Genetic Improvement of the Palm Oil Tree Through Assisted Biotechnologies Which Aim to Increase Productivity, Decrease Growth and Resist Fatal Yellowing

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The palm oil tree is, among the oilseeds, the most productive one, being able to reach an annual production of 10 tons/hectare in favorable conditions. The oil has many uses in food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, and is also considered one of the best oils to produce biodiesel. In 2010, worldwide production of palm oil, cultivated in 14,99 million hectares, was of 45,09 million tons, while the production of soy oil, cultivated in 102,38 million hectares, was of 39,76 million tons. Palm Oil Tree is currently the most important worldwide source of vegetal oil. Its Brazilian production represents approximately 0,6% of the world's production and thus isn't able to supply national demands, which is mostly destined to food industries. The country's current consumption reaches more than 500,000 tons/year of palm oil and 200,000 tons/year of palm kernel oil, while national production is inferior to 300,000 tons/year of palm oil and approximately 23,000 tons/year. Incentive programs for the production and use of biofuels may increase the palm oil demand, which is why there are governmental programs that promote the culture's expansion. However, secure, competitive and sustainable expansion depends on the solution of the culture's limiting problems in Brazil and in the entire American continent, such as plagues and diseases, inadequate use of fertilizers, limited genetic base of the cultivares, and the need to develop and evaluate cultivares which are adaptable to the culture's expanding ecosystems. The main threat currently is the fatal yellowing, a lethal anomaly whose causes are still unknown. After approximately four decades of research, the only alternative to circumvent the problem has been to explore the demonstrated resistance of the American species, the Elaeis oleifera, which is known in Brazil as Cajaué, and is transmitted to the interspecific hybrids obtained through crossbreeding. The caiaué also shows resistance to other plagues and diseases, and other traits of interest to the improvement of the palm oil tree, such as trunk growth and high levels of unsaturated fatty acids. Thusly, the interspecific improvement between the caiaué and the palm oil tree has been identified as the most important priority of Embrapa's palm oil tree improvement program. In order to reduce the costs and increase the efficiency of the evaluation and selection of the crossbreeds or the superior plants, the research hopes to develop assisted selection strategies which will be formulated from the information generated in genome studies and gene mapping through the use of molecular markers. This proposal has as general goals to develop and multiply in commercial scale the cultivares obtained through interspecific crossbreeding between the caiaué and the palm oil tree which are resistant to the fatal yellowing, show reduced vertical trunk growth and high productivity, and to tend to the supply demands of the national and Latin-American palm oil culture. Also, it hopes to increase Embrapa's genetic improvement program's efficiency, while developing in vitro multiplying procedures, assisted selection and plant transformation. The palm oil culture is a real occupation option to Amazonia's altered areas. The offer of high productivity genetic material, resistant to plagues and well adapted to the region's biotic conditions may contribute to the activity's sustainable growth, for food demands as well as renewable energy production.

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Ecosystem: Amazonic

Situation: Completed Start date: Tue Dec 01 00:00:00 BRST 2009 Conclusion date: Wed Nov 30 00:00:00 BRST 2011

Head Unit: Embrapa Eastern Amazon

Project leader: Carlos Alberto Costa Veloso

Contact: carlos.veloso@embrapa.br