest global user of this product.
Therefore, while biodiesel has been responsible for
some of the increase in demand for palm oil, this is
unlikely to be the case in the medium-term future.
Instead, by far the major factor driving increased
future demand for palm oil will continue to be the
burgeoning global requirement for more edible oils,
especially in Asia.
The two major species of oil palm, Elaeis
guineensis and Elaeis oleifera, have their centres of
origin respectively in West Africa and South America
(Corley and Tinker, 2003). Due to its higher yield, the
African oil palm, E. guineensis, is the species that is
overwhelmingly used for commercial cultivation,
even in South America. However, as discussed below,
although it is not a particularly good crop plant,
E. oleifera contains useful genetic variation that can be
incorporated into breeding programmes for creation
of improved commercial varieties of E. guineensis.
Oil palm was rst grown on a widespread scale
when African trees were introduced into Sumatra
and Peninsular Malaysia as plantation crops in the
early 20th century. Commercial cultivation increased
dramatically, rst in Malaysia after independence
in 1957 and subsequently in Indonesia early in 21st
century. By 2012, Malaysia and Indonesia collectively
produced about 57 million tonnes of oil, which made
up over 85% of global palm production (Table 1) and
almost 40% of the entire world output of all forms of
vegetable oil (USDA, 2012).
For most of the period of its cultivation as
a plantation crop, oil palm has been relatively
uncontroversial. However, over the past decade
various aspects of the introduction, management,
and end use of oil palm have come under increasing
scrutiny, and in some cases criticism. Many, but not
all, of the most negative comments about oil palm
have come from certain groups in Europe and to a
lesser extent in North America. Often such comments
have focussed on the environmental consequences
(such as forest clearance) of increased oil palm
cultivation and also its increasing use as a biofuel
crop. Other concerns about the high level of saturated
fatty acids in palm oil have been voiced but it is far
from clear whether palm oil saturates like palmitate
have the same negative health consequences as
more typically animal-derived saturates such as
stearate. On the other hand, there is an ever growing
demand for palm oil products, especially for food
use in developing countries. This demand needs to
be satised somehow, which leads to the question:
how can oil palm production be increased without
adverse environmental consequences?
The conversion of land to agriculture has been
a feature of human development for thousands
of years. This process has already resulted in the
mass clearance of forests for crop cultivation in
much of Europe and the Americas. Since the late
20th century, the continued conversion of land in
some parts of the world has come under increased
scrutiny, particularly from environmental groups.
Such attention has particularly been focussed on
the conversion of land to oil palm in parts of South-
east Asia and to soyabean crops in South America.
There is a broad consensus that it is undesirable in
principle to mass-convert some ecologically sensitive
habitats, such as pristine rainforests or some deep
peat regions, to oil palm plantations. Also, if new
plantations are already being established, it is
desirable to do this in a way that minimises the eco-
environmental side eects of the land conversion.
For example, in some areas the establishment of
protected areas linked by wildlife corridors can
enable plantations to coexist with traditional native
fauna. In other cases, replanting existing plantations
with higher yielding palms can reduce the need to
establish new plantations.
In the remainder of this article, I will assess the
current status of oil palm as a major global crop
and describe how both biological and management
approaches can contribute to addressing many of the
current concerns about this valuable and frequently
misunderstood plant.
Oil crops such as oil palm and the temperate oilseeds
(e.g. soyabean, rapeseed, sunower, peanut, and
cotton) are renewable sources of oils that can used
either as edible foodstus or as industrial feedstocks
to replace products that are otherwise derived non-
renewable mineral oils. Industrial uses include
manufacture of a wide range of basic oleochemicals,
chemical intermediates, and more highly processed
nished products such as coatings, lubricants, and
biopolymers, plus biofuels such as biodiesel. As we
will now see, oil palm is by far the highest yielding
biological source of oil-based hydrocarbons and
is signicantly more ecient than any of other
commercial oil crop.
In 2012, the estimated global production of total
palm oil was almost 65 million tonnes, of which 58
million tonnes was mesocarp oil and 6.8 million
tonnes was kernel oil (USDA, 2012). Typical average
yields of palm oil on a global basis are in the region
of 4 t ha-1. This gure far outstrips the yield of the
major temperate annual oilseed crops where yields
range from 0.3 to 1.2 t ha-1. This high yield means that
the current global output of 65 million tonnes palm
oil requires cultivation of only 15 million hectares,
which contrasts dramatically with the 194 million
hectares needed to produce just 87 million tonnes oil
from the temperate annual oilseed crops (Oil World,
2012). Therefore, in terms of total oil yield (kernel
+ mesocarp oil) per hectare, oil palm is already
more than 6.5-fold more ecient than the average
combined yields of the temperate oilseed crops.
Given the realistic prospects of further increases in
palm oil yield in the next decade, the future for oil
palm as a global vegetable oil crop seems even more
promising during the coming years.
In addition to its high oil yield, oil palm is also
a much more ecient crop that its competitors in
terms of the required intensity of land management,
harvesting and processing. For example, the annual
oilseed crops require replanting each year which
involves regular disruption of the soil structure and
rhizosphere by ploughing. These crops also require
a brief but intensive annual period of harvesting and
processing that often must be completed in a matter
of days, whatever the weather. In contrast, an oil palm
can be cultivated for 20-30 years without disturbing
the soil. Also, within a given plantation, harvesting
and processing can take place on a continual year-
round basis within a relatively predictable climatic
regime that has far less seasonal uctuation than in
temperate regions.
This means that the workforce, machinery and
other assets can be employed on a continuous basis
throughout the year on oil palm plantations, rather
than for a single intensive period as is the case for
annual oil crops. To make an analogy with microbial
biotechnology, oil palm husbandry resembles an
ecient continuous culture system rather than
the much less ecient batch-processing system
Rank Country Production (million tonnes)
1 Indonesia 31.0
2 Malaysia 19.0
3 Thailand 2.1
4Colombia 1.0
5Nigeria 0.9
6 Papua New Guinea 0.6
7Ecuador 0.6
8 Honduras 0.4
9 Ivory Coast 0.4
10 Brazil 0.3
Others 0.7
Total 57.0
Source: Data from the United States Department of Agriculture (2012).
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
represented by annual crop husbandry. As well
as having a competitive edge over the temperate
oilseed crops, oil palm is also more productive than
other oil-bearing tree crops such as olive or coconut,
which respectively yield oil at about 2.0 t ha-1and 0.3
t ha-1.
Clearly, therefore, oil palm is far more ecient
than all other oil crops in terms of oil yield, land
usage and asset deployment. This eciency is
reected in the pricing of palm oil, which is almost
invariably considerably cheaper than its rivals. For
example, in November 2013, the wholesale price
for palm oil was about USD 826 per tonne while the
average for soyabean, sunower and rapeseed oils
was more than USD 1020 per tonne, representing a
discount for palm oil of almost 20% over its major
competitors (MPOB website,
It should be noted, however, that one of the reasons
for the higher prices of rapeseed and soyabean oils
(compared to palm oil) is their higher oleate content.
As discussed below, the development of high oleate
palm oil would greatly increase the value of the oil
and should therefore be a major R&D priority for the
Given its higher productivity and lower price, it
is not surprising that palm oil overtook soyabean oil
as the major global vegetable oil in 2007 and that it
is increasingly sought after as the edible oil of choice
by developing countries throughout the world. As
shown in Table 2, palm oil production in Indonesia
and Malaysia has risen steadily in response to global
demand in recent years and this process shows no
sign of stopping in the short- to medium-term future.
Before 2005, Malaysia was the major global palm
oil producer but since then it has been overtaken
by Indonesia. In the six years from 2005 to 2011,
Indonesia increased oil palm production by 68%,
largely due to land conversion to new plantations.
In contrast, Malaysia had a more modest production
increase of 17% that reected much lower rates of
land conversion.
In order to position the oil palm industry to meet
the ever growing requirement for its major products,
it is important to understand why these oils are such
desirable commodities. This information will also
enable the sector to ensure that its R&D programmes
are designed to optimise the delivery of the
highest possible quality of oil with the minimum
environmental footprint. In achieving this goal, it
will be essential to satisfy consumer demands for
oil functionality and also to adequately address
sustainability criteria for the overall crop production
and processing systems used to generate palm oil.
At present, the major drivers for continued increases
in demand for palm oil include population growth
and economic development in those countries
Oil production
(million tonnes)
Indonesia Malaysia
2000 8.3 11.9
2001 9.2 11.9
2002 10.3 13.2
2003 12.0 13.4
2004 13.6 15.2
2005* 15.6 15.5
2006 16.6 15.3
2007 18.0 17.6
2008 20.5 17.3
2009 22.0 17.8
2010 23.6 18.2
2011 26.2 18.2
2012 28.5 18.8
2013 31.0+19.4+
Note: * The year Indonesia became the largest producer. + Estimated value.
Source: Data from FAO (2013).
importing oil for food and, to a much lesser extent,
the demand for biofuels in other countries such as
the EU. The major importers of palm oil for food
are in the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan
and Bangladesh), China, and West Asia (Table 3).
Collectively these regions import over 22 million
tonnes of palm oil, which is mainly used either
directly in cooking or as an ingredient in a host of
processed foods. These three regional blocs account
for about 75% of current imports of palm oil, the vast
majority of which (85% in 2013) was obtained from
the two major producing countries, namely Malaysia
and Indonesia. So, why is palm oil experiencing such
sustained increases in demand from these particular
importing countries? The answer is mostly related
to economic and demographic factors.
In terms of demography, the Indian subcontinent,
China, and West Asia have all experienced rapid
increases in population over the past few decades.
This will obviously result in higher demands for
food products in general. However, demographics
are only a small part of the reasons behind the current
demand for palm oil. For example, population
increases have now started levelling o, especially
in China, but demand for palm oil has continued to
rise. This brings us to the key role of economics as a
driver for increasing demand for vegetable oils and
is related to a well-known correlation between per
capita income and the consumption of fats and oils
in the human diet.
Higher Incomes Drive Increased Demand for
Edible Oils
The reason for the correlation between
household income and fat consumption is that
dietary fats are particularly desirable to people who
have historically subsisted mainly on starch- and
vegetable-based diets made up of relatively dull and
tasteless foodstus, such as boiled rice, manioc or
potatoes. The addition of fats or oils to such a diet
considerably enhances nutrient content (i.e. the
lipophilic vitamins A, D and E), and increases the
caloric value of the food. The use of fats in cooking
also greatly enhances the taste and odour of foods
because heated fats and oils produce a complex
bouquet of attractive avour compounds, many
of them volatile. Fats also solubilise, and thereby
enhance, otherwise cryptic avours that may be
present in non-fatty foodstus (Murphy, 2007). This
explains the perennial human craving for lipidic
foodstus such as vegetable oils.
In line with this phenomenon, it was found
that, following rising income levels across much
of the developing world in the 1990s, vegetable oil
consumption increased much faster than general
food intake. For example, during the 1990s, per
capita vegetable oil consumption rose by 31% in
Mexico, 35% in South Africa, 64% in China, 65%
in Indonesia, and 94% in India (Murphy, 2007).
As people became more auent, they switched
to a more satisfying diet containing much higher
amounts of oil. Interestingly, the reverse is also true
and, when times are particularly hard, people tend
to cut back on ‘luxuries’ like fats and oils. Such an
eect was seen during the economic collapse that
followed the fall of the Soviet Union when, between
1990 and 1994, consumption of food oil in Russia
fell by 35%. As predicted by the correlation between
oil and income, food oil consumption in Russia
rose once again during the 2000s as the economy
recovered and average incomes increased.
According to a report from the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAQ):
‘… vegetable oils and oil products still have relatively
high income elasticities in the developing countries ...
In our earlier projections to 2010, the per capita food
consumption of all vegetable oils, oilseeds and products
(expressed in oil equivalent) was projected to rise from
8.2kgin1988/90to 11kgin2010.By1997/99, it had
grown to 9.9 kg. In the current projections, the per capita
food demand for the developing countries as a whole rises
furtherto 12.6kgin2015andtonearly15kg by2030.
We have already noted earlier that average per capita food
consumption (all food products) in developing countries
may rise from the 2680 kcal of 1997/99 to 2850 kcal
in 2015 and to 2980 kcal by 2030. Vegetable oils and
products would contribute some 45% of this increase.
This is an acceleration of the historical trend for these
commodities to account for an ever-increasing part of the
growth in food consumption in the developing countries.
the subsequent decade.’ (FAO, 2003).
