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2-Plants: GM coconut to boost Philippine's market position

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM coco to boost RP market position
SOURCE: Manila Bulletin, Philippines, by Melody M. Aguiba
DATE:   21 Aug 2005

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GM coco to boost RP market position

The Philippines is developing a genetically modified (GM) coconut with
increased lauric acid to equal at least canola's 60 percent content to
enable it to keep a leadership in the world's vegetable oil export market.

Coconut oil is Philippines' single biggest farm export with foreign
exchange earnings of some $500 million yearly which it aims to sustain on
the long term.

Known to have the traditionally-bred vegetable with the highest lauric
acid oil content, coconut just has 47 to 48 percent lauric acid content
compared to the GM canola's 60 percent even if the US's normal canola
only has 52 percent.

"The Philippines is meeting 65 percent of the world's need for vegetable
oil. (But) the development of canola with 60 percent lauric acid content
makes it difficult for us to compete in the market, unless we're able to
modify it through genetic engineering," Dr. Rita P. Laude, gene discovery
project leader, University of the Philippines-Los Baņos, said in an interview.

Financed by the Philippine Council for Agriculture Natural Resources
Forestry Research and Development (PCANFRD), the research evokes
scientists' renewed optimism in discovering a gene, having successfully
cloned three genes or DNAs from coconut.

The three cloned genes significant in fatty acid synthesis--acetyl
CoAcarboxylase, acyl-ACP thioesterase, phosphatidic acid phosphatase--
will soon be proved for their ability to produce the enzymes that will
"overexpress" or multiply the gene characterizing coconut's lauric acid

"The genes that we found have the highly-conserved amino acid region
specific to produce that enzyme. We're quite sure it's the gene of
interest for coconut," Asst. Prof. Marni E. Cueno, who works on the gene
discovery with Laude.

Cueno said the Institute of Biological Sciences has to clone three more
genes-- beta ketoacyl ACP synthase3, acyl carrier protein, and lysophos-
phatidic acid acyltransferase in order to maximize increase in potential
GM lauric acid content.

"All of these enzymes are important to the fatty acid synthesis so that
we can hit the targetted increase in lauric acid content," he said.

Once all the genes are cloned and are overexpressed, they will be
inserted in coconut and regenerated to grow coconut plants that will
produce the desired fruits.

Despite some success in gene discovery, the country's development of GM
coconut is slowed by the limited success in the regeneration of plants
with the transformed gene which also involves the biotechnology technique
tissue culture.

Early tests conducted by the Philippine Coconut Authority showed a 20
percent success in the transformation event or the transfer of the
overexpressed genes (with higher lauric acid content) into the coconut.

Moreover, regeneration or growth of the plant with the transformed gene
was very low at two out of 70,000 trials.

The Institute of Plant Breeding may need to use another somatic cell
(cells that reproduce) to carry the transformed gene since it has found
low level of regeneration in the use of three somatic cells that come
from coconut's mature embryo, coconut's immature embryo, and coconut's
plumule (coconut fruit growth).

While the US started researching on GM canola in 1992, the Philippines
has lagged far behind as it just started researching on GM coconut in 1999.

And when the US started, it already had many tissue culture studies for
the regeneration of the GM canola plant, unlike the Philippines' fairly
unsuccessful tissue culture for the GM coconut's regeneration. The US
commercially launched its GM canola in 1999.


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