Category Archives: 2017 Vol 29 Dec

THE OIL PALM INDUSTRY IN MALAYSIA: THRIVING WITH TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Arriving at this milestone after an illustrious century, the growth from an ornamental palm to a multibillion dollar commodity crop in Malaysia has been a remarkable journey for oil palm. From its humble beginnings in Malaya as a monoculture plantation crop in 1917, it has grown to occupy over 5.7 million hectares of land space by 2016, demonstrating the impact the crop has had on the country’s economy over the last 100 years. Its importance has led to many initiatives being implemented with a concerted effort to effectively develop and safeguard the posterity of the industry. In treasuring the past, engaging the present and charting the future, this review reflects briefly on the direction the industry has taken to reach this present state. The foresightedness of early players in the industry has helped thrust the industry forward by systematically building a rich resource within the country. As the industry matures, it is only natural for challenges to surface and there is a constant drive to manage public perception and to stay sustainable in order to remain competitive. In this respect, oil palm has followed in the footsteps of other crops in decoding its genome and simultaneously answering some long-standing questions about the biology of the oil palm. Efforts have also been devoted to automate and mechanise the industry as a solution to address the labour supply issue. Midstream and downstream sectors have experienced similar transformations in their operations as well. Essentially, the employment of these so-called transformative technologies which are the essence of the 4th Industrial Revolution are comparatively still at its infancy for this industry. However, as precision agriculture gains prominence and in keeping to Malaysia’s 2050 national transformation aspirations, we envisage that these disruptive technologies will be the driver of innovations in all sectors, especially oil palm.oil palm, technologies, sustainable, precision, agriculture.

DESIGNING THE OIL PALM OF THE FUTURE

In order to allow for future uninterrupted growth of the oil palm industry in Malaysia, there is a need to increase yield, value-addition of the oil and reduce production costs. The collection and exploitation of germplasm material is considered a major factor in contributing towards a tremendous impact on the Malaysian oil palm industry. Improved oil palm varieties with higher yields, good oil quality, compact in architecture, better adaptation to climate change and higher tolerance to diseases have been prioritised to meet future demands of the oil palm industry. It is only natural that biotechnology and bioinformatics have been identified as the core areas to expedite improvements to achieve these objectives. The use of a combination of conventional and molecular breeding approaches is useful as they open up new avenues for crop improvement and have the potential for producing novel oil palm varieties, in terms of sustainability and its contribution to human well-being.

THE OIL PALM GENOME REVOLUTION

Palm oil is a versatile vegetable oil that is a major contributor to the world’s edible oil market. The importance of the crop led to the use of biotechnology to better understand and further improve its performance. Initial efforts were focused on the identification of genes and markers associated with specific traits. Although these efforts provided some insights, they were unable to identify the causal genes and mutations relevant to the traits. The major advance came with the introduction of next-generation sequencing, which provided a cost-effective way to sequence the oil palm genome. The publication of the genome sequence in 2013 resulted in the identification of the SHELL, Virescens (VIR) and MANTLED genes. The genome sequence also accelerated the identification of genomic regions influencing other complex traits, such as height and fatty acid composition, and facilitated comparative genomics analyses. This review describes the developments of oil palm biotechnology research, and diagnostic assays for SHELL, VIR and MANTLED traits. The assays have practical applications in improving the efficiency of oil palm breeding and tissue culture. The genomics and epigenomics-based approaches have started to provide the necessary tools that will support the sustainable development of oil palm.

POST-GENOMIC TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF OIL PALM RESEARCH

For a century, Malaysia has been bestowed with oil palm as one of its economic drivers. In the recent decades, the industry witnesses a major breakthrough in oil palm research with the success of oil palm genome sequencing. The access to genome information opens a new door for the crop improvement towards higher yield and quality. Herein, we highlight the harnessing of this opportunity via genetic engineering, coalesced with transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics techniques to lay a foundation for comprehensive and systematic crop advancement programme. With the extensive complement of genes, promoters and constructs for oil palm, and the development of reliable transformation systems, genetic engineering programme has been embarked with an objective to fulfil and sustain the growing global need for oils and fats. The production of transgenic oil palm has been reported and this achievement has further created an opportunity towards genome editing. Spectrometry detection and measurement of oil palm biochemical components aided with chemometrics data interpretation further reinforce post-genomic investigation with in-depth understanding of oil palm biology. The availability of genetic engineering system and the application of omics platform on the genome-wide association study outlined in this article create an unprecedented prospect for oil palm improvement programme.

