The Future of Oil Palm Clones in Malaysia
Soh A. C.

Abstract
High yielding ability ensures the sustainability of a crop through improved resource (land, light, water, fertilizers, labour) use efficiencies besides profitability. Traditionallyperennial tree crop improvement is achieved/expedited through clonal (vegetative) propagation.This prompted the research and development into the tissue culture clonal propagation of oil palm which has no naturalmeans of vegetative propagation in the early 1970s. Oil palmclonal propagation has now become a technology withcommercial output of clonal plantlets constituting 5-10% ofthe annual oil palm planting material requirement in Malaysia.Nevertheless, with the inefficiencies of the tissue culturetechnique in terms of low amenability and risk of somaclonalvariation extant, strategies in clonal propagation have toremain as adjuncts to hybrid breeding programs andstrategies. With the lower genetic variability and heritability foroil yield confirmed in advanced DxP hybrids, cloning (andrecloning) from such populations is inefficient and runs therisk of concurrent new generations of improved hybrids closingthe yield advantage gap of clones. Cloning ortets from theearly/recombinant phases of hybrid breeding programmeswould be more efficient with the broader genetic variability andhigher heritability for yield and other desirable traits. Perhapsthe biggest advantage of cloning would be in the earlycommercial exploitation of new genetic materials fromintrogression programmes of wide intra or inter-specificcrosses which would also broaden the genetic base of thecommercial plantings to reduce risk of genetic vulnerability topest, disease and environmental stress debilitation, ensuringsustainability. These considerations would also apply to thealternative cloning strategies of cloning the best parents forclonal hybrid seed production and cloning the progenyembryos or seedlings of the best progenies.. Thesealternative strategies are gaining interest especially theformer.Clones are unlikely to supersede hybrid seeds as thedominant oil palm planting material until the amenability and fidelity deficiencies in the tissue culture have beenresolved or circumvented and their field performanceadvantage over concurrent improved hybrids clearly demonstrated.
3 December, 2012
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