Pinpointing the gene that accords bright shades to oil palm fruits as they ripen promises higher yields.

THE TERM “Don’t judge a book by its cover” will not apply to the case of the VIR gene breakthrough.

That’s because this VIR (or VIRESCENS) gene determines the outer skin colour of the oil palm fruit as it ripens, which is key to knowing the right time for harvest.

Harvesting too early significantly decreases oil yields. A 1% increase in palm oil yield alone is worth in excess of RM1bil annually.

On the other hand, collecting overripe fruit means lower oil quality. Palm oil accounts for 45% of the world’s edible oils.

What happens now is that harvesters decide whether oil palm fruits are ready to be cut down merely by looking at their colour.

It's easier for harvesters to tell when the virescens palm fruit (above) is ripe compared with the nigrescens variety (below) because of its bright orange colour.