PALM OIL AND PALM KERNEL OIL: VERSATILE INGREDIENTS FOR FOOD APPLICATIONS

About 80% of the palm oil (PO), palm kernel oil (PKO) and their fractions produced globally are used for edible purposes. The unique solid content profile of PO, and its excellent oxidative stability, high nutritional value (free of trans fatty acids and cholesterols, and rich in micronutrients), and competitive price makes PO as one of the most utilised oils by food manufacturers. Being naturally semi-solid and stabilises in β’ polymorphic form which is required for good creaming and baking performances, PO is an excellent choice for the manufacture of cooking and baking fats such as margarine, shortenings and vanaspati. PKO which is derived from the flesh of the oil palm fruits’ kernel is high in lauric acid and has a sharp melting, a character suitable for use in confectionery fats. Fractionation of PO into palm stearin (POs) and palm olein (POo), and PKO into palm kernel stearin (PKOs) and palm kernel olein (PKOo) further enhances the usage of PO and PKO in foods. PO and POo, due to their high content of oleic acid and natural antioxidant (vitamin E) have excellent oxidative stability, hence, are a superior cooking and frying oil. POs which is available in a wide range of saturation level serves as a good hardstock for trans-free solid fat product formulations. Blending of POs with PKO or PKOo and liquid oils such as super POo, sunflower or soyabean oil produces solid fat products such as bakery margarine/shortening, table margarine/spreads, pastry/laminating fats of excellent functional, textural and storage properties. Interesterification further enhances the usage of palm products especially the hard POs. The hard POs can be interesterified with PKO or PKOo to produce hardstock that can be blended with liquid oils to get stable texturised solid fats of excellent consistency and low saturates content. PKOs and palm mid fraction are widely used as confectionery fats. PO, PKO and their products are also used in the manufacture of dairy, meat and coconut milk product analogs. Apart from its main usage as frying/cooking oil, POo can be used as salad oil. In their powdered form, PO, PKO and their fractions can be used in multiple application in convenience food preparation. Development of functional food or nutraceutical products from palm micronutrients such as tocotrienol-rich fraction, carotene, squalene and co-enzyme Q10 is also an in-thing. Utilisation of the high technology processes would further enhance the nutrition and health benefits, and applications of PO and its micronutrients in the food industry.

A REVIEW ON EXTRACTION PROCESSES OF LIGNOCELLULOSIC CHEMICALS FROM OIL PALM BIOMASS

Oil palm biomass (OPB) is a by-product derived from the oil palm industry; periodically available in the field during the replanting and pruning activities; and from the milling processes of palm oil. The biomass includes oil palm trunk (OPT), oil palm frond (OPF), kernel shell, oil palm empty fruit bunch (OPEFB), oil palm mesocarp fibre (OPMF), and palm oil mill effluent (POME). OPB is classified as lignocellulosic residues that typically contain cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin in their cell wall that can be converted into fine chemicals. These lignocellulosic chemicals have significant potential applications in food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries. A number of different types of extraction technologies have been developed; namely chemicals, physico-chemicals, biochemicals or the combinations of these processes. But as the methods that are environmental-friendly are the current trend, this article has its focus entirely on green technologies. This article comprehensively reviews the conversion of OPB into lignocellulosic chemicals with special attention on various extraction processes, followed by discussion on their special merits as well as their weaknesses. Sustainability for each of the process is also considered in detail in the discussion.

A REVIEW ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PALM OIL MILL EFFLUENT (POME) FINAL DISCHARGE POLISHING TREATMENTS

Raw palm oil mill effluent (POME) contains high amount of organic materials and residual oil that will impose high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD). It has a high acidic value, high total suspended solids (TSS) and is dark brownish in colour. Raw POME is a highly polluting wastewater and as such, it cannot be freely and/or directly discharged into any source of water or river without prior proper treatment. The treatment of raw POME is an important issue in palm oil mills and the method of treatment has attracted many researchers and non-governmental organisation (NGO) associated with environmental pollution. Owing to the more stringent effluent environmental regulations by the Department of Environment (DOE) Malaysia, research interest has recently shifted to the development of sustainable effluent polishing technologies. Therefore, it is perhaps worthwhile to look into a new viable and sustainable technology such as utilisation of renewable oil palm biomass as bio-adsorbents. This article reviews the development of polishing treatments for POME final discharge and further discusses the application of palm-based activated carbon for the treatment system. In conclusion, the integration system of conventional POME treatment with bio-adsorbents could be considered as a sustainable approach, thus solving environmental problems of waste disposal and pollution control for the oil palm industry.

