Science Note: Palm Oil
Air Date: Week of July 26, 2013
The fruit of the oil palm looks like a coconut, with fruit on the outside of the shell and palm oil on the inside of the shell (Photo: Bigstockphoto)
A group of geneticists have found a gene responsible for palm oil yield, which could help make palm oil farming much more efficient in the tropics. Poncie Rutsch reports.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. In a minute, more trouble at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in Japan. But first this note on emerging science from Poncie Rutsch.
RUTSCH: Over half of the vegetable oil used worldwide in cooking, cosmetics, and cleaning comes from a tropical oil palm tree, that’s often planted on deforested land. The most popular oil palm species comes in three types, which yield different amounts of oil.
The oil palm kernels can grow a thick shell, and produce a small amount of palm oil. They can grow with no shells, and produce no fruit or oil. Or they can grow thin shells, and produce a lot of palm oil. But there was no way to tell which type a tree was until it grew large enough to bear fruit.
As early as the 1920s, breeders guessed that a single gene controlled both shell growth and oil yield. They called it the Shell gene. Now, a group of geneticists have found the Shell gene.
Rob Martienssen at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, worked with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board to complete the oil palm’s genome. They determined that by mapping the genome of the oil palm seed before planting, they could select only the trees with thin-shelled fruit – the ones that will yield the most palm oil.
The new discovery should enable palm oil farmers to produce the same amount of oil using fewer trees and less land.
That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Poncie Rutsch.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth