Oil palm contributes about 40% of the world’s vegetable oil.

Controlling major diseases of world crops

University of Bath

Researcher: Richard Cooper

Funders: Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education; Malaysian Palm Oil Board; FELDA/FASSB Ltd; BBSRC; Unilever

A University of Bath research project led by Dr Richard Cooper is addressing the two fungal diseases causing greatest losses to oil palm - Fusarium wilt in West and Central Africa, and Ganoderma basal stem rot in South East Asia.

Seed and pollen are exported from Africa in order to expand the genetic crop base in other countries; however, Bath’s research has shown that exported materials such as seed and pollen can be contaminated with Fusarium oxysporum and that disease outbreaks in South America arose from seed exported from Africa.

In response to these problems, the team have devised two key disease control strategies which involve prevention of pathogen spread between regions and continents, and the development of disease resistant genotypes as well as a novel seed treatment to eradicate the pathogen before exporting - this procedure is now used by major seed companies.

The team has also developed a rapid DNA based test, based on a novel virulence factor, which will greatly enhance the efficacy of seed quarantine laboratories.

The University of Bath research team have radically improved screening palm crosses for resistance by showing the benefit of simply shading inoculated plants from the tropical sun, which prevents the soil overheating and the death of the required fungal inoculum. This adaptation is now used by major companies and institutes in South East Asia as well as those in Africa.