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Synthetic Genomics, Malaysian Company Sequence Draft of Oil Palm Genome

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Synthetic Genomics and a Malaysian genomics company have completed a draft sequence assembly and annotation of the genome of the oil palm, a tree that is used primarily to produce cooking oil but which could be employed for other uses such as biofuel, the companies said today.
The Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology, a subsidiary of the palm oil plantation company Asiatic Development Berhad, also is working with Synthetic Genomics to sequence and analyze the genome of another oilseed crop, the jatropha, as well as the material of some of the microbes found around these plants, the companies said.
The oil palm genome is roughly 1.8 billion base pairs in size, which is around four times the size of the rice genome and around two thirds that of maize, the companies found. The jatropha genome is roughly the same size as the rice genome, at around 500 million base pairs.
The researchers sequenced a combination of two types of the oil palm to create a seven-fold coverage of the plant’s genome, which they will continue to sequence and analyze in order to create a reference genome.
The companies said that the jatropha crop, which grows well on land that is not good for food production, can be used to produce clean, renewable fuels. They plan to continue to sequence and analyze the jatropha genome to ten-fold coverage.
"The genome sequences of these highly productive oilseed crops will enable the in-depth understanding of genes encoding for plant yield and health and foster the development of improved plant varieties,” Synthetic Genomics CEO J. Craig Venter said in a statement. "Our goal is to harness this knowledge to produce improved feedstocks, renewable fuels, biofertilizers, and disease-control solutions."
The companies said the oil palm genome study has already found useful information about the palm’s genome that could be used to help modify plant yield, oil quality, growth, disease tolerance, and other qualities.
"The completion of the first draft sequence of the oil palm genome and progress on the jatropha genome are significant milestones towards the genetic improvement of these inherently high yielding oil crops,” said ADB Chief Executive Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay. “Unlocking the knowledge encoded in the genomes could further increase our understanding of these important crops which could lead to substantially improved oil yield.”
The companies did not say when they expect to complete the jatropha genome or whether they plan to publish their results.

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