Category Archives: 2014 Vol 26 March

The Future of Oil Palm as a Major Global Crop: Opportunities and Challenges

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.

Investigation of Palm Fatty Acid Distillate Oil as an Alternative to Petrochemical-based Lubricants

The development and application of new sources of lubricant/hydraulic oils for industrial use are rapidly increasing. This study investigated the lubricant and hydraulic properties of palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) as a new, environmental-friendly and renewable source of lubricant and hydraulic oil in different loads and in a standard industrial manufacturing condition. A four-ball tribotester, digital microscope, charge-coupled device (CCD) camera and viscosity meter were used for the investigation. The experiments were done at constant speed (1200 rpm), temperature (75°C) and at running time (60 min), and under five different loading means, 200, 300, 392, 500 and 600 N. The main physical properties of PFAD: antiwear, anti-friction, flash temperature parameter, the coefficient of friction, wear scar diameter, viscosity and extreme pressure condition, were measured and the results obtained were compared to the physical properties of mineral lubricant/hydraulic oil. The results show that the PFAD oil has more lubricant abilities with regard to friction and wear than the commercial engine and hydraulic oils at various loadings.

Molecular Cloning and Regulation of Oil Palm (E. guineensis Jacq.) Phytoene Desaturase in Developing Mesocarp Tissues

Oil palm is one of the richest natural sources of carotene and therefore it is an interesting target for genetic modification for high value carotenoid products. Phytoene desaturase (PDS) catalyses the formation of one of the double bonds during the conversion of phytoene into lycopene. Introduction of an additional copy of pds could potentially increase plant carotenoid content. Moreover, pds is considered as a potential target of bleaching herbicide action and as a determinant of geometric isomer states of carotenoids. This article describes the isolation of cDNA clones coding for pds from oil palm. In this work, we have successfully obtained a 865 bp fragment through reversed transcriptase PCR (RTPCR) using degenerate primers. The sequence information of this initial fragment was subsequently used to obtain full-length coding region of oil palm pds. The clone is moderately identical to other plant pds sequences at about 80% identity. Realtime PCR analysis was carried out to study the expression of the gene in the developing oil palm mesocarp tissues. Results indicate that the gene is highly regulated during the course of oil palm fruit development. The expression is relatively high in the 19-week mesocarp tissues as well as in mature leaves at about 1.97- and 2.42-fold, respectively compared to the calibrator. A moderate expression level of about 1.5-fold was observed in 5- and 15-week mesocarp and young leaf (spear leaf) tissues. The results suggest that oil palm pds is highly regulated during fruit development probably to meet the demand for growth or storage.

Biological Aspects and Food Consumption of Oil Palm Fruit Scraper, Demotispa neivai (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae)

In Colombia, the beetle Demotispa neivai (Bondar) damages oil palm fruits, resulting in loss of yield and oil production. As little is known of important aspects of its biology, life cycle, biometrics and food consumption, important aspects of the biology of the species was studied. Experiments were conducted under laboratory conditions in the municipalit of Barrancabermeja, Santander, Colombia. Life cycle and description of developmental stages of D. neivai were determined, taking into account stage-specific survival. The duration of the life cycle of D. neivai was determined to be 269.91 ± 5.51 days, with an overall survival rate of 96.7%. Biometrical measurements were taken of the insect’s width, length and weight. Adults are red beetles, males and females being differentiated by size. The width, length and weight of insects were proportional to their growth stage. D. neivai has a consumption rate that increased with the growth of the insect but was reduced at the adult stage (Y = 0.001x6.2285, R2= 0.901). This insect’s life cycle and adult longevity, and size are factors that could be considered in determining its feeding habits and pest status in oil palm.

Extraction Methods for Analysis of Oil Palm Leaf and Root Proteins by Two-dimensional Gel Electrophoresis

Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) is an important crop in Malaysia, and as such, it has become the second largest export earner for the country. This study ventured into developing suitable gel-based proteomics methods for specific oil palm tissues with the aim of understanding its biological systems. An optimal procedure for extraction of proteins from oil palm root and leaf tissues was developed through evaluations and modifications of three existing methods. The TCA/acetone, phenol/ammonium acetate and chloroform/acetone protein extraction approaches were tested on the root and leaf tissues of oil palm. The total protein yields and resulting 2-DGE protein spot profiles revealed that TCA/acetone method is the most effective approach for both tissues. Thus, TCA/acetone method will be used to produce total proteins for downstream analyses by mass spectrometry.

Secondary Poisoning of Captive Barn Owls, Tyto alba Javanica through Feeding with Rats Poisoned with Chlorophacinone and Bromadiolone

