Oil palm, a plantation crop of major economic importance in Southeast Asia, is the predominant source of edible oil worldwide. We report the identification of the virescens (VIR) gene, which controls fruit exocarp colour and is an indicator of ripeness. VIR is a R2R3-MYB transcription factor with homology to Lilium LhMYB12 and similarity to Arabidopsis production of anthocyanin pigment1 (PAP1). We identify five independent mutant alleles of VIR in over 400 accessions from sub-Saharan Africa that account for the dominant-negative virescens phenotype. Each mutation results in premature termination of the carboxy-terminal domain of VIR, resembling McClintock's C1-I allele in maize. The abundance of alleles likely reflects cultural practices, by which fruits were venerated for magical and medicinal properties. The identification of VIR will allow selection of the trait at the seed or early-nursery stage, 3-6 years before fruits are produced, greatly advancing introgression into elite breeding material.
Oil palm breeding involves crossing dura and pisifera palms to produce tenera progeny with greatly improved oil yield. Oil yield is controlled by variant alleles of a type II MADS-box gene, SHELL, that impact the presence and thickness of the endocarp, or shell, surrounding the fruit kernel. We identified six novel SHELL alleles in noncommercial African germplasm populations from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. These populations provide extensive diversity to harness genetic, mechanistic and phenotypic variation associated with oil yield in a globally critical crop. We investigated phenotypes in heteroallelic combinations, as well as SHELL heterodimerization and subcellular localization by yeast two-hybrid, bimolecular fluorescence complementation and gene expression analyses. Four novel SHELL alleles were associated with fruit form phenotype. Candidate heterodimerization partners were identified, and interactions with EgSEP3 and subcellular localization were SHELL allele-specific. Our findings reveal allele-specific mechanisms by which variant SHELL alleles impact yield, as well as speculative insights into the potential role of SHELL in single-gene oil yield heterosis. Future field trials for combinability and introgression may further optimize yield and improve sustainability.