Meeting Increasing Demands for Food Oil Should
be the Top R&D Priority
The bottom line from the FAO projections
quoted above is that edible vegetable oils already
account for almost half of the increased food
Country/region Imports in 2012 (million tonnes)
Indian subcontinent* 12.6
China 6.6
European Union 5.8
West Asia+ 3.2
USA 1.0
Note: * India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
+ Egypt, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia
and Iraq.
Source: Data from
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
demand in developing countries and that this trend
will be maintained in the next few decades. On a
global basis, the annual per capita consumption of
vegetable oils increased by an impressive 40% from
11.3 kg to 15.9 kg between 1997 and 2010 (Gunstone,
2011). Despite the economic slump experienced
across much of Europe and North America between
2007 and 2013, many parts of Asia have continued to
experience modest to good growth rates and future
prospects appear promising.
We can therefore predict with some condence
that, providing Asian economies continue
their current steady growth, there should be a
corresponding increase in demand for vegetable oils,
and particularly for oil palm, from this region and
perhaps in other developing regions. In most parts of
the world, palm oil is consumed as a rened product
with uses varying from vanaspati/ghee in India to
margarine, cooking oils, and biscuits in Europe and
the United States. In contrast, in its centre of origin
in West Africa, virgin red palm oil (highly enriched
in carotenoids and tocopherols) is widely used in
soups and baked dishes. As the increasing demand
is overwhelmingly for edible oils, the palm oil sector
should focus on maximising production of oils that
are optimised for global food markets.
In order to satisfy these major edible markets,
which include well over one billion people per day
consuming palm oil products, there are two obvious
targets for breeders. The rst priority should be to
increase the oil yield both per fruit bunch and per
tree. Increased palm oil yield is urgently required
to address the ever-rising global demand for edible
oils. The second priority should be to maximise
the oleic acid content and reduce the amount of
saturated palmitic and stearic acids. Although these
saturated fatty acids have some advantages in terms
of producing solid fats such as margarines, they are
generally regarded as nutritionally less desirable
than monounsaturated oleic acid. This is one of the
main reasons why existing high oleic acid commodity
vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, command a price
premium over palm oil as edible feedstocks. High
oleic oils have the additional advantage that they
can also be used as highly versatile raw materials
for production of a wide range of renewable and
biodegradable oleochemicals and other industrial
products (Murphy, 2010).
The last few decades have witnessed huge
advances in our understanding of plant biology
and in the development of new technologies for
the manipulation of plants for human benet. The
application of relatively straightforward breeding
and selection methods were behind the ‘Green
Revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s that eectively
doubled or trebled food production in much of the
world and averted mass famine in Asia. During the
1980s and 1990s, more complex methods such as
hybrid creation, assisted crosses and introgression of
wild germplasm were instrumental in enabling rice
yield to increase ve-fold in some regions. The so-
called ‘miracle rice’ that yields as much as 10 t ha-1
has enabled China to become largely self sucient in
grain crops and also laid the foundations of its recent
economic advancement. During the 2000s, much
attention has been focussed on genomic approaches
to plant breeding with the deployment of a new
generation of technologies, such as marker-assisted
selection, next-generation sequencing, transgenesis
(genetic engineering or GM) and automatic
mutagenesis/selection (TILLING, TargetIng Local
Lesions IN Genomes) (Murphy, 2011; Soh, 2011; Xu,
2010). These methods have great potential for oil
palm improvement, as we will now discuss.
Sequencing the Oil Palm Genomes
Probably the most dramatic example of
technology improvement in the 21st century has
been in DNA sequencing where the cost per base has
decreased by an amazing 100 000-fold since 2000, as
shown in Figure 1 (Mardis, 2008; Shendure and Ji,
2008). The rst plant genome to be fully sequenced
was the model species, Arabidopsis thaliana,
published in 2001, while the rst crop genome was
rice, where a high quality sequence was published
in 2005. The sequencing of the much larger maize
genome required a massive eort by company and
public laboratories and the results were published
in a series of papers in 2009. Other large-scale
projects are currently underway for developing
country crops such as sorghum and foxtail millet
and sequence data are now being publicly released
at an increasingly rapid pace. Advances in next
generation sequencing technologies are enabling the
genomes of even comparatively minor crops to be
characterised (Edwards and Batley, 2010).
In some cases, a single sequencing method has
been used but, more commonly, several technologies
are used in combination for best results. For example,
Roche 454 technology was used to sequence the 430
Mb genome of cocoa, Theobroma cacao, and the 1700
Mb genome of oil palm. In contrast, a combination of
Sanger and Roche 454 sequencing was used for the
apple and grape (500 Mb) genomes. A combination
of Illumina Solexa and Roche 454 sequencing was
used for the genomes of polyploid cotton. Roche
454 sequencing has been used for Miscanthus, while
Sanger, Illumina Solexa, and Roche 454 sequencing
are being used for banana. Illumina GAII sequencing
has been used for the Brassica rapa genome, while
Sanger and Illumina Solexa technologies were used
for the cucumber genome. The cheapness and speed
of genome sequencing is now making it possible
to sequence, not just a single reference genome for
each species, but many individual genomes in a
population. This approach will be used to uncover
genome-wide variations that underlie some of the
more complex developmental and agronomic traits
in crops such as oil palm (Cook and Varshney, 2010;
Murphy, 2011; Paterson et al., 2010).
Although sequencing costs have fallen
dramatically in recent years, the initial sequencing
and basic annotation of a relatively large genome such
as that of oil palm still amounted to several million
US dollars during the period 2007-2010 when much
of the basic data were compiled. In the case of most
large crop or animal genomes, sequencing has been
carried out by public/private consortia that include
technology providers and potential end-users.
Unfortunately for researchers in general, in a few
cases the same crop genomes have been sequenced
multiple times by dierent commercial groups
who have not released their data. The sequencing
of the oil palm genome is an example of this latter
phenomenon. While such a duplication of eort and
an unwillingness to share the data publicly may be
based on sound commercial factors in the short-
term, it nevertheless arguably represents a failure
in strategic vision for the industry as a whole. This
is because DNA sequence data on their own have
little value and even relatively basic tools for their
assembly into a recognisable annotated genome are
still under development. Therefore, it is normally
most eective in terms of rapid exploitation to
release sequence data as a public resource that can
then be mined by large numbers of researchers
across the world as a specialised form of ‘crowd
In the case of oil palm genome, in May 2008,
the Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology (ACGT
a subsidiary of Genting Berhad), in collaboration
with Synthetic Genomics (whose CEO, Craig Ventor,
led part of the human genome sequencing eort),
announced completion of the rst draft sequence.
However, the data were not released and no details
of the work were published in the scientic literature.
A year later in May 2009, Sime Darby Plantation Sdn
Bhd announced sequencing and annotation of about
94% of a dierent oil palm genome. Once again very
few technical details were released and none of the
data were made available in the public domain. The
Sime Darby-led project also involved an international
consortium that included a bioinformatics company,
Synamatix Sdn Bhd and a US technology provider,
454 Life Sciences (a Roche company). The third oil
palm sequence announcement came in November
2009 when a consortium led by the publicly funded
Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and the US
private company, Orion Genomics, reported that
three genomes had been sequenced from the two oil
palm species, E. guineensis and E. oleifera (Meerow et
al., 2012).
Happily for oil palm researchers, the MPOB/
Orion-led consortium has now published an account
Source: Data from Pubmed and NCBI.
Figure 1. Decreasing DNA sequencing costs over the past decade has been mirrored by a huge increase in the proportion of uncurated proteins in public
databases. Since the early 2000s, the cost of sequencing genomes has plummeted by more than four orders of magnitude. This has created a glut of raw
in public databases there were several million uncurated sequences.
2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
Cost per Mb of DNA sequence (USD)
Curated vs. uncurated proteins
Pubmed ‘Metagenomics’ hits
Sequencing cost
Uncurated proteins
Curated proteins
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
of their genomic sequences in the journal Nature
in July 2013 (Singh et al., 2013a). These sequences
are available for breeders and other scientists to
study and use for the benet of crop R&D (data
are deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under
the accessions ASJS00000000 for E. guineensis and
ASIR00000000 for E. oleifera). This landmark article
was accompanied by another equally signicant
paper that described the identication of a single
gene, called Shell, which was found to regulate
the tenera trait of fruit shell thickness (Singh et al.,
2013b). The tenera trait is found in hybrids between
naturally occurring dura (thick shelled) and pisifera
(non-shelled) fruit forms of oil palm. The dura fruits
have low oil yields and pisifera fruits are normally
female-sterile but the tenera hybrids are fertile, high
oil yielding plants that are now the basis for all
commercial oil palm production in South-east Asia.
Identication of the Shell gene will enable breeders
to use molecular markers to select suitable breeding
lines, instead of waiting three to four years or more
for the young plants to produce fruits for selection
via a visual phenotype.
Beyond the Genome: Other ´Omic Technologies
In order to move beyond gene composition
through to gene expression, protein function
and their ultimate manifestations as phenotypes
in an organism, it is often necessary to analyse
structural and functional molecules, such as
proteins, membrane lipids, and carbohydrates
in particular plant cells or tissues. At a more
detailed level, there are many thousands of smaller
metabolites whose composition diers greatly
according to tissue, developmental stage, and in
response to environmental conditions. The ability
to simultaneously analyse large numbers of often
complex molecules is the basis of the so-called
´omic technologies. Hence, transcriptomics is the
analysis of transcribed genes in the form of mRNA;
proteomics is the analysis of protein composition;
lipidomics is the analysis of lipid composition;
metabolomics is the analysis of small metabolites,
and so on. Several automated analytical techniques
have been developed to separate and identify each
of these classes of biomolecules.
The transcriptome is a comprehensive list
of the genes expressed in a particular tissue at a
particular stage of development and/or in response
to particular environmental stimuli. In many ways,
transcriptome sequences can be much more useful
than genome sequences because they only include
the particular fraction of the tens of thousands of
genes that are expressed under specic conditions.
In the case of oil palm, the analysis of the fruit
transcriptome during oil accumulation is already
proving very useful in identifying key genes that
may regulate this vital process (Bourgis et al., 2011;
Dussert et al., 2013; Tranbarger et al., 2011). In two
other studies, transcriptome data from normal and
mantled oil palm fruits have been compiled to
shed light on this abnormality which still plagues
micropropagation of the crop (Shearman et al., 2013)
while a similar approach has been used to study
somatic embryogenesis (Lin et al., 2009).
The metabolome is the complete list of
metabolites found in a particular organelle, cell,
or tissue under a specic set of conditions. The
identication of important plant metabolites in a
plant such as oil palm, which include carotenoids,
phenols, and fatty acyl components, used to be
a very slow process relying on bulky, expensive
equipment that could only be operated by a few
skilled specialists. However, new lightweight
devices, supplemented by robotic and informatics
approaches, now make it possible to automate the
process and even to assign accurate identities to
complex mixtures of such molecules.
Metabolome analysis can help uncover the
details of oil palm fruit or leaf development at a
molecular level (Neoh et al., 2013; Teh et al., 2013;
Tahir et al., 2013). Metabolome studies can also
indicate how plants are reacting at the molecular
level to specic stimuli, e.g. by comparing stressed
and unstressed plants we can gain important
information about how some plants can tolerate
certain stresses while others cannot. In other cases,
metabolome analysis can give useful information
about molecular changes caused by the addition of
transgenes to plants. This kind of analysis is often
used as part of the process of regulation of transgenic
crops where it may be necessary to test whether a
transgenic variety is ‘substantially equivalent’ to
non-transformed varieties of the same crop (Beale et
al., 2009).
