Can genome research on the palm tree help save endangered rainforests?

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An aerial view of oil palm plantations in Malaysia. The cultivation of the crop has lead to significant deforestation in Southeast Asia. (CREDIT: MPOB, via NYT)

You may have never set eyes on an oil palm tree, but it’s probably an intimate part of your everyday life. Whether you start your day with a shave or an application of lipstick, you are probably putting the oil from the tree’s fruits on your face. You buy a donut on the way to work, and with each bite, you swallow some of the palm oil in which it was cooked. After work, you stop at the supermarket, and about half the products on the shelves contain palm oil. Before bed, you scrub your face with soap and brush your teeth with toothpaste. They’re both palm oil’s way of wishing you good night.

On Wednesday a team of Malaysian and American scientists published a pair of papers in Nature on the genome of this profoundly important tree. In its 34,802 genes, they have been able to reconstruct millions of years of its evolution. They hope to use that knowledge to grow better trees that can yield more oil — and possibly reduce the pressure on the world’s remaining rain forests.

Read the full, original story here: Looking at Oil Palm’s Genome for Keys to Productivity

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