Oil palm is a major economic crop for Malaysia. The major challenges faced by the industry are labor shortage, availability of arable land and unstable commodity price. This has caused the industry to diversify its applications into higher value products besides increasing its yield. While conventional breeding has its limitations, biotechnology was identified as one of the tools for overcoming the above challenges. Research on biotechnology of oil palm began more than two decades ago leveraging a multidisciplinary approach involving biochemical studies, gene and promoter isolation, transformation vector construction and finally genetic transformation to produce the targeted products. The main target of oil palm biotechnology research is to increase oleic acid in the mesocarp. Other targets are stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, ricinoleic acid, lycopene (carotenoid) and biodegradable plastics. Significant achievements were reported for the biochemical studies, isolation of useful oil palm genes and characterization of important promoters. A large number of transformation constructs for various targeted products were successfully produced using the isolated oil palm genes and promoters. Finally transformation of these constructs into oil palm embryogenic calli was carried out while the regeneration of transgenic oil palm harboring the useful genes is in progress.
A total of 723 accessions of oil palm ( Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) from 26 populations representing ten countries in Africa and one Deli dura family were screened for allelic variation at seven enzyme loci from six enzyme systems using starch gel electrophoresis. On average, 54.5% of the loci were polymorphic (0.99 criterion). The average and effective number of alleles per locus was 1.80 and 1.35, respectively. Mean expected heterozygosity was 0.184, with values ranging from 0.109 (population 8, Senegal) to 0.261 (population 29, Cameroon). The genetic differentiation among populations was high (F(ST)=0.301), indicating high genetic divergence. The calculation of F(ST) by geographic zones revealed that the high F(ST) was largely due to F(ST) among populations in West Africa, suggesting diversifying selection in this region. The mean genetic distance across populations was 0.113. The lowest genetic distance (D) was observed between population 5 from Tanzania and population 7 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (0.000) and the highest was found between population 4 from Madagascar and population 13 from Sierra Leone (0.568). The total gene flow across oil palm populations was low, with an Nm of 0.576, enhancing genetic structuring, as evident from the high F(ST) values. UPGMA cluster analysis revealed three main clusters; the western outlying populations from Senegal and Sierra Leone were in one cluster but separated into two distinct sub-clusters; the eastern outlying populations from Madagascar were in one cluster; the populations from Angola, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria and Guinea were in one cluster. The Deli dura family seems to be closely related to population 6 from Guinea. Oil palm populations with high genetic diversity-i.e. all of the populations from Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone, population 6 of Guinea, population 1 of Madagascar and population 2 of Senegal should be used in improvement programmes, whereas for conservation purposes, oil palm populations with high allelic diversity (A(e)), which include populations 22 and 29 from Cameroon, populations 39 and 45 from Nigeria, population 6 from Guinea, populations 5 and 13 from Sierra Leone and population 1 from Madagascar should be selected for capturing as much genetic variation as possible.
The diacylglycerol acyltransferases (DGAT) (diacylglycerol:acyl-CoA acyltransferase, EC 220.127.116.11) are a key group of enzymes that catalyse the final and usually the most important rate-limiting step of triacylglycerol biosynthesis in plants and other organisms. Genes encoding four distinct functional families of DGAT enzymes have been characterised in the genome of the African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis. The contrasting features of the various isoforms within the four families of DGAT genes, namely DGAT1, DGAT2, DGAT3 and WS/DGAT are presented both in the oil palm itself and, for comparative purposes, in 12 other oil crop or model/related plants, namely Arabidopsis thaliana, Brachypodium distachyon, Brassica napus, Elaeis oleifera, Glycine max, Gossypium hirsutum, Helianthus annuus, Musa acuminata, Oryza sativa, Phoenix dactylifera, Sorghum bicolor, and Zea mays. The oil palm genome contains respectively three, two, two and two distinctly expressed functional copies of the DGAT1, DGAT2, DGAT3 and WS/DGAT genes. Phylogenetic analyses of the four DGAT families showed that the E. guineensis genes tend to cluster with sequences from P. dactylifera and M. acuminata rather than with other members of the Commelinid monocots group, such as the Poales which include the major cereal crops such as rice and maize. Comparison of the predicted DGAT protein sequences with other animal and plant DGATs was consistent with the E. guineensis DGAT1 being ER located with its active site facing the lumen while DGAT2, although also ER located, had a predicted cytosol-facing active site. In contrast, DGAT3 and some (but not all) WS/DGAT in E. guineensis are predicted to be soluble, cytosolic enzymes. Evaluation of E. guineensis DGAT gene expression in different tissues and developmental stages suggests that the four DGAT groups have distinctive physiological roles and are particularly prominent in developmental processes relating to reproduction, such as flowering, and in fruit/seed formation especially in the mesocarp and endosperm tissues.