The proteome is dened as the expressed
protein complement of an organism, tissue, cell or
subcellular region (such as an organelle) at a specied
stage of development and/or under a particular
set of environmental conditions. Perhaps the most
important molecules in cells are the proteins, some
of which are structural while many others act as
enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of most
of the other molecules in a cell. Proteins are the
direct products of gene expression and the timing
and spatial distribution of their accumulation and
function results in the phenotype of a particular
organism. However, patterns of gene expression
as measured by transcription, i.e. the formation
of mRNA, are not always reected by patterns
of accumulation or activity of the corresponding
In some cases, the mRNA may not be ecient-
ly translated to protein. In other cases, the protein
might be synthesised but is then either broken down
or remains inactive. A protein might be present in
a cell but is inactive due to incomplete post-trans-
lational processing, e.g. failure to bind a ligand, or
due to inhibition, e.g. by phosphorylation. There are
many examples where proteins might be present in
a cell but remain in an inactivated state until they are
activated by a specic stimulus. In such cases, both
transcriptome and proteome data would indicate
that the gene was active and the protein was being
synthesised but this would be misleading in terms of
function if the protein was not active. Ideally, the in-
formation in the proteome should therefore include
any post-translational processing undergone by each
protein analysed. The 1st-generation proteomics was
mainly concerned with identifying the gross protein
composition of samples, but new-generation tech-
nologies are beginning to focus on questions such
as post-translational processing and the biological
activities of such proteins (Murphy, 2011). Despite
these advances, it remains a signicant challenge to
identify which proteins within a given proteome are
partially or completely functionally active.
It is only by addressing these latter questions
that we can verify not only that a particular protein
has been synthesised and is in the right location, but
also that it has the appropriate biological function.
Therefore, we can learn a lot about the actual function
of a genome in a specic cell or tissue by examining
its proteome. Like the metabolome, the proteome
in a plant sample can vary greatly according to
genotype, tissue location, developmental stage,
and environmental conditions (Gómez-Vidal et al.,
2009; Zamri, 2013). The full proteome will comprise
thousands of proteins, some of which may be
present in high abundance while others are at very
low levels. The analysis of low-abundance proteins
poses considerable diculties for proteomics that
have yet to be resolved but given the rate of progress
it is likely that automated or semi-automated
methods will be developed for the near-complete
description of the oil palm proteome in the not too
distant future.
Bioinformatics is a relatively new discipline
that brings together biologists, mathematicians and
computer scientists to make sense of the avalanche
of data generated by genome sequencing and
proling programmes; and from the other ´omic
technologies described above (Kanehisa and Bork,
2003). The sheer volume of data generated by these
methods often makes it virtually impossible to
analyse raw results manually. For example, a next-
generation DNA sequencer can generate thousands
of sequence fragments making up millions of
base pair readouts per day. These fragments need
to be analysed for overlaps and then assembled
into ‘contigs’, or continuous sequences of many
fragments that will eventually be collated to make
up an entire chromosome. This process is now done
automatically using algorithms, or repetitive step-
by-step mathematical procedures.
Other algorithms are used in genome annota-
tion. This involves the identication of putative
genes, including their promoters, regulatory ele-
ments, introns, exons, and mRNA/protein prod-
ucts. Other software can detect possible regions
encoding small, non-coding RNA and specic repet-
itive elements in genome sequences. Such sequences
are now known to play important roles in several
aspects of genome function in complex eukaryotes
such as higher plants and animals (López-Flores and
Garrido-Ramos, 2012; van Wolfswinkel and Ketting,
2011). Software is also used to drive robotic and oth-
er automated systems used in tasks such as mass-
proling of large populations. Advances that enable
non-specialists to use sophisticated software have
been facilitated by improved computing technology
and more powerful linked networks. This has been
especially crucial in enabling massive amounts of
data, often measured in many terabytes (1012 bytes),
that are generated by some of the new technologies.
For example, a single 2 hr run on an Illumina GAII
DNA sequencer can generate 10 terabytes of data.
One potential problem here is that the vast
amounts of raw data generated by DNA sequencers
are beyond the ability of many laboratories, or even
companies, to archive. Therefore, the raw data
are often immediately processed by proprietorial
software developed by instrument manufacturers
and only the much-reduced processed data are
saved. Even with the most advanced computing
technology, the costs of storing the original raw
data can be greater than the cost of repeating the
entire sequencing run. Another challenge for future
software development is to improve the assembly of
processed sequence data for the increasingly diverse
applications required by researchers. To address this,
new forms of open-source bioinformatics software,
such as SOLiD, are being developed where members
of the community can adapt and improve software
tools to t their own applications.
One of the challenges with the automatic
annotation and public release of genomic data can be
the lack of quality control mechanisms that ideally
require the intervention of human experts. There are
now many hundreds of publicly accessible genomes
that have already been annotated, sometimes by
older methods that have now been greatly improved
upon. In some cases, dierent laboratories use
dierent algorithms for annotation, which can
complicate cross-genome comparisons. Ideally
more generic tools should be developed and some
degree of editing or re-annotation made possible
as improved methods are invented. For example,
in a collaboration with Fujitsu, we have recently
developed an improved tool called cisExpress for
the detection of specic motifs in genome sequences
(Tříska et al., 2013). We have also publicly released
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
the tool at where it is available
as a stand-alone open-source application or via a
web interface.
In the future it will be desirable for bioinformat-
ics researchers to work closely with biologists to de-
velop a wider range of broadly applicable tools for
the extraction of useful information from the various
‘omics databases related to oil palm. As this is pre-
competitive research, both the databases and ana-
lytical tools such as algorithms should ideally reside
in the public domain as open-source products. The
magnitude of this problem is demonstrated in Fig-
ure 1, which shows how the massive decrease in se-
quencing costs has resulted in an avalanche of gene
and protein sequence data in public repositories.
However, there are currently more than one mil-
lion uncurated protein sequences for each curated
sequence. Clearly, there is an urgent need to curate
and validate many more genes and proteins in these
A major aspect of the usefulness of public
databases is the ability of the entire research
community to access and curate their contents at a
level of detail impossible in a non-public resource
as shown in the following example. Many DNA
sequencing projects are now performed in specialist
commercial laboratories where tissues from several
dierent sources may be being analysed at the
same time, with the obvious potential for cross
contamination. The result of such contamination
might be the erroneous inclusion in a genomic
database of a DNA sequence from a dierent
organism. Unfortunately, this is not always easy to
detect because, as we are increasingly recognising,
naturally occurring horizontal gene transfer between
unrelated organisms is much more common than
previously suspected (Boto, 2010; Keeling and
Palmer, 2008). There are now numerous examples of
genes originating from animals, fungi and bacteria
being found in some plant genomes (Bock, 2009).
However, it can also be the case that an anomalous
DNA sequence may be present in a genomic database
due to human error or contamination rather than as
a result of horizontal gene transfer.
For example, during an analysis of a public
database, I was initially intrigued to discover a plant-
like gene in the genome of a tick and the possible
implication that the gene had been somehow
transferred from a plant to an animal. However,
further investigation showed that this gene was
identical to that of a lipid peroxygenase gene in
a plant genome that was being sequenced in the
same laboratory as the tick genome. Therefore the
‘tick’ peroxygenase gene was not another example
of horizontal gene transfer but rather was the result
of contamination of the tick DNA by plant DNA
followed by their mistaken inclusion in the same
genomic database. Luckily, we were able to resolve
this particular case of mis-annotation but it is likely
that there are similar examples in genome databases.
One study of protein sequences in public databases
found surprisingly high levels of mis-annotation
that averaged 5%-63% across the six superfamilies
(Schones et al., 2005). This is one of the many reasons
why it is benecial for genomic data to be made
publicly available in such a way that the research
community as a whole can help to improve the
quality of the data and the accuracy of its annotation.
Marker-assisted Selection (MAS)
Several types of genetic marker can be used
to assist the selection of favourable traits in plant
breeding. Morphological and biochemical markers,
such as fruit colour, fatty acid composition, or
dwarsm, are relatively easy to observe or measure
but many other key agronomic traits such as disease
resistance are not so easily assessed in this way.
By far the most useful class of genetic markers are
those based on DNA sequences. Such markers are
now being applied to almost every aspect of plant
and animal breeding, and also in medicine, basic
research and even in forensic science. The use of
modern techniques like association genetics and
quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis are enabling
chromosomal regions and individual genes
involved in the regulation of important traits to be
mapped and identied (Rafalski, 2010; Xu, 2010).
These methods have recently been used to map
the lipase gene involved in oil deterioration in ripe
palm fruits (Morcillo et al., 2013) and QTL analysis of
genes regulating the fatty acid composition of palm
oil (Montoya et al., 2013).
DNA-based MAS can save time and money
in crop breeding programmes as follows. In order
to select most characters of interest, it is normally
necessary to grow up and analyse each new
generation of the crop before it is possible to perform
phenotypic selection of appropriate plants. Many
traits, such as disease resistance or salt-tolerance
cannot be measured until plants have been grown,
often to full maturity, and then tested in the eld.
A DNA-based molecular marker is used to identify
a segment of genomic DNA within which allelic
variation in sequence has allowed its location to be
genetically mapped. In breeding programmes, such
markers are chosen because of their close proximity
to a gene of interest so that the marker and target
gene are inherited together. This enables breeders to
use the marker as a relatively straightforward way
of screening very large populations for the presence
of a target gene without needing to perform complex
phenotypic tests. Hence, MAS can be used to track
the presence of useful characters in large segregating
populations in crop-breeding programmes. Using
molecular markers, breeders can screen many more
plants at a very early stage and save several years
of laborious work in the development of a new crop
This is especially useful for crops like oil palm
where it can take three to four years or more for a
fruit phenotype to become fully apparent. Molecular
markers have now been developed for most of the
major commercial crops, including several tree
species. In addition to their increasingly prominent
role in genetic improvement of crops, molecular
markers are useful for many other applications
such as characterising crop genetic resources,
management of gene banks, and disease diagnosis.
At present, MAS systems are being developed for
oil palm by several international public-private
partnerships (PPP) and comprehensive genetic and
physical maps of the genome are now available.
Genetic maps have recently been used to localise oil
palm genes involved in the regulation of important
traits such as fatty acid composition (Singh et al.,
2009; Montoya et al., 2013), embryogenesis and
callogenesis (2013), seed coat thickness (Singh,
Several types of DNA-based marker have been
developed for basic research and plant breeding and
these are constantly being rened to increase their
utility and decrease costs. Early markers included
RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphisms),
AFLP (amplied fragment length polymorphisms),
and RAPD (random amplied polymorphic DNA).
More recently, MAS has used much cheaper and
more informative PCR-generated markers, such
as microsatellites and SNP (single nucleotide
polymorphisms). Microsatellites are short sequences
of repetitive DNA, such as poly(TG), that can be
amplied using PCR: they are highly polymorphic
with respect to the numbers of the repeat units
between individuals in a population. Even in
relatively inbred crop species, microsatellites are
polymorphic, enabling individuals to be genotyped
separately. Detailed genetic maps based on
microsatellites are available for most major crop
species. Some of the most useful markers are SNP.
SNP occur very frequently in genomes, e.g. once
every 60-120 bp in maize, and are used widely both
for research and breeding.
The use of MAS in crop breeding was initially re-
stricted to a few economically important temperate
crops that are bred and marketed by major private
sector rms, but the list of MAS-enabled crops is ex-
panding. As well as annual crops such as cereals and
legumes, MAS has been useful in perennial crops,
including subsistence and cash crops in develop-
ing countries. Examples include oil palm, coconut,
coee, tea, cocoa, and tropical fruit trees such as
bananas and mangoes. MAS technologies have also
beneted from more ecient screening methods in-
cluding PCR, DNA/DNA hybridisation, and DNA
sequencing. Most MAS technologies in crops now
use PCR-based methods, such as sequence-tagged
microsatellites and SNP. By using DNA markers
in conjunction with other new breeding technolo-
gies like clonal propagation, it should be possible to
make rapid strides in the creation and cultivation of
greatly improved varieties of crops like oil palm.
Transgenic Technologies
Numerous high-tech breeding tools have been
successfully used for crop improvement over the
past 50 years. Transgenic technologies have been
available since the 1880s and enable breeders to
manipulate genomes using recombinant DNA
methods that are continually being improved and
rened. It is important to realise that breeders
never employ transgenesis on its own; instead
it is used in combination with technologies such
as tissue culture/regeneration, hybrid creation,
mutagenesis, backcrossing, and MAS. This means
that it can be misleading to speak of a new crop
variety as ‘transgenic’ or ‘GM’ as if it had only
been created using transgenic technologies. In
reality, the transgenic or GM stage is just one part
of the initial creation of new genetic diversity at the
beginning of the breeding process. After this initial
stage, there are many other non-GM stages required
before the plants can be used in agriculture. Hence,
in 2012 about 180 million hectares was reported as
being planted with transgenic/GM crops around
the world. It is estimated that the total global land
area used for crop production is about 1500 million
hectares (Thenkabail et al., 2010), which means that
transgenic crops already occupy 12% of total arable
area (Table 4). However, each of these crops has also
beneted from one or more of the non-transgenic
technologies listed above. For example, well over
three-quarters of all crops grown, including almost
all transgenic varieties, have resulted from some form
of conventional hybridisation and backcrossing.
