KUALA LUMPUR, 12 May 2009 – Sime Darby Bhd announced today that it has successfully deciphered the genetics of the oil palm, making it the world’s first company to achieve this scientific breakthrough.
The company’s success in deciphering the oil palm genetics – or in scientific terms sequencing, assembling and annotating the oil palm genome – is expected to bring multiple benefits to the oil palm industry.
Among the benefits are higher yields per hectarage, as well as crops that are disease resistant, drought tolerant and salinity resistant, among others.
Sime Darby President and Group Chief Executive Dato’ Seri Ahmad Zubir Murshid said that the breakthrough would lead to generation of new varieties of the crop and that would have the potential to double yields in the next three decades.
“By comparison, we now consider a 1% increase in oil yields an achievement,” he said. For the industry this success will also enable palm oil to take pole position in the global edible oils sector.
The sequencing, assembly and annotation of the oil palm genome will enable the identification of several markers or signatures that have the potential to bring several new benefits for the industry.
Some of these markers have the potential to accelerate the production of new varieties of designer oils, while others will make the crop more resistant to disease as well as more tolerant to drought and salinity. The markers will also enable the identification of planting materials that have greater capacity for assimilation of nutrients.
The breakthrough has been achieved through collaboration between Sime Darby Technology Centre (SDTC) and Synamatix Sdn Bhd, a bio-informatics company.
Research into the oil palm genome began in 2003 after Sime Darby recruited top notch biotechnologists and restructured the SDTC for biotechnology research. In November 2005, collaborative efforts on a project to analyze gene expression data began with Synamatix. It was during this time that the possibility of sequencing the genome was explored.
However, it was only in June 2008 when a feasibility study was successfully completed that Sime Darby decided to invest in the genome project. A month later, in July 2008, the Sime Darby and Synamatix researchers successfully sequenced the genome using the best available technique.
The genomic sequencing technology employed is based on an innovative system that enables the sequencing of DNA at ultra high speed, thus making it possible to produce highly accurate sequence information.
Sime Darby is the world’s first company to completely sequence, assemble and annotate the oil palm genome with 30 times coverage (repeated sequencing over 30 times) and with 93.8% completeness.
The breakthrough in sequencing the oil palm genome will have positive financial impact on not only on the Sime Darby Group but also the industry in the long-term. The revenue from oil palm-based operations is expected to increase significantly in the next three decades.
Dato’ Azhar Abdul Hamid, Managing Director of Sime Darby Plantation Sdn Bhd, said, “The potential revenue increase is significant but equally important is the fact that there are new possibilities open to the industry. With higher yields the use of palm oil for non-traditional purposes will not disrupt supply for food.”
Sime Darby expects to start planting the new varieties progressively.
As a responsible player in the world’s oil palm industry, Sime Darby will continue to strive for the betterment of the sector through collaboration with other parties in areas that fit into the Group’s overall business model.
In addition, Sime Darby is also committed to sustainable development in oil palm, as evidenced by its strong support for RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) principles and criteria as well as other world bodies involved in sustainable development.