Orion Genomics to revolutionize palm oil industry with DNA research

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Orion Genomics to revolutionize palm oil industry with DNA research

Related tags Seed Coconut

The privately owned biotech company opened in 1998 and has done extensive work in developing oncology diagnostic tests. But, the project making news now is set to change the way palm trees are grown in Malaysia.

Based in Saint Louis, Missouri, the Orion Genomics team has found a test for determining if a young palm tree will eventually produce fruit with a thick shell, a thin shell, or with no shell.

“Thin-shelled fruits yield 30 percent more palm oil, but until now, during the tree’s three decades of growth, it was unclear which trees would produce that type of fruit,” ​explains the riverfronttimes.com (a site covering news and events in the Saint Louis region).

A resourceful idea

The new test means that palm growers will be able to selectively plant the most productive trees, thereby saving time, energy, and resources. As it takes palm trees 30 years to reach maturity, quite a lot of land, work, and water have been going into low-yield trees.

Orion’s DNA-based test is being celebrated as an environmental win: “Orion’s technique allows Malaysian growers to weed out the bad trees before they take up valuable resources, increasing yield and, ultimately, by making existing farms more efficient, sparing acres of rain forest from destruction,” ​as riverfronttimes.com reports.

Farmers using the new test are planting trees in pots and sending punch samples of each plant’s leaves back to Orion. The company runs the DNA and reports back to the farmers with data on which plant will produce which sort of fruit shell. From there, the palm tree farmers can plant only the highest yield trees.

Onward and upward

Nate Lakey, president and CEO of Orion Genomics, is personally behind this palm tree DNA project. Back in 2011 he identified the gene responsible for the thickness of the fruit’s shell.

And it looks now to be a boon for the company and for enterprising palm growers too: “It’s estimated that if even one percent of the low-yielding trees can be eliminated, Malaysia's annual Gross National Income would increase by $251 million,” ​according to riverfronttimes.com.

Lakey is back and forth between Malaysia and Missouri for the time being, selling the test and getting the company’s distribution chain set up. Then, he’ll turn his attention back to cancer screening biotech projects. The company is, after all, focused on improving healthcare.

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