Despite the fact that transgenesis is simply
one of several alternative strategies for variation
enhancement in breeding programmes, the resultant
plants are treated very dierently from almost-
identical non-transgenic varieties by government
agencies and by sections of the general public.
Transgenic varieties have a dierent legal status
and are subject to much more complex regulatory
systems in various regions of the world, which
can hinder their development and uptake. Indeed
transgenic crops are even banned or heavily
restricted in some countries. For this reason, we
need to look at the development of transgene
technology in a dierent way to other technologies.
As we will see below, some developments such as
so-called ‘clean gene’ technologies are aimed more
at satisfying generalised public concerns rather than
addressing proven safety issues or wider aspects of
crop improvement per se.
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
There are several ways in which transgene
technology can be improved to make it technically
easier, more ecient, wider in its scope, and better
able to address concerns expressed by certain
sections of the public. Some technical issues and
areas of public concern are listed below:
in the future, it will be desirable to generate
transgenic crops that do not contain selection
markers, such as genes for antibiotic or herbicide
until now transgenic plants have been created
using random insertion of transgenes, which
can lead to variations in transgene behaviour
and other unpredictable pleiotropic eects.
In order to achieve stable and predictable
transgene expression under a variety of eld
conditions, transgene introduction technologies
need improvement;
the spread of transgenes into wild populations
via cross pollination can be prevented using
genetic use restriction technologies (GURT); and
biocontainment strategies should be incorpo-
rated into certain types of transgenic plants, e.g.
expressing non-edible or pharmaceutical prod-
ucts to prevent risk of contamination of human
or animal food/feed chains.
The development of transgenic oil palm is still
in its infancy and is fraught with many technical
challenges. For example, it is still unclear whether
biolistics or Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer
will be the gene delivery method of choice (Izawati
et al., 2012; Parveez and Bahariah, 2012). The choice
of plant material is also crucial with some of the
best options including various types of callus cul-
ture. Then there is the issue of which gene promot-
ers to use. Unlike most existing commercial trans-
genic crops where constitutive viral promoters are
used, the manipulation of palm oil composition will
require deployment of strong mesocarp-specic
or kernel-specic gene promoters, ideally sourced
from the oil palm genome itself. Also, in order to
achieve a high oleic oil, it will probably be neces-
sary to down-regulate some genes while adding or
up-regulating other genes. Even when the primary
transgenic plantlets have been produced they will
still need to be grown on for three to ve years to
obtain fruits that can be screened for oil content.
Finally, these primary transformants will need to
be taken through several sexual generations, back-
crossed with existing elite lines, and then multiplied
via micropropagation before any new commercial
transgenic varieties can be released.
It is likely that this process of transforming oil
palm will take several decades. However, it is still
important that such programmes are continued for
the long-term future of crop improvement. This is
because there may be traits that are not possible
to create using non-transgenic approaches. For
example, although it may be possible to create a
medium-high (55%-65%) oleic oil phenotype via
conventional methods, a more desirable ultra-high
(80%-90%) oleic trait might only be possible via
transgenic technology. Another example where
the use of transgenic methods is essential is the
production of completely novel compounds, such
as biopolymers like polyhydroxyalkanoates, in
oil palm. In this case, it is necessary to transfer
several bacterial genes to the crop. Meanwhile,
newer technologies such as RNAi, trait stacking,
chromosome engineering, pathway engineering and
more ecient gene cassettes will play important
roles in expanding the scope of transgenic crops in
the future.
The biology of a long-lived crop such as oil palm is a
complex topic with many fascinating aspects relating
to its ecology, physiology and agronomy. The large
size and long generation time of oil palm create many
formidable challenges for researchers and breeders,
especially in comparison with the much smaller
annual oilseed crops like rapeseed or soyabean. It
is therefore essential that biological approaches to
Crop Area
(million hectares) %
Soyabean 83 50
Maize 55 31
Cotton 21 14
Rapeseed/canola 8 5
Sugar beet 0.5 <1
Alfalfa 0.1 <1
Others <0.1 <1
Total 170.3 100
Trait Area
(million tonnes) %
Herbicide tolerance 100 60
Insect resistance (Bt) 28 18
Herbicide tolerance + Insect
43.7 22
Others <0.1 <1
Total 170.3 100
Source: Data from James (2012). Global status of commercialised
biotech/GM crops: 2012. ISAAA Brief 44. http://www.isaaa.
oil palm improvement focus on a limited number of
key target traits. As discussed below, by far the most
important biological traits relate to overall oil yield
and quality, together with tolerance to pests and
diseases. The role of improved farming practices is
discussed under crop management in the Role of
Improved Management in Addressing Challenges
for Oil Palm section.
Oil Yield
The relatively poor yield of palm oil in commer-
cial and smallholder plantations compared to the
proven potential yield of some existing varieties,
coupled with the lack of progress in improving this
situation over the past decade, has attracted much
comment in the industry and more widely (USDA,
2012). In Malaysia, for example, oil palm yields ac-
tually declined between 2008 and 2012 to levels
that were 9% below the 4.7 t ha-1 achieved in 2008
(Figure 2). In contrast, yields of most major commer-
cial crops have experienced steady and sustained
increases in the region of 1%-2% per year, over the
past 20-30 years. To a considerable extent, this situa-
tion is the result of a failure to replant new or ageing
plantations with the best available varieties. How-
ever, there is also immense and largely untapped
scope for far greater increases in oil yield via mod-
ern breeding methods. If new oil palm varieties pro-
ducing 10-20 t ha-1 oil become widely available this
would be an enormous incentive for the industry to
accelerate its sluggish replanting programme.
Palm oil yield in the plant is primarily deter-
mined by biological factors such as crop genetics and
the incidence of pests and diseases. It is known from
the study of other crops that the overall yield of a
key crop product such as starch, oil or protein can be
manipulated in several ways. The most direct route
is to select plants where their biosynthetic pathways
are more ecient at making the desired end prod-
uct at the expense of other less desirable products.
In the case of oil-bearing seeds or fruits this means a
greater ux of carbon towards oil and reduced ux
towards other less useful products such as starch or
bre (Rahman et al., 2013). Genetic loci that regulate
much of the ux of carbon towards oil in soyabean
have been described (Chung et al., 2003). Recent ad-
vances in genomics and biochemistry have identied
regulatory genes such as WRI1 that are able to mas-
sively up-regulate oil accumulation, even in tissues
such as leaves that do not normally accumulate high
levels of storage lipids (Bourgis et al., 2011; Ma et al.,
2013). The continued scope for dramatic increases in
oil yield even in established oil crops has been high-
lighted by the recent discovery of rapeseed varieties
that accumulate almost 65% w/w oil in their seeds
compared to about 45% or less in most commercial
varieties – a yield gain of about 44% (Hu et al., 2013).
Although palm fruits are considered as relatively
enriched in oil, a freshly picked ripe fruit bunch only
contains about 21%-23% w/w oil. In contrast, mature
oilseeds typically contain 40%-46% w/w oil while
some oil-rich nut crops contain as much as 75% w/w
oil (Murphy, 2010). The other major oil-rich drupe
Source: Data from USDA (2012).
Figure 2. After a period of stagnation in the mid 1990s, palm oil yields gradually rose from 1998 until 2008 but then declined from 2008 until 2013.
There are probably several causes for the recent decline, including failure to replant ageing plantations, conversion of new land in East Malaysia, and
labour issues as discussed in the main text.
t ha-1
MALAYSIA: Historical Palm Oil Yield Statistics
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
crop is olive, where the oil content of the whole fruit
is generally in the range of 18%-28% w/w, although
some varieties can accumulate as much as 34% w/w
oil. Avocados can accumulate between 5% and 30%
of fruit weight as oil. This indicates that it may be
possible to create new varieties of oil palm that
accumulate much higher levels of oil – possibly in
the region of 30%-40%, which would be double the
current oil yield per fruit. The recent publication
of the annotated genomic sequences of several
oil palms (Singh, 2013) and several biochemical,
transcriptome and molecular mapping analyses of
palm fruits (Bourgis et al., 2011; Dussert et al., 2013;
Montoya et al., 2013; Morcillo et al., 2013; Ramli et
al., 2009) have laid the foundations for identication
and manipulation of the regulatory genes that may
facilitate the creation of much higher levels of oil in
palm fruit tissues in the foreseeable future.
One possible way of increasing palm oil yield is
to channel more carbon towards lipid biosynthesis,
and less towards other less valuable end products
such as starch or lignin. At present, a typical mature
oil palm of around 10-15 years of age is a relatively
tall plant with the fruit bunches produced at the
top of a trunk about 10 m above the ground. There
are three major problems with this form of plant
architecture. Firstly, the majority of the carbon
assimilated via photosynthesis is used to produce
a lignied trunk that has relatively little economic
value. The much more valuable fruit oil therefore
only represents a small fraction of the total crop
biomass. Secondly, it is dicult and laborious to
harvest the fruits from such a height and there can
be much loss of yield due to spoilage when fruits
fall onto the ground. Finally, the height of the fruit
bunches makes it dicult to inspect them closely for
signs of pest and diseases or to assess the degree of
In many other crops, ranging from annual cereals
to perennial orchard fruits, the manipulation of plant
architecture has already resulted in greatly increased
yield. Probably the most dramatic example of this
is the creation of semi-dwarf varieties of the major
cereal crops such as wheat, rice and barley in the 20th
century (Murphy, 2011). These dwarf varieties are
typically only 20%-40% as tall as traditional varieties
and much of the carbon saved in producing a shorter
stem is used instead to form more grain. The genetic
basis of the dwarf phenotype is now known to be
associated with disruption of action of the hormone
gibberellin, which normally causes stem elongation.
Oil palms can also produce short phenotypes and
the use of modern molecular breeding approaches
may make it possible to select dwarf trees that have
higher yields of oil-bearing fruits.
Similar modications of tree crop architecture
have already been achieved in the case of several
hard-fruit species of which the most dramatic
example is apples. Traditional apples were grown
in orchard plantations as medium sized bushy trees
that could reach 20 m in height. Fruit picking was
dicult and most of the biomass of the crop was in
the form of wood rather than fruits. A combination
of genetic selection and careful pruning has now
transformed these trees into much smaller, 1-3 m
tall, vine-like plants that produce much higher fruit
yields and much less wood. A further bonus is that in
many cases these short plants can now be harvested
mechanically which saves greatly in terms of labour
costs and fruit spoilage. Mechanisation of fruit
harvesting has also been successfully developed in
citrus crops (Murphy, 2011) and several systems are
under development for date palms. The development
of high-yielding dwarf oil palm varieties could open
the door to full scale mechanisation of harvesting
in plantations. This would save costs and would
greatly alleviate the increasingly problematic labour
issues confronting the industry as discussed below
in the Labour Issue section.
Oil Composition
Palm mesocarp oil typically contains about
35%-40% oleic acid plus 40%-50% palmitic and
about 10% linoleic acids. By far the most important
quality trait target for oil palm breeding is a much
higher oleic acid composition in the mesocarp oil.
This would open up new markets for edible palm
oil and could eventually lead to the displacement
of existing less ecient high oleic oilseeds such as
soyabean, rapeseed and sunower. There are several
precedents for the creation of completely new mar-
ket opportunities by breeding high oleic varieties
of oil crops. Perhaps the most dramatic example is
that of rapeseed, which like other brassica oilseeds,
such as mustard and crambe, historically produced
a seed oil that consisted of >50% erucic acid. While
erucic acid can be used in some food applications,
several studies claimed that its consumption by rats
was associated with cancers and in the 1960s rape-
seed oil was banned from use in the USA. This led
Canadian breeders to develop new rapeseed vari-
eties with 60%-65% oleic acid and very low levels
of erucic acid. These new forms of high oleic rape-
seed were called ‘canola’ and soon dominated the
market, creating an entirely new multi-billion dollar
export crop for Canada and a new relatively cheap
and nutritious vegetable oil for consumers around
the world (Murphy, 2007).