Membrane-bound polyphenoloxidase (mPPO) an oxidative enzyme which is responsible for the undesirable browning reaction in Snake fruit (Salacca zalacca (Gaertn.) Voss) was investigated. The enzyme was extracted using a non-ionic detergent (Triton X-114), followed by temperature-induced phase partitioning technique which resulted in two separate layers (detergent-poor phase at the upper layer and detergent-rich phase at the lower layer). The upper detergent-poor phase extract was subsequently fractionated by 40-80% ammonium sulfate and chromatographed on HiTrap Phenyl Sepharose and Superdex 200 HR 10/30. The mPPO was purified to 14.1 folds with a recovery of 12.35%. A single prominent protein band appeared on native-PAGE and SDS-PAGE implying that the mPPO is a monomeric protein with estimated molecular weight of 38kDa. Characterization study showed that mPPO from Snake fruit was optimally active at pH 6.5, temperature 30°C and active towards diphenols as substrates. The K(m) and V(max) values were calculated to be 5.46 mM and 0.98 U/ml/min, respectively, when catechol was used as substrate. Among the chemical inhibitors tested, l-cysteine showed the best inhibitory effect, with an IC(50) of 1.3 ± 0.002 mM followed by ascorbic acid (1.5 ± 0.06 mM), glutathione (1.5 ± 0.07 mM), EDTA (100 ± 0.02 mM) and citric acid (186 ± 0.16 mM).
KEY MESSAGE: TAAAAT and a novel motif, GCTTCA found in the oil palm stearoyl-ACP desaturase (SAD1) promoter are involved in regulating mesocarp-specific expression. Two key fatty acid biosynthetic genes, stearoyl-ACP desaturase (SAD1), and acyl-carrier protein (ACP3) in Elaeis guineensis (oil palm) showed high level of expression during the period of oil synthesis in the mesocarp [12-19 weeks after anthesis (w.a.a.)] and kernel (12-15 w.a.a.). Both genes are expressed in spear leaves at much lower levels and the expression increased by 1.5-fold to 2.5-fold following treatments with ethylene and abscisic acid (ABA). Both SAD1 and ACP3 promoters contain phytohormone-responsive, light-responsive, abiotic factors/wounding-responsive, endosperm specificity and fruit maturation/ripening regulatory motifs. The activities of the full length and six 5' deletion fragments of the SAD1 promoter were analyzed in transiently transformed oil palm tissues by quantitative β-glucuronidase (GUS) fluorometric assay. The highest SAD1 promoter activity was observed in the mesocarp followed by kernel and the least in the leaves. GUS activity in the D3 deletion construct (- 486 to + 108) was the highest, while the D2 (- 535 to + 108) gave the lowest suggesting the presence of negative cis-acting regulatory element(s) in the deleted - 535 to - 486 (49 bp). It was found that the 49-bp region binds to the nuclear protein extract from mesocarp but not from leaves in electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA). Further fine-tuned analysis of this 49-bp region using truncated DNA led to the identification of GCTTCA as a novel motif in the SAD1 promoter. Interestingly, another known fruit ripening-related motif, LECPLEACS2 (TAAAAT) was found to be required for effective binding of the novel motif to the mesocarp nuclear protein extract.