LONG-TERM STORAGE OF OIL PALM GERMPLASM ZYGOTIC EMBRYO USING CRYOPRESERVATION

The MPOB germplasm collections from various parts of the world were planted mainly at MPOB Research Station, Kluang, Johor, Malaysia. The collections were maintained in the form of field gene bank. Conserving the genetic materials in ex-situ living collections requires high cost of maintenance, large land area and the palms are exposed to diseases and extreme weather conditions. Experiments were conducted to study the possibility of preserving oil palm tissues for long-term storage at ultra-low temperature (-196°C) in liquid nitrogen. This technique, known as cryopreservation requires lower cost of maintenance, lesser space and protects the genetic materials from pests and diseases. Oil palm seeds are intermediate between orthodox and recalcitrant. Oil palm seeds that have high levels of moisture lose viability when stored in liquid nitrogen. Experiments were conducted to study the possibility of cryopreserving smaller tissues such as oil palm zygotic embryos. Simple desiccation methods were applied to reduce the moisture levels of the embryos namely room temperature, laminar flow and silica gel. These methods were shown to be useful for zygotic embryos. Silica gel, however, is advantageous as it removes the moisture in relatively shorter period than the other two methods. The same approach has potential to be applied to cryopreserve oil palm pollen.

DISEASE EPIDEMIOLOGY AND GENETIC DIVERSITY OF Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. elaeidis, Cause of Fusarium wilt OF OIL PALM (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.)

Vascular wilt disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. elaeidis (Foe) has devasted oil palm in west and central Africa. This study investigates the spatial distribution of Foe, whereby non-random, clustered patterns of the disease were recorded in four separate plantations in Ghana; infection from tree to tree via elongating roots therefore plays a more significant role than aerial distribution by conidiospores, with management implications. Control of Foe with disease-resistant palm lines can depend on the genetic variability of Foe isolates. Twenty-two putative Foe isolates from several African countries, including Ghana, were obtained from oil palms in infected areas for phylogenetic analysis along with 19 fungal outgroups, using the TEF-1α gene. The data showed Foe isolates have a monophyletic origin, and therefore limited diversity. Palm adapted isolates of F. oxysporum appear to have evolved independently, as ff. spp. elaeidis, albedinis and canariensis were nested into three independent groups. Slowly developing (chronic) and fast, severe (acute) Fusarium wilt are both evident in plantations and we provide preliminary evidence that Foe isolates’ different aggressiveness might contribute to this variation. Sampling for Foe infection from xylem in extracted stem cores revealed the deficiency of field surveys based only on visual symptoms.

DETACHED LEAF ASSAY FOR in vitro SCREENING OF POTENTIAL BIOCONTROL AGENTS TO CONTROL GOOSEGRASS WEED (Eleusine indica)

Eleusine indica (goosegrass) is a hard to control tropical grass weed that thrives in open spaces with full sunlight and is one of the many weeds found in oil palm plantations in Malaysia. The use of biocontrol agents (BCA) to manage E. indica offers specificity and environmentally safer alternatives to chemical control and help reduces a widespread incidence of herbicide resistance. In vitro detached leaf assay has been carried out to screen for potential BCA to suppress the infestation of E. indica. A total of 190 fungi were isolated from the diseased parts of E. indica which originated from oil palm plantations and were tested for its potential as BCA. Leaves of E. indica were floated in vitro on a 0.5% w/v agar media supplemented with 100 μg ml-1 benomyl and inoculated with mycelial plugs of the isolated fungi. Four isolates namely G5S5, G5S1, G11S3 and G11L24 were observed to be pathogenic to the targeted weed in vitro, showing initial evidence as potential BCA to suppress E. indica.

