Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Palm oil


The regulation of lipid synthesis in oil seeds is still not fully understood. Oilseed rape is the third most productive vegetable oil crop on the global market. Therefore, increasing our understanding of lipid accumulation in oilseed rape seeds is of great economic, as well as intellectual, importance. Matrix-assisted laser/desorption ionisation - mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI) is a technique that allows the mapping of metabolites directly onto intact biological tissues, giving a spatial context to metabolism. We have used MADLI-MSI to study the spatial distribution of two major lipid species, triacylglycerols (TAGs) and phosphatidylcholines (PCs). A dramatic, heterogeneous landscape of molecular species was revealed, demonstrating significantly different lipid compositions between the various seed tissues. The embryonic axis was particularly enriched in lipid species containing palmitate, while the seed coat/aleurone layer accumulated vaccenic, linoleic and α-linoleic acids. Furthermore, the lipid composition of the inner and outer cotyledons differed to each other, a remarkable discovery given the supposed identical functionality of these two tissues. TAG and PC molecular species distribution was analysed through a developmental time series covering early seed lipid accumulation to the end of lipid accumulation. The spatial patterning of lipid molecular species did not vary much during seed development, although there were exceptions. Data gathered using MALDI-MSI was verified through gas chromatography analysis of dissected seeds. The distinct lipid distribution profiles observed implies differential regulation of lipid metabolism between the different seed tissues. Further understanding of this differential regulation will enhance efforts to improve oilseed rape productivity and quality.

Concepts: Mass spectrometry, Fat, Lipid, Rapeseed, Brassica, Palm oil, Vegetable fats and oils, Monoglyceride


Palm oil is the most widely traded vegetable oil globally, with demand projected to increase substantially in the future. Almost all oil palm grows in areas that were once tropical moist forests, some of them quite recently. The conversion to date, and future expansion, threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Today, consumer pressure is pushing companies toward deforestation-free sources of palm oil. To guide interventions aimed at reducing tropical deforestation due to oil palm, we analysed recent expansions and modelled likely future ones. We assessed sample areas to find where oil palm plantations have recently replaced forests in 20 countries, using a combination of high-resolution imagery from Google Earth and Landsat. We then compared these trends to countrywide trends in FAO data for oil palm planted area. Finally, we assessed which forests have high agricultural suitability for future oil palm development, which we refer to as vulnerable forests, and identified critical areas for biodiversity that oil palm expansion threatens. Our analysis reveals regional trends in deforestation associated with oil palm agriculture. In Southeast Asia, 45% of sampled oil palm plantations came from areas that were forests in 1989. For South America, the percentage was 31%. By contrast, in Mesoamerica and Africa, we observed only 2% and 7% of oil palm plantations coming from areas that were forest in 1989. The largest areas of vulnerable forest are in Africa and South America. Vulnerable forests in all four regions of production contain globally high concentrations of mammal and bird species at risk of extinction. However, priority areas for biodiversity conservation differ based on taxa and criteria used. Government regulation and voluntary market interventions can help incentivize the expansion of oil palm plantations in ways that protect biodiversity-rich ecosystems.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biodiversity, Agriculture, Forest, Greenhouse gas, Palm oil, Oil palm, Deforestation


Many major corporations and countries have made commitments to purchase or produce only “sustainable” palm oil, a commodity responsible for substantial tropical forest loss. Sustainability certification is the tool most used to fulfill these procurement policies, and around 20% of global palm oil production was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2017. However, the effect of certification on deforestation in oil palm plantations remains unclear. Here, we use a comprehensive dataset of RSPO-certified and noncertified oil palm plantations (∼188,000 km2) in Indonesia, the leading producer of palm oil, as well as annual remotely sensed metrics of tree cover loss and fire occurrence, to evaluate the impact of certification on deforestation and fire from 2001 to 2015. While forest loss and fire continued after RSPO certification, certified palm oil was associated with reduced deforestation. Certification lowered deforestation by 33% from a counterfactual of 9.8 to 6.6% y-1 Nevertheless, most plantations contained little residual forest when they received certification. As a result, by 2015, certified areas held less than 1% of forests remaining within Indonesian oil palm plantations. Moreover, certification had no causal impact on forest loss in peatlands or active fire detection rates. Broader adoption of certification in forested regions, strict requirements to avoid all peat, and routine monitoring of clearly defined forest cover loss in certified and RSPO member-held plantations appear necessary if the RSPO is to yield conservation and climate benefits from reductions in tropical deforestation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Forestry, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Palm oil, Oil palm