The new canola varieties were the result of
naturally occurring mutations that inactivated
the fatty acid elongase system responsible for
converting C18:1 oleic acid to C22:1 erucic acid. In
order to isolate and characterise these mutants, many
thousands of seeds from diverse accessions were
laboriously screened in a process that took almost a
decade. A similar approach was used to screen seeds
of sunower, which normally contain high levels of
the polyunsaturate, linoleic acid (C18:2). In a few
cases, mutated sunower seeds were found where
inactivation of oleate desaturase genes resulted in a
greatly reduced ability to form linoleic acid and the
accumulation instead of an oil containing 60%-75%
oleic acid. In other cases, induced mutagenesis has
been used to create new genetic variation in seed oil
content. For example, this mutagenesis approach
was used to develop high oleic versions of linseed
where the seed-specic desaturases responsible for
converting C18:1 oleic acid to C18:3 linolenic acid
were inactivated by several mutations (Murphy,
More recently, similar conventional (i.e. non-
transgenic) breeding approaches have led to the
development of very high oleic oils such as rapeseed/
canola with 75%; soyabean with 83%; sunower
with 80%-90%; saower with 75%; and olive with
75% oleate. The use of induced mutagenesis in crop
breeding, including fatty acid manipulation, has
recently been made much more eective by the
automated mutagenesis/selection system termed
TILLING (Murphy, 2011; Shu, 2009; Xu, 2010). In
other cases, transgenic (GM) approaches have been
used by commercial companies to produce very high
oleate and low polyunsaturate varieties of some of
the major annual oilseed crops. Examples include
rapeseed/canola (89% oleate); Indian mustard
(73% oleate); soyabean (90% oleate); and cottonseed
(78% oleate). These transgenic lines are based on
antisense or RNAi technologies and several other
gene deletion technologies with potential use in oil
palm are also under development (Murphy, 2011).
In principle, all of the above approaches can
be used to create high oleic varieties of oil palm.
Major challenges for palm breeders include the
long generation time of this tree crop, a lack of
genetic variation for oleate content, and developing
the ability to use modern high-tech approaches
such as TILLING and MAS. To some extent, the
genetic variation issue is being addressed by
extensive searches by MPOB and various plantation
companies for new germplasm in the oil palm
centres of origin in West Africa and South America.
Already some accessions have been found with
oil contents of 50%-60% oleic acid, which is very
promising for introgression into current commercial
varieties. Perhaps more interestingly, this medium
to high oleic material can now be analysed by
modern genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic
methods to elucidate the genetic and biochemical
basis behind the accumulation of higher levels of
oleic acid in mesocarp oil. Such knowledge would
provide targets for future attempts to engineer fatty
acid and oil metabolism so that palmitate was more
eectively elongated to stearate, desaturated to
oleate, and then transferred to glycerol to form the
triacylglycerol-rich mesocarp oil.
Pest and Disease Tolerance
Oil palm has numerous pests and diseases in the
major centres of cultivation in South-east Asia but
two of the most important are the fungal pathogen,
Ganoderma boninense, and the rhinoceros beetle,
Oryctes rhinoceros, which can cause yield losses well
in excess of 50% in aected areas (Flood and Bridge,
2000; Panchal and Bridge, 2005; Flood et al., 2010). In
terms of long-term management of these and other
harmful organisms, it is generally more eective to
enable the crop to tolerate small levels of infection/
infestation rather than to aim at total eradication.
The problem with selecting for complete resistance,
rather than tolerance to pests and pathogens, is that
it leads to high selection pressures for the emergence
of new variants of the pest/pathogen that can
overcome the resistance in the crop. Over recent
decades we have seen the emergence of numerous
new strains of pest/pathogen that have overcome
crop resistance and therefore pose serious threats to
major food crops such as wheat and rice.
G. boninense is a soil-borne fungus that causes
basal stem rot and has become an increasingly serious
problem especially in areas where palm plantations
have been present for many decades. In the past,
research on Ganoderma has been hampered by its
genetic and morphological variability, but the use of
biochemical and molecular genetic markers has now
greatly improved the identication and localisation
of the more virulent strains (Bridge et al., 2000).
More recently a joint Malaysian/US programme has
started to sequence the genomes of several virulent
and non-virulent strains of Ganoderma. This should
help greatly in the identication of genes related to
virulence and help breeders to develop more tolerant
varieties of oil palm and/or to investigate the
feasibility of out-competing high virulence strains
of Ganoderma with other lower virulence strains. The
latter approach would greatly reduce the likelihood
of the re-emergence of virulence in the future.
In terms of combating the immediate threat
of Ganoderma, there have also been advances in
using molecular genetic technologies to diagnose
infections at earlier stages. Previously, by the time a
Ganoderma infection was diagnosed, it was already
too far advanced to save the tree in question, and
it was possible that neighbouring trees had also
become infected. It has been reported that within
15 years of getting into a plantation, Ganoderma can
kill as many as 80% of oil palm trees (USDA, 2012).
Early detection of Ganoderma infection is therefore
an important prerequisite to its eventual control.
Although there is still a long way to go, there are
promising signs that improved diagnostic methods
will eventually help in the identication and
management of this serious pathogen (Bridge et al.,
2000; Panchal and Bridge, 2005).
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
The rhinoceros beetle has emerged as the major
pest of oil palm in South-east Asia since the 1980s.
Chemical insecticides can be eective but such
agents are expensive as they can sometimes also
aect benecial insects, and the target organisms
may develop resistance as has been found with
many other insecticides. Among the most promising
biocontrol strategies for this pest are the deployment
of two ecient pathogens of the beetle, namely
the entomophagous fungus Metarhizium anisopliae
and the Oryctes virus (Ramle et al., 2005). Both
pathogens are specic to rhinoceros beetles and as
such will not aect other insects. The Oryctes virus
appears to be endemic in the beetle population,
and deliberate augmentation can raise its infection
levels to above 75%. The Metarhizium fungal spores
can be applied to areas of infestation as a spray
that is highly eective at controlling, but not totally
eradicating, the beetles. The combined use of these
and other natural pathogens of the rhinoceros beetle
have the potential to reduce its harmful impact on
the crop, while also minimising risks of resistance
With the projected increase in oil palm
replanting over the next few years, it will be
important to consider the wider release of such
biocontrol agents into areas where the incidence of
rhinoceros beetles is particularly high. These and
other forms of integrated pest management are
being investigated as primary options in plantations
across South-east Asia (Caudwell and Orrell, 1997).
The rapid expansion of high intensity commercial
plantations in new regions such as West Africa and
South/Central America will doubtless lead to the
emergence of new pests and pathogens. Therefore, it
will be important for the public sector and industry
to work together in developing improved methods
of surveillance and early detection of such threats.
Other Traits
The three trait groups discussed above (oil yield,
oil quality, and pest/disease tolerance) are by far
the most important priorities in terms of increasing
the overall output of the oil palm industry and in
expanding its market share into the lucrative high
oleic sector that is currently dominated by the
temperate oil crops. There are many other possible
targets for trait modication but in terms of global
income generation they must be regarded as of
secondary importance to these three priority traits.
In terms of edible and health markets, virgin
palm oil is already enriched in carotenoids,
lycopenes, tocopherols and tocotrienols that are
sources of the lipophilic vitamins A and E. For most
edible applications, these useful compounds are
removed during processing which presents two
options for additional value creation. For the rst
option, vitamin-rich virgin palm oil, which is bright
red in colour, could be more eectively marketed
as a healthy vegetable oil similarly to virgin olive
oil, which is green and cloudy. Such a campaign
would be more eective if high oleic varieties of
palm oil are developed. The second option would be
to develop a more cost-eective process to recover
these useful compounds during oil processing and
then sell them as aordable dietary supplements
or for other applications. Another possibility is to
manipulate the oil composition to include desirable
fatty acids such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) or
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) that are currently found
in some sh oils. This would involve transgenic
methods and would take well over a decade to
achieve. It is also uncertain whether there would be
a suciently strong market demand for substitute
sh oils to make such a breeding programme
In terms of non-food markets, palm oil
composition could be modied to include
high levels of various industrially useful fatty
acids, although even in the case of more easily
manipulated annual oilseeds progress in this area
has been disappointingly slow over the past few
decades, so this remains a very long-term option
for oil palm (Murphy, 2009a). Another interesting
possibility is to engineer the accumulation of
biodegradable biopolymers in palm fruits (Sudesh,
2013). This technology is gradually being developed
in some annual crops where the transfer of three
bacterial genes can enable plants to convert acetyl-
CoA into polyhydroxyalkanoate beads instead of
triacylglycerol oils (Gumel et al., 2013). Providing
these beads can be extracted from the plant tissue
(which is currently proving rather challenging),
they can be used to manufacture several types of
thermoplastic materials that, unlike conventional
petroleum-derived polymers, are both renewable
and biodegradable (Murphy, 2010).
A major issue with all of these oil-modication
schemes is that palm fruits that have been modied
to produce new types of oil would need to strictly
segregated after harvesting and in all of the
downstream processing steps. This would add
considerably to production costs and it is far from
certain whether suciently reliable markets would
be available to guarantee adequate returns on the
high investment and operating costs on such niche
products. In summary, most of these additional
traits can certainly be considered as part of a long-
term wish list for oil palm R&D but they cannot be
justied to the same extent as the three major priority
traits, namely oil yield, oil quality, and pest/disease
The study and manipulation of oil palm biology and
genetics will continue to make possible considerable
advances in crop improvement as outlined above.
However, the translation of these biological benets
into increased oil yields in a given plantation or during
downstream processing is a separate challenge that
has not always received sucient attention in the
past. The actual amount of palm oil produced at a
national or regional level can be aected by many
non-biological factors such as climate, soil type,
and the eectiveness of crop management systems.
Of these by far the most important set of factors
is the overall management of the cropping and
processing systems. To a great extent, deciencies
in these systems are responsible for the otherwise
puzzling failure of oil palm producers to obtain
yield increases comparable with other major crops,
including their oilseed competitors. A recent study
by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2012)
has highlighted several areas of concern which will
now be discussed.
The Labour Issue
As shown in Figure 2, palm oil yields per hectare
in Malaysia were relatively stagnant from 1992-1997,
rose slowly over the next decade, but then actually
decreased during the period from 2008-2013. This
is of considerable concern because Malaysia is the
longest established centre for large-scale commercial
oil palm production and is also the world leader
in R&D into the biology and management of the
crop (Abrizah, 2012). Current average oil yields
for Malaysia as a whole are only slightly above 4 t
ha-1. However, some plantations are able to routinely
achieve yields over 6 t ha-1, which points to a failure
in other parts of the industry either to plant the
best available varieties and/or to manage cropping
and processing systems in a more ecient manner
(Murphy, 2007).
As shown in Figure 3, there are also regional
discrepancies of palm oil yield within Malaysia.
Following a period of similar oil yields from 2001-
2007, yields in the East fell from 2007-2013 while
those in the West stagnated. To some extent, this
may be due to the creation of new plantations on
peat soils in East Malaysia and a consequent yield
lag. However, it is likely that management factors
have also played a considerable role in the relative
underperformance in East Malaysia. One of the
most important of these factors is the shortage of
appropriate labour. The original labour force on oil
palm plantations in the mid-late 20th century was
largely made up of Malaysian citizens. However,
thanks to the considerable improvements in
education and economic prospects over recent
decades, very few young Malaysians now wish to
do this type of heavy manual outdoor work. Instead,
about 500 000 overseas workers, largely unskilled
young males from Indonesia, now provide the
basic labour force on commercial plantations. These
labourers must harvest the palm fruits manually
and also provide basic management services such
as pruning and fertilising trees and applying pest/
pathogen control measures.
There are several problems with this labour
force that make it increasingly dicult to ensure
that optimal yields of palm fruits are harvested
and eciently delivered to processing mills. Firstly,
there is an overall shortage of manpower caused
by government policy to restrict the numbers of
migrant labourers granted visas. Secondly, better
economic prospects in Indonesia itself, including
the expansion of oil palm plantations in that country,
have created more opportunities for employment
and have reduced incentives to travel to Malaysia for
such relatively low paid work. Thirdly, the migrant
labourers are restricted to ve-year visas, meaning
that they have little opportunity to become highly
experienced in plantation work, especially compared
to the original Malaysian workers who often did
such jobs for decades. A high level of experience is
vital for tasks like recognising when a fruit bunch
is ready to pick or to spot potential problems such
as the initial symptoms of pest or disease outbreaks.
If fruits are harvested too soon or too late the oil
yield can be greatly reduced, and failure to pick up
pest/disease problems can result in huge losses of
productivity and increased mitigation costs in the
The labour issue is especially acute in East Ma-
laysia where the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Asso-
ciation has reported a 20%-30% manpower shortfall
that has resulted in 15% losses due to rotting fruits.
