The KARMA of developing superior oil palms hybrids

Although well-known for efficient oil-bearing crop, the increasing demand of biofuel and edible fruit make the land expansion for planting the oil palms become inevitable. The used land primarily located on rainforest region, in long terms will threaten its existence as the reservoir of world’s oxygen. Thus, strategies should be implemented in order that the plantation done in such a sustainable way (still commercially viable but in the same time also environmentally friendly). One propose idea to produce an elite hybrid or crossing between superior plants to generate high yield of oil variety.

This idea has been taken into action when high-yield tenera hybrid generated from crossing between two variety (dura and physifera). Subsequent molecular research pinpoint single gene that largely responsible for high-yield oil phenotype which is the SHELL gene. The gene product has only charge in determining the fruit’s phenotype, so other visible phenotypes such as leaves look similar for all variety. If the breeders use traditional identification, this will take a long time and waste a lot of resources as they need to wait until the plants mature enough to produce fruit. Based on the information on SHELL gene, researcher has develop genetic marker to differentiate between oil palm’s variety and it is proven effective for early stages molecular identification. In addition, it also time and resources saving as the breeder do not to wait until later stage when the plants bear a fruit to identify the variety.

Researcher expects that the superior hybrid is able to identically-propagated through vegetative mechanism. This sort of multiplication do not involve meiosis and fertilization but using a tissue culture instead. Hence, the genetic profile of the progeny should be similar. However, identical genetic make-up is not directly translated into similar traits. Tissue culture derived from oil palms elythe hybrid generate a ranging oil yield phenotype and the trait do not consistently inherited using a single gene Mendelian Inheritance (which defy the previous finding as there is only one gene for that phenotype). Many speculates this is as the result of epigenetic mechanism occurred on the genome, but up until now, the exact mechanism remains elusive.

Using whole genome bisulfite sequencing, researcher is able to pinpoint a specific epigenetic alterations of the abnormal low-bearing oil plants. Taken into a more precise, hypo-methylation of splice site called as KARMA underpin the less-economically viable plants. The regions is heavily methylated in elite hybrid, but if the plants is propagated, the resulted progeny somewhat loss of the methylation. Hypo-methylation changes the splicing mechanism of the RNA transcript which in turn generated truncated protein product. Researcher is on the way to create a genetic marker to identify the extent of methylation of the KARMA region so that the low-bearing oil plants can be opted out as early as possible. This finding, perhaps is one of the efforts to enhance the productivity of the oil palms, so that the demands can be met using such agricultural intensification rather than keep expanding the plantation area.

This writing is based on this article:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature15216.html

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