The potential secondary hazards of two anti-coagulant rodenticides commonly used in Malaysian oil palm plantations were evaluated through feeding trials with captive barn owls. A total of 12 adult barn owls (six pairs) were assigned to two rodenticide treatments and a control. The two treatments were rats fed with bromadiolone (0.005% a.i) and chlorophacinone (0.005% a.i) respectively. All rodenticide treated owls received four poisoned rats at Day 1, 3, 5 and 7 and a non-poisoned rat on each intervening day for 30 days. Each barn owl of the control group received a non-poisoned rat throughout the study. The reliability of a non-invasive technique such as an estimation of anti-coagulant rodenticide residue in regurgitated pellets and blood samples, were also evaluated. Barn owls showed behavioural aberrations such as coarse breathing, frequent closing of the eyes and reduced flying activity as early as Day 5 after consuming three poisoned rats. The weight recorded at Day 7 after treatment showed that all treated owls registered a reduction in weight. The owls in the control group on the contrary gained weight. Bromadiolone and chlorophacinone were found to have high degree of toxicity on captive barn owls. After feeding the birds with as few as four poisoned rats in a week the signs of toxicity in birds such as haemorrhages (beak) and haematoma (wing) were found. This finding is very crucial since barn owls have been reported to consume up to three rats per night and this would certainly increase their potential exposure to lethal secondary poisoning. The detection of residue in the pellets regurgitated by barn owls can be used to indicate exposure of the latter to both compounds. However, as the blood residue method is limited to the exposure duration of the compounds, this technique can only detect recent exposure to bromadiolone and chlorophacinone. The amount of residue detected in the pellet samples for chlorophacinone was 69.9 to 81.6 μg per day or equivalent to 17.2% to 27.4% of the compound consumed and corresponding value for bromadiolone was 27.2% to 34.5% (72.24 – 85.77 μg per day). This suggests that the amount of bromadiolone retained in the tissue of the rats was higher than that of chlorophacinone. Thus, barn owls face a greater potential for secondary poisoning from bromadiolone rather than chlorophacinone as can be deduced from this study.

Response of Six Sources of Oil Palm Planting Materials from Malaysia Planted in the Eastern Plains of Colombia to Bud Rot

Bud rot (BR) is a disease caused by the oomycete Phytophthora palmivora, which affects oil palm plantations in Latin America. It is one of the most limiting factors in oil palm cultivation in the region. In order to evaluate the agronomic response of commercial cultivars of oil palm in Colombia, six Malaysian cultivars (M1 to M6) and three regional cultivars (R1 to R3) were planted in 2004 under two contrasting agronomic conditions in two locations (Barranca de Upía and Acacías) located in the Eastern Plains of Colombia, where there is disease remission of the palms. One of the parameters evaluated was the reaction of cultivars to BR. The response variables were the area under the disease progress curve (AUDPC) and time to disease remission (RT) in months. There were significant differences in AUDPC and RT among the cultivars planted at Barranca de Upía. However, at Acacias there were no significant differences among the cultivars. M5 and M6 were the Malaysian cultivars with lower incidence of BR at Barranca de Upía. At the same time, M6 was the material with the least time to remission.

Application of NIR Spectrometer for Oil Loss Monitoring in Palm Oil Mill

A faster determination method for oil content in the samples of pressed fibre, sludge, steriliser condensate and empty fruit bunches in palm oil mill processing points is needed to monitor and control the oil loss so that the oil extraction rate (OER) could be increased. The spectroscopic method is based on molecular overtone and combination vibration bands which are typically very broad in the near infrared (NIR) region that produces spectra that are too complex for direct interpretation of the oil content in biomass components. Now with the progress made by computer aided NIR technology, it has become possible to conduct complex analysis of the data captured by the NIR spectrometer. The objective of this study is to generate a series of calibration curves for the residual oil content in press fibre, palm oil sludge, steriliser condensate and empty fruit bunches, using direct laboratory analytical data as the reference data. These curves can be used by the industry with measurable level of accuracy to analyse the oil loss in the biomass component to help the millers to implement corrective action immediately to control oil losses.

Molecular Analysis of Transgenic Oil Palm to Detect the Presence of Transgenes

In order to meet the increasing demand of oleochemical industries, genetic engineering was initiated to modify the fatty acid composition of oil palm with the aim to increase the production of oleic acid to be used as a feedstock. Biolistic approach was used for inserting an antisense palmitoyl-ACP-thioesterase sequence into oil palm tissues to down regulate the activity of palmitoyl-ACP-thioesterase, and increase the accumulation of oleic acid at the expense of palmitic acid. Genomic DNA was isolated from transgenic oil palm and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of the, selectable marker gene (bar) and gene of interest, antisense palmitoyl-ACP-thioesterase, was successfully carried out. The presence of transgenes was confirmed by DNA sequencing.

Correlation of Microspore Nuclear Development with Male Inflorescence Morphology in Elaeis oleifera, Elaeis guineensis and the OxG Hybrid

Microspore nuclear stages of the Elaeis species and their OxG hybrid were examined and correlated with the respective male inflorescence morphology. Isolated pollen mother cells (PMC) and microspores obtained from squashed male flower buds were stained with blue fluorescent 4’,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) dye and observed with the Zeiss Axioplan epifluorescent microscope to determine their nuclear stages. The male inflorescence from both the Elaeis species and the (OxG) hybrid with a perfectly closed spathe, having whitish inflorescences and friable individual spikelets indicated that PMC activities were ongoing within the anthers of male flower buds. In E. guineensis, the whitish, pale yellow or light green spikelets with flexible texture obtained from a perfectly closed spathe appeared to be morphological markers for uninucleate microspores. For E. oleifera inflorescences, the colour varies from pale beige to umber brown with flexible spikelets, while the spathe varied from being perfectly closed to slightly open. The observed morphology indicated the presence of uninucleate microspores in E. oleifera. For the OxG hybrid morphological markers resembled that of E. oleifera. By staining a plethora of male flower buds from various oil palm male inflorescences, the meiosis and mitosis phases were also profiled.