Note that this region has also experienced the great-
est recent decline in palm oil yield (Figure 3), which
indicates that the yield problem is mainly associated
with labour issues rather than other factors. There
have been calls for the plantation sector to institute
an across the board increase in wages combined with
enhanced medical and educational benets to the
migrant labourers in order to retain their services.
So far such appeals have been resisted by much of
the industry despite relatively high palm oil prices
and healthy gross margins that have been estimat-
ed at 60%-80% by MPOB. Meanwhile, the govern-
ment is loath to increase the number of visas for a
combination of security and political reasons. While
there may be good reasons for this lack of action to
confront the labour issue, it does mean that labour
problems will continue to dog the industry and their
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
possible knock on eects on oil yield seem destined
to become more serious in the coming years.
One possible long-term solution to this seem-
ingly intractable problem is to reduce labour re-
quirements via a combination of radically increased
mechanisation and the redesign of the architecture
of the oil palm tree (Murphy, 2009b). Already there
have been some advances in the redesign of cutting
equipment for fruit harvesting. The development of
lighter, powered and more ergonomically ecient
fruit cutters can increase eciency and improve
health and safety of the workforce. Other devices are
being developed to facilitate fruit transport and the
collection of loose fruits that have fallen from trees.
However, the uptake of many of these innovations
has been limited by relatively high purchasing and
running costs (Shuib et al., 2010). Additionally, the
process of fruit harvesting is currently determined
by the need to assess the ripeness and then to cut
and lower a heavy fruit bunch that is at the top of a
10 to 20 m tree. As discussed above, the introduction
of dwarf varieties in several other crops has facilitat-
ed mechanisation and led to reduction of the labour
force to a much smaller and more highly skilled
cadre of specialists. If this could be achieved with
oil palm there would be little for unskilled foreign
labour and instead workers would have a much less
arduous and more skilled job that might even ap-
peal to some local Malaysians.
Replanting with Elite Germplasm
An oil palm has a productive lifetime of 25-30
years with oil yields gradually rising to a peak from
9-18 years followed by a gradual but steady decline.
As Indonesia is a relatively new centre of oil palm
production, many of the oil palm in its plantations
are still relatively young. In contrast, Malaysia is a
more mature region where it is estimated that 26% of
plantations are 20-28+ years old while 65% are 9-28+
years old (USDA, 2012). Therefore, the majority of the
trees in Malaysia have already reached or will soon
reach their peak productivity. Over the next decade,
there will be inevitabled declines that will continue
to exacerbate the poor national yield statistics. The
obvious solution is to replace these older oil palm
with some of the newer varieties that are already
available. This replanting needs to be carried out on
a continuous basis so that lower yielding older oil
palm, that may also carry higher loads of pests and
pathogens, do not accumulate in plantations. Such a
scheme would also make it possible to continually
refresh the genetic pool of the plantation trees with
the best and most recent varieties available from
modern breeding programmes.
In reality, however, the situation is more com-
plex and economics, in particular, has played a role
in inhibiting the desire to replant. One signicant
factor has been the high prices available for palm
oil in international markets. This has meant that, in
many cases, even an ageing plantation with old oil
palm varieties can still produce sucient palm oil to
generate a healthy prot for the grower, who there-
fore has little incentive to replant. Moreover, the de-
cision to replant is rather costly for the grower in the
short-term. First, there is the expense of removing
the old oil palm and planting new seedlings, and
second there is a lengthy period of lost productiv-
ity. As the new seedlings will produce no fruits for
the rst three to four years so the plantation owner
would have no income but still would need to man-
age the growing young oil palm. After three to four
years, the oil yield will gradually rise to reach peak
output by 8-10 years. This scenario makes it a costly
Source: Data from MPOB (2013).
Figure 3. West (peninsular) Malaysia has historically tended to have higher palm oil yields that East Malaysia but the yield gap between the two
regions has widened since 2008.
t ha-1
MALAYSIA: Regional Palm Oil Yields
West Malaysia East Malaysia
decision even for a large commercial plantation to
embark on replanting, but for a smallholder who
may only have 5-10 ha of oil palm that are all at the
same age the income loss from replanting can poten-
tially be disastrous.
The Malaysian government is now addressing
this problem and in 2013, it committed USD 135
million to facilitate a national replanting programme
that is particularly targeted at smallholders (USDA,
2012). The government has estimated that 365 000 ha
of mainly smallholder oil palms are 25-37 years old,
which means that they are well beyond their normal
productive lifetime. The aim is to replace 100 000 ha
of ageing oil palm per year by providing grants to
smallholders for the replanting costs plus an annual
allowance of USD 1884 for the rst two years of zero
productivity. It is hoped that the larger commercial
plantations will also replant a further 100 000 ha
yr-1 so that by 2018 one million hectares will have
been replanted. If this can be achieved, and with the
conservative assumption that new oil palm capable
of 5-6 t ha-1 replace the ageing stock producing 2-3 t
ha-1, this could result in an additional oil yield in the
region of three million tonnes in Malaysia by 2020.
This >10% increase in yield can be readily achieved
without converting any new land to oil palm and
only relies on currently available varieties. In reality,
much higher yielding varieties will be available
from breeding programmes so there is even greater
potential to increase Malaysia palm oil yields in the
coming years.
The replanting issue that is currently such an
urgent problem in Malaysia will also eventually
aect Indonesia, which is an even larger palm oil
producer. Many plantations in Indonesia were
installed during a comparatively brief period,
meaning that they will also require replacement,
and consequent loss of income for growers, at about
the same time. The situation in Indonesia will be
exacerbated by the far larger proportion of oil palm
cultivated by smallholders compared to Malaysia.
Smallholders account for about 40% of the oil palm
area in Indonesia and over the next decade as much
as 500 000 ha yr-1 will require replanting. It would
therefore be prudent for the Indonesian government
to use some of the considerable revenues it is now
receiving thanks to a buoyant palm oil market to
set aside funds for a large-scale national replanting
programme in the early 2020s. Such a scheme, which
would have a guaranteed bonus in generating
higher oil yields, could also reduce future pressures
to convert pristine habitats to oil palm plantations.
Failure to implement oil palm replanting will mean
declining yields in the coming decade and, given
the likelihood of continuing international demand
for palm oil, impoverished smallholders might
well be encouraged to embark on a new round of
ecologically undesirable land conversion.
Addressing Sustainability Criteria
It is beyond the scope of this article to address
sustainability criteria in detail. However, the wider
environmental impacts of all forms of agriculture,
including oil palm cultivation, are rightly of
considerable public concern and must be taken
into account in future planning. Probably the major
concern about oil palm is the ongoing expansion
of the crop area, especially into environmentally
sensitive regions such as pristine rainforest and deep
peat soils. As outlined above, in the medium-term
the need for such land expansion can be considerably
reduced by the yield benets that can be brought
about by breeding and improved management. In
the shorter-term, eorts should be made to avoid
environmentally sensitive areas as much as possible.
In addition, where land conversion does occur the
impacts on wildlife should be mitigated by the
inclusion of refuges and transit corridors.
The main areas of concern in this regard are in
Indonesia and some parts of the Malaysian Borneo.
As these two countries produce the vast majority of
global exports of palm oil, it is in their joint interest
to ensure that valid environmental concerns are
addressed, for example by encouraging growers to
join certication schemes such as RSPO (Roundtable
on Sustainable Oil Palm, To a great
extent, the larger commercial plantation companies
that are already focussed on international trade have
both the means and the incentive to improve their
sustainability status. However, a major additional
challenge in some regions will be to meet RSPO or
similar criteria while still facilitating the economic
development of the estimated three million oil palm
smallholders worldwide who face real diculties in
complying with such schemes (ZSL, 2013).
It is in the interests of the oil palm industry
as a whole to try to address these issues together,
rather than on a piecemeal company-by-company
or region-by-region basis. For example, the poor
image of palm oil presented by some NGO has
led to an increasing trend in some parts of Europe
for boycotts of oil palm products by both retailers
and consumers. Such blanket bans show that there
tends to be no dierentiation between ‘good’ and
‘bad’ sources of palm oil and the entire sector ends
up being tarred by poor practice in a few areas. It is
also both logistically dicult and expensive to begin
segregating a globally traded commodity like palm
oil on the basis of provenance unless the market is
prepared to oer a signicant premium, which is
unlikely given the current economic circumstances.
There has been some progress in addressing
environmental issues over the past few years but,
given the very real potential for further increases in
palm oil production, it is highly desirable that this
huge global industry, which is worth over USD 50
Journal of oil Palm research 26 (1) (march 2014)
billion annually, should collectively redouble its
eorts to address sustainability and public image
issues as a matter of priority.
In this article, we have seen that there are powerful
drivers for the continued expansion of demand
for palm oil in the mediums to long-term future.
In 2013, a global area of about 15 million hectares
produced 65 million tonnes of palm mesocarp +
kernel oils. Forecasting future levels of demand for
any commodity is always challenging but estimates
from reliable sources predict requirements of about
77 million tonnes palm oil by 2018 (FAO) and
between 93 and 156 million tonnes by 2050 (Corley,
2009). Therefore, it can be condently predicted that
global demand will remain high and that there will
be sustained pressure for yield improvements and
additional land conversion for decades to come.
Given these projections, it would be prudent for the
sector to invest signicantly right now in priority
R&D areas like yield and oil quality and to address
management-related issues such as environmental
impact, product image, tree replanting, labour
supply and mechanisation.
Some of these measures could have a signicant
impact on output within the next ve years. For
example, if the planned replanting programme
in Malaysia is carried out, it could deliver an
additional annual yield of 5 million tonnes palm oil
without the need to use any more land. If some of
the best existing experimental breeding material,
which could theoretically yield 8-10 t ha-1, can be
developed for commercial planting throughout the
sector then yield could be increased by 50% or more.
This could deliver as much as 30 million tonnes
more oil per year again without requiring further
land conversion. Further into the future, there is the
prospect of additional yield gains by using modern
breeding technologies to produce fruits with a higher
oil content and dwarf oil palm that bear more fruit
and are easier to harvest mechanically. At present,
we cannot quantify the benets of such biological
innovations but they could potentially deliver tens
of millions of tonnes of additional oil.
Although, it should be possible to produce a lot
more palm oil by increasing the crop yield, we should
also accept that some additional land conversion
will be necessary, particularly in the short-term.
Providing this is carried out in an environmentally
responsible manner there are benets from
diversifying oil palm cultivation into other regions of
the world. For example, a more dispersed cropping
area will be more resilient to threats from climatic
factors or locally adapted pests and pathogens. In
this respect, the current concentration of >85% of
global palm cultivation in one geographical area
(Malaysia/Indonesia) is not ideal. The expansion
of cultivation into suitable areas of West Africa and
South/Central America that is now underway will
create a more secure production system in the longer
Currently, the three major centres of oil palm
cultivation in Central/South America are Colombia,
Ecuador and Honduras with a collective annual
output of 2 million tonnes oil. According to IIASA
estimates, these three countries and Peru have some
modest potential to expand cultivation but by far the
largest new prospective area is in Brazil. Oil palm is
more suitable as a crop in low elevation regions in
the humid tropics and can even tolerate the highly
acidic non-forest soils of Amazonia (Butler and
Laurance, 2009). In Brazil, an estimated 32 million
hectares (excluding rainforest) are suitable for oil
palm production (EMBRAPA, 2010), which is more
than double the entire global crop area at present. In
contrast to South-east Asia and parts of West Africa,
the vast majority of this possible expansion into oil
palm in South America would be on grassland or
planted pasture with very little forest conversion
(Pacheco, 2012). Conversion of such land would
therefore have a lower impact on biodiversity and
other sensitive environmental indicators that the
conversion of tropical forest.
West Africa is the historical home of the
commercial oil palm plant and, prior to the 1960s,
Nigeria in particular was a globally dominant
producer of palm oil. Since then, civil conict
coupled with poor investment and management of
the largely smallholder dominated industry meant
that palm oil production declined until by 2000,
it was unable even to met local demand and the
country became a net importer of edible oils (Ugbah
and Nwawe, 2008). However, the same buoyant
international demand for palm oil that is driving
land conversion in Central/South America is now
fuelling increasing investment in replanting disused
plantations or establishing new plantations in
several parts of West and Central Africa. A great deal
of this expansion will be required simply to meet
local requirements for vegetable oil that is currently
imported at considerable expense from abroad. For
example, in 2010, Africa imported 2.4 million tonnes
palm oil, mostly from Malaysia, despite its potential
capacity to produce this amount of oil, and much
more, locally. For example, it is estimated that a
staggering 24 million hectares could be potentially
used to grow oil palm in Nigeria alone (Business
Day, 2013).
