Journal of Oil Palm Research Vol. 23  2011 August p.  1019-1028

Genomics and plant breeding

Author(s): SOH, A.C.*

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 costeffectively and readily cannot be over-emphasised.

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Author Information
* AAR-UNMC Biotechnology Research Centre, Jalan Broga, 43500 Semenyih, Selangor, Malaysia.

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