Metallothioneins (MTs) are cysteine-rich metal-binding proteins that are involved in cell growth regulation, transportation of metal ions and detoxification of heavy metals. A mesocarp-specific metallothionein-like gene (MT3-A) promoter was isolated from the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq). A vector construct containing the MT3-A promoter fused to the β-glucuronidase (GUS) gene in the pCAMBIA 1304 vector was produced and used in Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of tomato. Histochemical GUS assay of different tissues of transgenic tomato showed that the MT3-A promoter only drove GUS expression in the reproductive tissues and organs, including the anther, fruit and seed coat. Competitive RT-PCR and GUS fluorometric assay showed changes in the level of GUS mRNA and enzyme activity in the transgenic tomato (T(0)). No GUS mRNA was found in roots and leaves of transgenic tomato. In contrast, the leaves of transgenic tomato seedlings (T(1)) produced the highest GUS activity when treated with 150 μM Cu(2+) compared to the control (without Cu(2+)). However, Zn(2+) and Fe(2+) treatments did not show GUS expression in the leaves of the transgenic tomato seedlings. Interestingly, the results showed a breaking-off tissue-specific activity of the oil palm MT3-A promoter in T(1) seedlings of tomato when subjected to Cu(2+) ions.
The stearoyl-acyl-carrier-protein (ACP) desaturase is a plastid-localized enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of stearoyl-ACP to oleoyl-ACP and plays an important role in the determination of the properties of the majority of cellular glycerolipids. Functional characterization of the fatty acid desaturase genes and their specific promoters is a prerequisite for altering the composition of unsaturated fatty acids of palm oil by genetic engineering. In this paper, the specificity and strength of the oil palm stearoyl-ACP desaturase gene promoter (Des) was evaluated in transgenic tomato plants. Transcriptional fusions between 5' deletions of the Des promoter (Des1-4) and the β-glucuronidase (GUS) reporter gene were generated and their expression analyzed in different tissues of stably transformed tomato plants. Histochemical analysis of the Des promoter deletion series revealed that GUS gene expression was confined to the tomato fruits. No expression was detected in vegetative tissues of the transgenic plants. The highest levels of GUS activity was observed in different tissues of ripe red fruits (vascular tissue, septa, endocarp, mesocarp and columella) and in seeds, which harbored the promoter region located between -590 and +10. A comparison of the promoter-deletion constructs showed that the Des4 promoter deletion (314bp) produced a markedly low level of GUS expression in fruits and seeds. Fluorometric analysis of the GUS activity revealed a 4-fold increase in the activity of the full-length Des promoter compared to the CaMV35S promoter. RNA-hybridization analyses provided additional evidence of increased GUS expression in fruits driven by a Des fragment. Taken together, these results demonstrate the potential of the Des promoter as a tool for the genetic engineering of oil palms and other species, including dicots, in improving the quality and nutritional value of the fruits.
As the world population grows, the demand for food increases. Although vegetable oils provide an affordable and rich source of energy, the supply of vegetable oils available for human consumption is limited by the "fuel vs food" debate. To increase the nutritional value of vegetable oil, metabolic engineering may be used to produce oil crops of desirable fatty acid composition. We have isolated and characterized β-ketoacyl ACP-synthase II (KASII) cDNA from a high-oleic acid palm, Jessenia bataua. Jessenia KASII (JbKASII) encodes a 488-amino acid polypeptide that possesses conserved domains that are necessary for condensing activities. When overexpressed in E. coli, recombinant His-tagged JbKASII was insoluble and non-functional. However, Arabidopsis plants expressing GFP-JbKASII fusions had elevated levels of arachidic acid (C20:0) and erucic acid (C22:1) at the expense of stearic acid (C18:0) and oleic acid (C18:1). Furthermore, JbKASII failed to complement the Arabidopsis KASII mutant, fab1-2. This suggests that the substrate specificity of JbKASII is similar to that of ketoacyl-CoA synthase (KCS), which preferentially elongates stearic and oleic acids, and not palmitic acid. Our results suggest that the KCS-like JbKASII may elongate C18:0 and C18:1 to yield C20:0 and C22:1, respectively. JbKASII may, therefore, be an interesting candidate gene for promoting the production of very long chain fatty acids in transgenic oil crops.