In terms of climate and agronomy, another
promising region for new oil palm cultivation in
Africa is in the Congo river basin (Persson and
Azar, 2010). Plantation companies are also steadily
acquiring land in other parts of Africa (Global
Forecasting Service, 2011). Some idea of the scale of
these acquisitions can be seen from the following
gures of land purchases or leases by overseas
companies – note that the list is only a sample of the
total land being acquired: Congo DR – 1 080 000 ha;
Liberia – 600 000 ha; Gabon – 205 000 ha; Nigeria
– 110 000 ha; Congo, R – 110 000 ha; Sierra Leone
100 000 ha; Cote d’Ivoire – 55 000 ha; Cameroon –
40 000 ha (Carrere, 2010). In 2013, it was estimated that
at least 1 million hectares in the region was currently
available for conversion to oil palm plantations.
Investors include a variety of overseas oil palm
businesses based in South-east Asia and Europe as
well as USD-based investment companies. There are
also ongoing multi-billion investments by overseas
companies in new oil palm infrastructure, such as
processing plants, port facilities and transport links.
For example, in 2013 the French-based SIFCA Group
announced plans to spend USD 417 million on
plantations and processing plants in Ghana, Nigeria
and Liberia.
Therefore, it is clear that over the next decade,
West and Central Africa will emerge alongside
Central/South America as a major producer of palm
oil, initially for local consumption but eventually
for export to global markets. Between them, West/
Central Africa and Central/South America have the
capacity to convert well over 30-40 million hectares
to oil palm with a current yield potential of 130-
170 million tonnes oil and much more than that if
the expected increases in crop yields are realised.
It is highly unlikely that such a vast area, which is
more than double the present oil palm area, will
be converted. However, even if only a quarter of
this land is changed to oil palm plantations, these
regions could be producing as much as 50-60 million
tonnes oil by 2025. This is close to the present global
total and demonstrates that a doubling of palm oil
production in the next few decades is quite feasible.
The oil palm industry faces many challenges in
the future. However, the tools to surmount these
challenges already exist and have the potential
to further transform this historic crop into a truly
global source of nutritious food and valuable non-
food products for the growing world population.
We can look forward to an extension of oil palm
cultivation right across the tropics of Africa, Asia
and the Americas with higher yielding varieties that
have improved oil compositions. A redesign of crop
architecture and improved pest/disease tolerance
could also facilitate its management and processing.
If these and other measures can be undertaken,
increased palm oil output could more than meet
the highest projections for future vegetable oil
requirements and might even displace some of the
less ecient temperate oilseed crops.
I wish to thank the two anonymous referees for their
useful and constructive comments on this article.
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... CABI Agriculture and Bioscience (2022) 3:59 area required to produce a given quantity of oil (Jackson et al. 2019;Yan 2017), and results in lower per-tonneoil impacts on biodiversity than alternative crops (Beyer and Rademacher 2021). Nevertheless, recent increases in total palm oil production have occurred through plantation expansion rather than intensification (Basiron 2007;Carter et al. 2007;de Vries et al. 2010;Jackson et al. 2019;Mohd Basri & Mohd Arif, 2009;Murphy, 2014;Woittiez et al. 2017), driving extensive tropical deforestation, and associated biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions (Carlson et al. 2013;Curtis et al. 2018;Fitzherbert et al. 2008;Gaveau et al. 2014;Vijay et al. 2016). ...
... We found that the majority of variation in yield that we could explain was due to differences among plantations, but we were unable to examine the environmental and management factors that could have driven this variation. These factors could have included oil palm cultivar, effectiveness of plantation-level management, pests and pathogens, soil type and properties, local topography and pollination efficiency (Barcelos et al. 2015;Murphy 2014;Teo 2015;Woittiez et al. 2017). Previous studies have also identified management as the most important determinant of yield among plantations and/or fields, rather than environmental factors (Euler et al. 2016;Hoffmann et al. 2017). ...
... The plantations in this study would be expected to be subject to the same company-wide management directives, but it is possible that the application of these directives varied among plantations. Frequency of harvesting is a key determinant of yield, because long harvesting intervals reduce the total ripe FFB harvested by allowing some to rot, and labour available for harvesting is limited in Malaysia (Cock et al. 2016;Donough et al. 2009;Euler et al. 2016;Murphy 2014). The state of Sarawak, in East Malaysia, has reported 15% yield losses owing to rotting of unharvested FFB (Murphy 2014). ...
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... According to Casson (1999), 3 factors led to the expansion of PO plantations in the country. First, CPO's efficient production was mainly triggered by its non-stop yield every year, influenced by cheap labor costs, massive lands, tropical climate, and soil conditions (Li, 2018;Prabowo et al. 2017;Santoso, 2008;Murphy, 2014). Second, oil demands both domestically and internationally significantly contributed to the growth of PO plantations, which lured incredible domestic and global investments to this sector. ...
... Interestingly, vegetable oil manufactured from PO continues to attract business expansion (Budidarsono et al., 2013;SPI, 2011;Santoso, 2008). Indonesia and Malaysia account for approximately 90% of world exports of CPO (Hamilton-Hart, 2014;Tsujino et al. 2016;Obidzinski et al., 2014;Jiwan, 2013;Murphy, 2014). Demands from the new emerging markets, such as China and India, are likely to stimulate its expansion in the following years. ...
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In countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil is a strategic commodity. A wide variety of products are made from palm oil, including food, cosmetics, as well as biodiesel production. It generates export revenues and helps many economies, especially Indonesia and Malaysia. The production of oil palm is influenced by both the changing climate and the prevalence of pests and diseases. Ganoderma boninense, the white rot fungus, is presently recognised as a significant barrier to the hugely profitable oil palm industry, especially in Southeast Asia and the rest of the production regions. The objective of this review is to examine the impact of G. boninense on oil palm production as induced by climate change. According to the findings of this review, when temperatures rise by 1-4 °C, oil palm yield declines by 10-41% and causes water stress in the palms. Ganoderma basal stem rot affects different parts of palm trees, resulting in a decrease in fresh fruit bunch yield as well as ecological and economic damage. G. boninense affects oil palm more noticeably in Malaysia and Indonesia, resulting in economic losses to farmers and reduced revenue to governments. Climate change projections indicate that G. boninense will have a greater impact on oil palm in the future, particularly from 2050 onwards. In Sumatra, some parts of Malaysia, and other oil palm growing regions, G. boninense is predicted to have a 41-100% impact by 2100. This study recommends appropriate selection of planting area, planting improve variety, best soil management practices, biological control, and the application of biotechnology. These will help in planning for climate change as well as the control and management of G. boninense.
... Vegetable oil in the world comes from several plants such as oil palm, soybean, sunflower, and rapeseed. Among other oil crops, oil palm is the most efficient crop in oil production, land management, harvesting, and processing (Murphy 2014). Oil palm can produce two types of oil, namely crude palm oil (CPO) from fruit mesocarp and palm kernel oil (PKO) from palm kernel. ...
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The quality of CPO (Crude Palm Oil) is determined by the Free Fatty Acid (FFA) with the standard value below 5%. High FFA in CPO will cause further difficulties due to low refining rate and quality like rancidness and odor. The objective of this research was to determine the factors that affect the FFA content in CPO. This research was conducted from January until April 2021. Fruit samples were collected from BKLE and PNRE East Kotawaringin and analyzed to Analytical Laboratory PT BGA. The FFA value was determined using the titration method according to Indonesian National Standard (SNI). Based on this research, several factors such as rat and moth attacks, fruit maturity, fruit handling, and delayed delivery to the palm oil mill affected the FFA value. These factors caused an increase in the FFA value up to 41.10%‒204% compared to the average FFA value is only 0.77%‒1.29%. Therefore, minimizing the pre‐processing problem will reduce the potential of FFA value increment so that good quality CPO can be obtained. Keywords: fruit handling, fruit maturity, pest attack, titration method
... and Elaeis oleifera (Kunth) Cortés comprise the two only species of this genus. The first one is the African oil palm, a crop of great commercial importance and source of the largest share of vegetable oil consumed in the world [1,2]. The second one is the American oil palm, native to and widely distributed in the Central and Northern regions of South America [3]. ...
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In this study, we used SNP markers to access the genetic components occurrence of genetic differentiation resulting from the selection processes applied to collect and maintain the germplasm bank of Elaeis oleifera (Kunth) Cortés from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. A set of 1667 higher quality SNPs—derived from a previous GBS study—was used for genomic characterization and calculation of genetic parameters. There is differentiation in the distribution of alleles between populations for 78.52% of the tested loci. Genotypic diversity test results indicated strong evidence of genotypic differentiation between populations. Sixteen out of the nineteen tested deviated significantly from the expected allele frequencies in HWE, reinforcing the hypothesis that there was maybe a selection in the evaluated populations. A group of 568 loci with a higher probability of being under selection effects were selected, both directional and stabilizing. In total, 1546 and 1274 SNPs aligned in the genomes of E. oleifera and E. guineensis Jacq., respectively. These markers showed a wide distribution throughout the genome of the two species. In conclusion, the E. oleifera GB from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest has specific genetic structures and good genetic variability within populations.
... Oil palm is a particularly appealing crop for biofuel, food, and chemical production due to its higher oil yield per hectare relative to other oil producing crops (Murphy, 2014). For example, soybean oil is the second most consumed vegetable oil worldwide but requires 10 times the land area of oil palm (≈90 Mha) to produce an equivalent oil yield, highlighting the economic and livelihood benefits of oil palm cultivation (Basiron, 2007). ...
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The rhizosphere microbiome is a major determinant of plant health, which can interact with the host directly and indirectly to promote or suppress productivity. Oil palm is one of the world’s most important crops, constituting over a third of global vegetable oil production. Currently there is little understanding of the oil palm microbiome and its contribution to plant health and productivity, with existing knowledge based almost entirely on culture dependent studies. We investigated the diversity and composition of the oil palm fungal microbiome in the bulk soil, rhizosphere soil, and roots of 2-, 18-, and 35-year old plantations in Selangor, Malaysia. The fungal community showed substantial variation between the plantations, accounting for 19.7% of community composition, with compartment (root, rhizosphere soil, and bulk soil), and soil properties (pH, C, N, and P) contributing 6.5 and 7.2% of community variation, respectively. Rhizosphere soil and roots supported distinct communities compared to the bulk soil, with significant enrichment of Agaricomycetes, Glomeromycetes, and Lecanoromycetes in roots. Several putative plant pathogens were abundant in roots in all the plantations, including taxa related to Prospodicola mexicana and Pleurostoma sp. The mycorrhizal status and dependency of oil palm has yet to be established, and using 18S rRNA primers we found considerable between-site variation in Glomeromycotinian community composition, accounting for 31.2% of variation. There was evidence for the selection of Glomeromycotinian communities in oil palm roots in the older plantations but compartment had a weak effect on community composition, accounting for 3.9% of variation, while soil variables accounted for 9% of community variation. While diverse Mucoromycotinian fungi were detected, they showed very low abundance and diversity within roots compared to bulk soil, and were not closely related to taxa which have been linked to fine root endophyte mycorrhizal morphology. Many of the fungal sequences showed low similarity to established genera, indicating the presence of substantial novel diversity with significance for plant health within the oil palm microbiome.
... A consensus has been reached that this demand can be met by improving yields, increasing sustainable production practices, and expanding plantations that prevent the conversion of high conservation value areas. Scientific knowledge plays a fundamental role in addressing this global challenge by improving our understanding of interactions between oil palm (OP) and surrounding landscapes and developing technology and better practices for several different locations (Hoffmann et al., 2017;Murphy, 2014). ...
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Oil palm plantations face important challenges in terms of balancing agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. This research synthesis aims to answer key questions regarding the state and knowledge gaps of oil palm (OP) research and technological development (R&D) at a global scale, in Latin America and in Mexico, using all Web of Science® databases and agriculture categories and time spans between 1960 and 2018. Three thousand nine hundred and forty-eight publications were analysed. The research themes started with the generation of agronomic knowledge in 1960. Since 1963, studies in Latin America have focused on yield improvement; since 2010, topics related to agroecology, product quality, health issues, biodiversity, conservation impacts, and biofuel uses have been widely integrated, although some relevant themes are lacking. In addition, considering the high domestic demand for crude palm oil and great available natural resources, few Mexican institutions have participated in publications registered in Web of Science (WOS) on this topic. This research proposes a quick exploratory and reliable instrument for evaluating the agronomic interest of any agricultural production system.