The predominant saturated fatty acids (SFA) in human diets are lauric acid (LA, C12:0), myristic acid (MA, C14:0), palmitic acid (PA, C16:0) and stearic acid (SA, C18:0). The aim of this study was to investigate whether diets containing individual SFA together with excess simple carbohydrates induce osteoarthritis (OA)-like changes in knee joints and signs of metabolic syndrome in rats. Rats were given either a corn starch diet or a diet composed of simple carbohydrates together with 20% LA, MA, PA, SA or beef tallow for 16 weeks. Rats fed beef tallow, SA, MA or PA diets developed signs of metabolic syndrome, and also exhibited cartilage degradation and subchondral bone changes similar to OA. In contrast, replacement of beef tallow with LA decreased signs of metabolic syndrome together with decreased cartilage degradation. Furthermore, PA and SA but not LA increased release of matrix sulphated proteoglycans in cultures of bovine cartilage explants or human chondrocytes. In conclusion, we have shown that longer-chain dietary SFA in rats induce both metabolic syndrome and OA-like knee changes. Thus, diets containing SFA are strongly relevant to the development or prevention of both OA and metabolic syndrome.

Concepts: Nutrition, Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Triglyceride, Saturated fat, Lauric acid, Palm oil, Stearic acid


Palm oil consumption and its effects on serum lipid levels and cardiovascular disease in humans is still a subject of debate. Advocacy groups with varying agenda fuel the controversy. This update intends to identify evidence-based evaluations of the influence of palm oil on serum lipid profile and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, it suggests a direction for future research. The sources of information were based on a PubMed, Google Scholar, African Journal online and Medline search using key words including: palm oil, palmitic acid, saturated fatty acids and heart disease. Published animal and human experiments on the association of palm oil and its constituents on the serum lipid profile and cardiovascular disease were also explored for relevant information. These papers are reviewed and the available evidence is discussed. Most of the information in mainstream literature is targeted at consumers and food companies with a view to discourage the consumption of palm oil. The main argument against the use of palm oil as an edible oil is the fact that it contains palmitic acid, which is a saturated fatty acid and by extrapolation should give rise to elevated total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. However, there are many scientific studies, both in animals and humans that clearly show that palm oil consumption does not give rise to elevated serum cholesterol levels and that palm oil is not atherogenic. Apart from palmitic acid, palm oil consists of oleic and linoleic acids which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated respectively. Palm oil also consists of vitamins A and E, which are powerful antioxidants. Palm oil has been scientifically shown to protect the heart and blood vessels from plaques and ischemic injuries. Palm oil consumed as a dietary fat as a part of a healthy balanced diet does not have incremental risk for cardiovascular disease. Little or no additional benefit will be obtained by replacing it with other oils rich in mono or polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Concepts: Cholesterol, Nutrition, Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Atherosclerosis, Fat, Saturated fat, Palm oil


Oil palm is the most productive oil-bearing crop. Although it is planted on only 5% of the total world vegetable oil acreage, palm oil accounts for 33% of vegetable oil and 45% of edible oil worldwide, but increased cultivation competes with dwindling rainforest reserves. We report the 1.8-gigabase (Gb) genome sequence of the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, the predominant source of worldwide oil production. A total of 1.535 Gb of assembled sequence and transcriptome data from 30 tissue types were used to predict at least 34,802 genes, including oil biosynthesis genes and homologues of WRINKLED1 (WRI1), and other transcriptional regulators, which are highly expressed in the kernel. We also report the draft sequence of the South American oil palm Elaeis oleifera, which has the same number of chromosomes (2n = 32) and produces fertile interspecific hybrids with E. guineensis but seems to have diverged in the New World. Segmental duplications of chromosome arms define the palaeotetraploid origin of palm trees. The oil palm sequence enables the discovery of genes for important traits as well as somaclonal epigenetic alterations that restrict the use of clones in commercial plantings, and should therefore help to achieve sustainability for biofuels and edible oils, reducing the rainforest footprint of this tropical plantation crop.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, RNA, Arecaceae, Palm oil, Elaeis guineensis, Oil palm