QUALITY COMPLIANCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT OF COMMERCIAL EMPTY FRUIT BUNCH (EFB) PELLET FUEL IN MALAYSIA

Empty fruit bunch (EFB) is a potential feedstock for the commercial production of biomass pellet fuel. In this study, the fuel properties of EFB pellets collected from four production plants were examined and the impacts of pellets production to the environment were determined using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach. The fuel properties concerning moisture and energy content, bulk density and durability index were comparable to the European Standard (EN 14961-2) for solid biofuels except for the higher ash content i.e. > 6%. This high ash content contributed to the low energy content of the pellets. This was caused by contamination from soil and dirt, attributed due to poor handling of the raw material. The EFB pellets contained a high concentration of potassium, nitrogen, chlorine and sulphur compared to wood-based pellets. The presence of these elements affected biomass combustion at the furnace as well as emission generation. The Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) carried out showed that the main environmental impacts of the production of EFB pellets were fossil depletion, climate change and particulate matters emission. This was due to the plants’ heavy dependence on the grid-connected electricity. The results can be used to identify approaches in upgrading EFB pellets quality and reducing the associated environmental impacts.

REGENERATED SPENT BLEACHING EARTH FOR THE DECOLOURISATION AND BOD REDUCTION OF PALM OIL MILL EFFLUENT

The aim of the present study is to evaluate the possibility of re-using the regenerated spent bleaching earth, subjected to acid and heat treatment, to decolourise and reduce the biological oxygen demand (BOD) of the final effluent discharged from palm oil mills. Different types of clays namely spent bleaching earth that has been regenerated using acid and heat treatment after de-oiling (RDSBE-AH), spent bleaching earth (SBE), de-oiled spent bleaching earth (DSBE) and new bleaching earth (NBE) were characterised for their surface area, pore volume and functional groups. RDSBE-AH was found to have the highest surface area and pore volume when compared to the other three types of clays with values of 122.3 m2 g-1 and 68 cm3 g-1, respectively. In terms of decolourisation, RDSBE-AH exhibited a higher efficiency than NBE. Higher BOD reduction efficiency was found for NBE as compared to RDSBE-AH. The adsorption kinetic models on colour and BOD for both RDSBE-AH and NBE were well described by the pseudo-second order equation with very good coefficient of determination (R2). The results demonstrated that the regenerated SBE, produced through the combined acid and heat treatments, had the potential to decolourise and reduce the BOD of the palm oil mill’s final effluent discharge.

THE QUALITY OF OIL EXTRACTED FROM PALM PRESSED FIBRE USING AQUEOUS ENZYMATIC TREATMENT

A certain amount of crude palm oil (CPO) still remained in the palm pressed fibre (PPF) after going through the conventional milling processes. The use of aqueous enzymatic oil extraction (AEOE) was to recover the oil, hence, leading to the increase in oil extraction rate. With regards to the oil quality, the extracted PPF oil was analysed and compared to CPO using the MPOB Test Methods. From the results, the extracted oil contained high concentration of carotenoid (2750-2800 ppm) and vitamin E (930-950 ppm). Ironically, the quality was slightly lower than CPO, of which the values of deterioration of bleachability index (DOBI), free fatty acid (FFA) content and peroxide value (PV) were 1.12±0.12, 8.51±0.64% and 4.73±0.16 meq kg-1, respectively. With the exception of linolenic acid (C18:3), the fatty acid composition (FAC) of extracted oil was similar to CPO. Despite the oil quality, the use of an enzymatic route has the potential for the extraction of phytonutrient-rich oil from PPF.

SHORT COMMUNICATION: TOWARDS DEVELOPMENT OF Elaeis guineensis CHROMOSOME-ARM SPECIFIC MARKERS AND THEIR UTILITY ACROSS THE Elaeis GENUS

The development of Elaeis guineensis chromosome-arm specific markers is required for linking the genetic, sequence and chromosomal maps, valuable for comparative studies, hybridisation and breeding. Here, we aimed to develop strategies exploiting assembled short shotgun-sequence reads to identify markers for in situ hybridisation to identify arms and large-scale organisation of pseudo-chromosome 1. The conserved putative repetitive DNA sequence found through informatics analysis showed an extra intercalary band in one arm of pseudo-chromosome 1 in fluorescence the in situ hybridisation result. The results are a basis for establishing a North-South orientation of E. guineensis pseudo-chromosome. Furthermore, the ability of the newly developed markers for distinguishing both Elaeis species with in situ hybridisation showed their utility in identifying Elaeis hybrids.