... Recent reports revealed that a large peatland area in the Riau region had been cultivated by oil palm plantations (Ramdani and Hino 2013;Adrianto et al., 2020), ranked Riau as the largest holder and producer of oil palm plantation over the country (BPS, 2021). Despite its importance as a profitable and efficient oil producer that outperformed other crops (Murphy, 2014), oil palm transformed the peat landscape (Sayer et al., 2012) and was believed to aggravate a considerable amount of C emission from peat Page et al., 2011). Since CO2 emission from drained tropical peatland is recognized as a pivotal part of the global C cycle (Sjögersten et al., 2014), the research that encompasses peat respiration in this area must be conducted. ...
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The amount of CO2 gas emissions in drained peatland for oil palm cultivation has been widely reported. However, the research addressing the contribution of litter respiration to peat and total respiration and its relationship with several environmental factors is found rare. The aim of this study was to measure peat and heterogeneous litter respiration of drained tropical peat in one year at a distance of 2.25 m and 4.50 m from mature oil palm trees of 14 years using the chamber method (Licor Li-830). In addition to CO2 efflux, we measured other environmental parameters, including peat temperature (10 cm depth), air temperature, groundwater table (GWL), and rainfall. Results showed that the mean total peat respiration (Rt) was 12.06 g CO2 m-2day-1, which consisted of 68% (8.24 g CO2 m-2day-1) peat (Rp) and root (Rr) respiration and 32% (3.84 g CO2 m-2day-1) of litter respiration (Rl) at the distance of 2.25 m from the palm tree. Meanwhile, at a farther distance, the Rt was 12.49 g CO2m-2day-1, the contribution of Rp was 56% (6.78 g CO2 m-2day-1), and Rl was higher than the closest distance (46%; 5.71 g CO2 m-2day-1). Thus, one-year observation resulting the mean Rt and Rr was 0.07–0.08 Mg CO2 ha-1 day-1, while Rl was 0.04–0.06 Mg CO2 ha-1 day-1. The means of Rt, Rp, and Rl were significantly different in the dry season than those recorded in the rainy season. The climatic-related variable such as peat and air temperature were chiefly governing respiration in peat under mature oil palm plantation, whereas the importance of other variables present at particular conditions. This paper provides valuable information concerning respiration in peat, especially for litter contribution and its relationship with environmental factors in peatland, contributing to global CO2 emission.
... Of the major world commodities, oil palm provides the highest world average oil yield at 3.5 t ha 21 yr 21 as much as $ 5-fold higher than the other crops-coconut oil (0.3 t ha 21 yr 21 ), rapeseed (0.75 t ha 21 yr 21 ), and soybean (0.56 t ha 21 yr 21 ) [6,7]. Being the most productive, and bearing a potential yield capacity over 10 t ha 21 [8], the crop is of better advantageous to society for being able to afford not just food security, but also energy security which has been primarily relying on unsustainable and polluting fossil resources. ...
Understanding oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) value chain is important to project it not only as a commodity but also as a sustainable source for biofuel (first- and second-generation) deployment. The tree owns only ~10% palm oil with the rest as oil palm biomass. Deploying biofuels in replacing unsustainable conventional fuels has received global attention. As palm oil is used mainly as a food source, about 40% of the total palm oil produced is freed as biofuel feedstock for the national biodiesel program implementation and for export market. There is also potential to grow microalgae using palm oil milling wastewater to complement palm oil as a biodiesel feedstock. Life cycle sustainability assessment is essential to address the marketability and competitiveness of the derived biodiesel. This chapter (part I) focuses on the first-generation biofuel derived from palm oil and advanced biofuel from microalgae. The related policy, issues, and challenges faced are discussed while the supply chain optimization is assessed via life cycle assessment tool.
Catanionic surfactant, a new class of surfactant formed by anionic and cationic surfactants, exhibits superior properties compared to their single-parent surfactant. The solid-phase catanionic surfactant systems undergo polymorphism at elevated temperature. In aqueous solution, catanionic surfactant systems are able to form aggregates at low concentration and self-aggregate into various shapes such as micelles, bilayers, vesicles, etc. This ability provides huge potential applications in various areas, especially as drug delivery system in the pharmaceutical sector. Of many studies in mixed surfactants systems, the development of palm-based catanionic surfactant systems has not been investigated extensively. Palm-based anionic surfactant is mixed with cationic surfactants to form a catanionic surfactant system with improved properties. This chapter reviews the properties of palm-based catanionic surfactant systems in both solid phase and aqueous phase. The potential applications of these catanionic surfactant systems are discussed.
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We performed RNA sequencing of fruit from three normal and three mantled (somaclonal variant affecting flower development) oil palm plants using a 454 pyrosequencer. The three normal fruit samples were combined and sequenced, generating 237 748 reads. The three mantled fruit samples were combined and sequenced giving 231 438 reads. The reads were assembled into 13 984 sequences that were clustered into 10 218 genes or gene families. This paper describes the generation of this transcriptome database and includes annotation of these genes from Blast2GO and blast results against the Arabidopsis protein database as well as identification of putative transcription factors. In addition to this, the expression values for each gene sequence of the normal samples are presented. This dataset will be of use to anyone working in oil palm genetics.
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We chose an Elaeis interspecific pseudo-backcross of first generation (E. oleifera x E. guineensis) x E. guineensis to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for fatty acid composition of palm oil. A dense microsatellite linkage map of 362 loci spanned 1.485 cM, representing the 16 pairs of homologous chromosomes in the Elaeis genus from which we traced segregating alleles from both E. oleifera and E. guineensis grandparents. The relative linear orders of mapped loci suggested the probable absence of chromosome rearrangements between the E. oleifera and E. guineensis genomes. A total of 19 QTL associated to the palm oil fatty acid composition were evidenced. The QTL positions and the species origin as well as the estimated effects of the QTL marker alleles were in coherence with the knowledge of the oil biosynthesis pathway in plants and with the individual phenotypic correlations between the traits. The mapping of chosen Elaeis key genes related to oleic acid C18:1, using intra-gene SNPs, supported several QTLs underlying notably FATA and SAD enzymes. The high number of hyper-variable SSR loci of known relative linear orders and the QTL information make these resources valuable for such mapping study in other Elaeis breeding materials.
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Compressed wood, which is formed by a process that increases the wood's density, aims to improve its strength and dimensional stability. Compressed wood can be used in building and construction, especially for construction of walls and flooring. Currently, supplies of wood are becoming limited, and the oil palm tree has become one of the largest plantation species in Malaysia. Oil palm trunk could be an appropriate choice for an alternative source for compressed wood. This paper aims to review the current status of oil palm biomass, including the availability of this tree, in order to illustrate the potential of oil palm biomass as an alternative source for compressed wood. Up to the present there has been insufficient information regarding the manufacturing conditions and properties of compressed wood from oil palm trunk. This paper will cover the background of compressed wood and the possibilities of producing compressed wood using oil palm trunk as a raw material.
The recent announcements of the breakthroughs in obtaining the oil palm genome sequence map herald a new chapter in oil palm genetic improvement. These breakthroughs will spur the further development of oil palm genomics. This article examines how genomics would impact plant and oil palm breeding. The knowledge derived from genomics research in terms of the DNA structure of a gene, how it functions and interacts with other genes to produce a trait, its homology and synteny of genes across species, and its derived tools, as well as linkage maps, gene discovery (candidate genes), and efficient markers, would allow new genes or alleles to be discovered and transformed into breeding populations to broaden their genetic base for further breeding. Marker-assisted selection (MAS) saves effort, time and space, and can be more efficient than field phenotyping. Cultivars from MAS for monogenic traits are available for a number of crops. MAS for quantitative traits has still to contend with quantitative trait loci (QTL) x environment interaction, QTL x host interaction, linkage, epistasis, inaccurate phenotyping and false positive linkage issues. Genetically modified (GM) cultivars are becoming more available with decreasing biosafety concerns and public misperceptions. The application of genomic knowledge and tools in oil palm breeding is hampered by the crop's long generation cycle, large space requirement for field testing, and consequently small population sizes and paucity of diverse uniform experimental lines to develop and validate the tools. Hope lies in the use of model species to expedite this. MPOB has developed a number of putative transgenics, trait-linked markers and QTL, but what is needed is for the private industry to validate them with their own genetic materials and their forte to translate them into cultivars. With the rapid pace of development in genomic science and technology and the increasing number of plantation companies having genomics capability, good collaborative efforts and strategic partnerships to develop these genomic tools for the plant breeder to derive superior cultivars cost-effectively and readily cannot be over-emphasised.
Recent advances in plant genomics and molecular biology have revolutionized our understanding of plant genetics, providing new opportunities for more efficient and controllable plant breeding. Successful techniques require a solid understanding of the underlying molecular biology as well as experience in applied plant breeding. Bridging the gap between developments in biotechnology and its applications in plant improvement, Molecular Plant Breeding provides an integrative overview of issues from basic theories to their applications to crop improvement including molecular marker technology, gene mapping, genetic transformation, quantitative genetics, and breeding methodology.
The palm family, consisting of over 2,500 species arrayed among ca. 200 genera, is the third most economically important family of plants after the grasses and legumes. Three palm species account for the large majority of the family’s economic importance: coconut (Cocos nucifera), African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), and date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Of the three, genomics has been least developed in the coconut, where molecular tools have largely been used to characterize germplasm, and, to a lesser extent, develop quantitative trait loci (QTL). Both date palm and oil palm have recently had their genomes sequenced. The application of genomic tools to these palm species will result in enormous advances in the genetic improvement of all three crops.
Oil palm, Elaeis guineensis Jacq. is an introductory crop to India to mitigate the gap in demand and supply of vegetable oil requirement of the country. Though utmost care is being taken to restrict the entry of any pest population along with the seed sprouts from the importing countries, still many pests are found to infest the crop causing yield losses. Few such pests are rhinoceros beetle, leaf web worm, psychid, slug caterpillar, scales and mealybugs. Except the leaf web worm, Acria sp. rests all are found to migrate from the local ecosystem. Most of these populations are found to migrate from other arecaceae palms like coconut, palmyrah and areca nut which are commonly seen in the adjoining areas of oil palm plantations. The loss estimation on the yields of oil palm due to the above pests was in the range of 20-30% extending to three years after attack. However, this is further found dependent on the management practices being taken by the farmers with restoration to the normal yield levels within few years of attack. The loss in the yields due to rhinoceros beetle was mainly due to the breaking of leaves at the petiole region where the pest attack is commonly seen. Nearly 25% yield loss is reported with the 50% breaking per palm. The pest which is common on coconut and palmyrah found migrating to oil palm due to more number of leaf production. Metarhizium anisopliae is found to act as good biological control agent causing green muscardine disease to all the stages of the pest. Psychid, Metisa plana and slug caterpillar, Darna catenatus which are reported to be minor pests of coconut, palmyrah and maize, found to cause heavy infestation on oil palm causing yield losses upto 50%. The causes of migration may be the existence of congenial conditions like low temperatures and high humidity in the oil palm plantation. The yield losses due to these migrant pests lead to instability on sustainability of the yield as well as cultivation and hence necessary to take good management practices.
The dominant role of Nigeria in world palm oil production and export up to the 1960s, at a time it depended almost entirely on wild grove exploitation, is examined. Over time the bulk production from the grove, which mainly constituted low-yielding dura materials, was inadequate to satisfy even domestic demand, leaving nothing for export. The Far East countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, which from the onset pursued more aggressive plantation establishments with improved high-yielding materials, were soon to relegate Nigeria to a distant third position in world palm oil production. Nigerian's efforts to meet domestic demand and have surplus for export, with various government policies and schemes to encourage plantation establishments and rehabilitation of groves right from the 1930s to the present are reviewed. The poor government policies and implementation strategies only resulted in a slow average growth rate of 4.7 percent for palm oil and palm kernel oil during the period. The need to step up production to a sustained plantings of up to 250,000 hectares per annum in line with the presidential initiative in order to meet domestic demands and go into export trade are discussed.