The expression profiles of Δ9 stearoyl-acyl carrier protein desaturase (SAD1 and SAD2) and type 3 metallothionein (MT3-A and MT3-B) were investigated in seedlings of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) artificially inoculated with the pathogenic fungus Ganoderma boninense and the symbiotic fungus Trichoderma harzianum. Expression of SAD1 and MT3-A in roots and SAD2 in leaves were significantly up-regulated in G. boninense inoculated seedlings at 21 d after treatment when physical symptoms had not yet appeared and thereafter decreased to basal levels when symptoms became visible. Our finding demonstrated that the SAD1 expression in leaves was significantly down-regulated to negligible levels at 42 and 63 d after treatment. The transcripts of MT3 genes were synthesized in G. boninense inoculated leaves at 42 d after treatment, and the analyses did not show detectable expression of these genes before 42 d after treatment. In T. harzianum inoculated seedlings, the expression levels of SAD1 and SAD2 increased gradually and were stronger in roots than leaves, while for MT3-A and MT3-B, the expression levels were induced in leaves at 3d after treatment and subsequently maintained at same levels until 63d after treatment. The MT3-A expression was significantly up-regulated in roots at 3d after treatment and thereafter were maintained at this level. Both SAD and MT3 expression were maintained at maximum levels or at levels higher than basal. This study demonstrates that oil palm was able to distinguish between pathogenic and symbiotic fungal interactions, thus resulting in different transcriptional activation profiles of SAD and MT3 genes. Increases in expression levels of SAD and MT3 would lead to enhanced resistance against G. boninense and down-regulation of genes confer potential for invasive growth of the pathogen. Differences in expression profiles of SAD and MT3 relate to plant resistance mechanisms while supporting growth enhancing effects of symbiotic T. harzianum.
Four ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase cDNA clones were isolated from mature leaves and pith of sago palm by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. Three of them (agpp10, agpp12 and agpl19) encoded the AGP large subunit, while the fourth clone (agpl1) encoded the small subunit. agpp10 and agpp12 were isolated from pith, agpl19 was isolated from mature leaves, while agpl1 from both tissues. In addition, a full-length cDNA of agpl1 was successfully isolated from a cDNA library of mature leaves by a PCR-based screening technique. Semi-quantitative analysis suggests that agpp10 and agpp12 were detectable only in pith, agpl19 only in leaves, while agpl1 was expressed in both leaves and pith tissues.
The fructose-1,6-bisphosphate aldolase catalyzed glycolysis branch that forms dihydroxyacetone phosphate and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate was identified as a key driver of increased oil synthesis in oil palm and was validated in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Reduction in triose phosphate isomerase (TPI) activity in a yeast knockdown mutant resulted in 19% increase in lipid content, while yeast strains overexpressing oil palm fructose-1,6-bisphosphate aldolase (EgFBA) and glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (EgG3PDH) showed increased lipid content by 16% and 21%, respectively. Genetic association analysis on oil palm SNPs of EgTPI SD_SNP_000035801 and EgGAPDH SD_SNP_000041011 showed that palms harboring homozygous GG in EgTPI and heterozygous AG in EgGAPDH exhibited higher mesocarp oil content based on dry weight. In addition, AG genotype of the SNP of EgG3PDH SD_SNP_000008411 was associated with higher mean mesocarp oil content, whereas GG genotype of the EgFBA SNP SD_SNP_000007765 was favourable. Additive effects were observed with a combination of favourable alleles in TPI and FBA in Nigerian x AVROS population (family F7) with highest allele frequency GG.GG being associated with a mean increase of 3.77% (p value = 2.3E-16) oil content over the Family 1. An analogous effect was observed in yeast, where overexpressed EgFBA in TPI - resulted in a 30% oil increment. These results provide insights into flux balances in glycolysis leading to higher yield in mesocarp oil-producing fruit.