Predictions of global increased temperature are for 1.8-4 °C by 2100. Increased temperature as an abiotic stress may exert a considerable influence on the levels of secondary metabolites in plants. These secondary metabolites may possibly exert biological activities beneficial in prevention or treatment of disorders linked to oxidative stress in human. Wheat secondary compounds in three Canadian and three Australian genotypes grown under controlled environments, in which the only changing parameter was temperature, were investigated. Kennedy and AC Navigator contained the highest amount of total phenolic acids among Australian and Canadian wheat genotypes, respectively. The total phenolic acids and total flavonoid contents of wheat genotypes increased following the increase of the growing temperature. In all the wheat genotypes, regardless of their growing temperatures, linoleic acid (C18:2n6) was measured as the main fatty acid. Significant increases in palmitic acid (C16:0) and oleic acid (C18:1n9) and significant decreases in linoleic acid (C18:2n6) and linolenic acid (C18:3n3) were observed at increased of growing temperature for all wheat genotypes. Growing temperature decreased campesterol content of wheat genotypes. Genotype and growing temperature significantly shifted the production of wheat secondary metabolites. This information might be used as a guide for breeding wheat varieties with higher antioxidant properties.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Oleic acid, Omega-6 fatty acid, Linoleic acid, Olive oil, Palm oil, Palmitic acid


A key event in the domestication and breeding of the oil palm Elaeis guineensis was loss of the thick coconut-like shell surrounding the kernel. Modern E. guineensis has three fruit forms, dura (thick-shelled), pisifera (shell-less) and tenera (thin-shelled), a hybrid between dura and pisifera. The pisifera palm is usually female-sterile. The tenera palm yields far more oil than dura, and is the basis for commercial palm oil production in all of southeast Asia. Here we describe the mapping and identification of the SHELL gene responsible for the different fruit forms. Using homozygosity mapping by sequencing, we found two independent mutations in the DNA-binding domain of a homologue of the MADS-box gene SEEDSTICK (STK, also known as AGAMOUS-LIKE 11), which controls ovule identity and seed development in Arabidopsis. The SHELL gene is responsible for the tenera phenotype in both cultivated and wild palms from sub-Saharan Africa, and our findings provide a genetic explanation for the single gene hybrid vigour (or heterosis) attributed to SHELL, via heterodimerization. This gene mutation explains the single most important economic trait in oil palm, and has implications for the competing interests of global edible oil production, biofuels and rainforest conservation.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Arecaceae, Malaysia, Palm oil, Elaeis guineensis, Oil palm, Palm kernel


The use of ethylcellulose (EC) polymers as a means to structure edible oils for fat replacement is beginning to show great promise and the use of these ‘oleogels’ has recently been shown to be feasible in food products. These gels are very versatile, as the mechanical properties can be tailored by altering either the fatty acid profile of the oil component, or the viscosity or concentration of the polymer component. Here we report the observation that certain formulation of EC oleogels tend to separate into two distinct phases; a soft interior core surrounded by a firm exterior sheath. It was found that the extent of this effect depends on EC viscosity, and can also be induced through the addition of certain surfactants, such as sorbitan monostearate and sorbitan monooleate, though not by glycerol monooleate. Although the two visually distinct regions were shown to be chemically indistinct, the cooling rate during gel setting was found to play a large role; rapid setting of the gels reduces the fractionation effect, while slow cooling produced a completely homogeneous structure. In addition, by reheating only the soft region of the gel, a firm and soft fractionated gel could again be produced. Finally, it was observed that oleogels prepared with castor oil or mineral oil have the ability to remove or induce the gel separation, respectively. Taken together, these results indicate chemical interactions may incite the separation into two distinct phases, but the process also seems to be driven by the cooling conditions during gel setting. These findings lend insight into the EC-oleogel gelation process and should provide a stepping stone for future research into the manufacturing of these products.

Concepts: Nutrition, Fatty acid, Fat, Colloid, Gel, Palm oil, Lubricant, Aerogel


The essential oils from the cladodes of Opuntia littoralis, Opuntia ficus-indica and Opuntia prolifera growing wild on Santa Catalina Island, California, were obtained by hydrodistillation and analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Terpenoids were the dominant class of volatiles in O. littoralis, with the two main components being the furanoid forms of cis-linalool oxide (10.8%) and trans-linalool oxide (8.8%). Fatty acid-derived compounds dominated the essential oil of O. ficus-indica with linoleic acid (22.3%), palmitic acid (12.7%), lauric acid (10.5%) and myristic acid (4.2%) as major fatty acids. O. prolifera oil was composed of 46.6% alkanes and the primary hydrocarbon component was heptadecane (19.2%). Sixteen compounds were common to all the three Opuntia species.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Petroleum, Opuntia, Linoleic acid, Essential oil, Oil, Palm oil