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Pinoy Scientists Urged to Develop Genetically Modified Coconut
Written by Loren   
Friday, 11 September 2009

Filipino scientists were urged to develop genetically modified coconut to increase the production of lauric acid, a substance found mainly in coconut oil and is used in making soaps, insecticides and cosmetics.

Dr. Calixto Protacio of the University of the Philippines Los Banos’ Crop Science Cluster said the development of canola with a lauric acid content of 60 percent is threatening the Philippines’ lead in the oils market.

Protacio said local scientists should use the same biotechnological advances for GM canola in coconut, stressing that it offers the "fastest avenue for coconut improvement and makes it possible to target the gene(s) of interest."

Protacio called for urgent research to regain the competitive advantage of coconut oil over canola oil, which is derived from rapeseed boosted by a gene from the California bay tree and another gene from coconut to raise its lauric acid content from virtually zero to 60 percent.

He also said that coconut oil used to enjoy a monopoly of a segment in the oil and fats market, estimated at between two and three percent that could not be substituted with cheaper oils.

He added that coconut oil is difficult to substitute with other vegetable oils because it is mainly composed of medium chain fatty acids, the most dominant of which is lauric acid, which occurs at 49 percent level.

Lauric acid, a medium-length, long-chain fatty acid, is found in the form of glycerides in a number of natural fats, especially coconut and palm kernel. It offers advantages in food processing as it acts as a kind of preservative, staving off oxidation and spoilage.

"The six cloned genes for increasing the lauric acid content of coconut are languishing in a -80 degrees Centigrade freezer. They have not been introduced into any coconut cell culture to produce a transgenic coconut cell line," he said.

Protacio said that although a reproducible cell regeneration system is still lacking in coconut, some success in tissue culture research has been achieved over the years at the Albay Research Center of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

"Around 19 coconut palms derived from cell tissue culture from several experiments have been produced which are now growing in the field. However, the tissue culture method is not yet consistently reproducible. In contrast, tissue culture of palm oil has already been in existence since the 80s in Malaysia and a transgenic oil palm has already been reported," he said. [via]


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