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Synthetic Genomics Inc and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Form Partnership to Sequence Oil Palm Genome

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Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately-held company dedicated to commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for alternative energy solutions, and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd (ACGT), a center that focuses on the application of genome technology to improve oil palm and other crops, has announced a multi-year, research and development joint venture to sequence and analyze the oil palm genome.

ACGT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Asiatic Development Berhad, an oil palm plantation company listed on Bursa Malaysia (Malaysian Stock Exchange) and a member of Genting Group.

ACGT and its parent company’s chairman and chief executive, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, made equity investments in Synthetic Genomics as part of the deal. Financial details were not disclosed.

“Increasing global demand for non-renewable fossil fuels is contributing to climate change and unsustainable development,” explains J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Synthetic Genomics.

“Biofuels derived from oilseed plants by using genomic tools are a promising alternative that could alleviate our reliance on fossil fuels if they can be used in an environmentally sound way. We look forward to working with ACGT to advance the use of these energy crops.”

The first phase of the agreement focuses on oil palm. Synthetic Genomics will conduct in-depth genomic analyses of the oil palm genome and this will represent the first full analysis of the oil palm genome.

In subsequent studies the groups will also analyze the oil palm’s root and leaf microbial communities, to identify biomarkers and metabolic pathways that affect the plants growth and viability.

Oil palm is one of the most productive oilseed crops and is used in a wide variety of ways worldwide including in food and for fuels. However, oil palm’s promise as a clean energy source has not yet been fully realized.

Synthetic Genomics and ACGT believe that by understanding the oil palm’s genome, the groups can enable palm oil to be a better source of renewable fuel by breeding plants with useful traits.

These include: traits that enable the plant to be grown in more arid locations and the development of plants with high oil yield and low height increment. Synthetic Genomics and ACGT will also develop diagnostic tests for plant diseases that enhance natural resistance mechanisms for the breeding and maintenance of disease resistant energy crops.

The resulting genomic solutions will help address the ecological concerns on biodiversity destruction through more efficient use of land with higher agricultural yield as well as sustainable development with improved stewardship of the plantation environment.

“We are eager to work with Synthetic Genomics as it opens up a new horizon in oil palm research which will result in unprecedented understanding of the oil palm and its surroundings and we are confident it will significantly increase oil palm’s productivity and competitive advantage,” said Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, Chief Executive of Asiatic.

“Our partnership consists of a world class scientific team with expertise in molecular biology, metagenomics, metabolic engineering, chemistry, plant science and agronomy who can greatly improve the selection and breeding of oil palm.”