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Conservation of Philippine coconut genetic resources to aid hybridization efforts

Conservation of Philippine coconut genetic resources to aid hybridization efforts

To aid ongoing hybridization efforts, researchers are securing and conserving coconut genetic resources from remote parts of the country.

Forty percent of the Philippines’ total coconut area remains unexplored for its genetic resources. These resources are at high risk of disappearance due to climate change and pest infestations. They also remain underutilized as potential raw materials for advancing the development of superior coconut cultivars.

The team led by Mr. Gerardo B. Baylon of the Philippine Coconut Authority-Zamboanga Research Center (PCA-ZRC), reported key accomplishments of the project, “Collection and Evaluation of Promising Coconut Cultivars in Targeted Areas for Conservation, Utilization, and Hybridization” during the project review conducted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD). 

DOST-PCAARRD funds the five-year project through its Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan’s (CFIDP) Coconut Hybridization Program (CHP).

Ten collected cultivars stored in the PCA-ZRC tissue culture laboratory (left) are transferred to the screen house for hardening, once ready (right). (Image credit: CRD, DOST-PCAARRD)

In Year 1, Project Staff Jessiemar Cabasag, on behalf of Mr. Baylon, shared that the project team visited ten of the 34 identified coconut-growing areas across the provinces of Siquijor, Cebu, Leyte, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu as part of their pre-prospection activity. The identified areas have diverse coconut genotypes. 

During site visits, the project team collected passport data for ten coconut varieties, including their collection code, origin, local name, uses in the area, and others. Seednuts were also collected for fruit component analysis.

Mr. Cabasag said that embryo culture technology is used to collect coconut genotypes, which involves extracting embryos from nuts and directly placing them onto a culture medium. Embryo culture technology offers more efficient and cost-effective transportation of genetic materials than traditional methods.

To prevent possible duplication with the existing germplasm collection at PCA-ZRC, the project team also collected leaf samples of the prospected coconut populations for possible molecular analysis. 

The collected coconut genotypes are conserved at the PCA-ZRC genebank, expanding the number of genetic reserves and ensuring access to safe and well-characterized materials for breeding new outstanding hybrids.

DOST-PCAARRD, led by Industry Strategic S&T Program (ISP) Manager Alissa Carol M. Ibarra and CHP staff, with S&T Consultant Juanito B. Sangalang and the project team of  “Collection and Evaluation of Promising Coconut Cultivars in Targeted Areas for Conservation, Utilization, and Hybridization” during a field monitoring visit. (Image credit: CRD, DOST-PCAARRD)

Additionally, the project team trained 14 staff from the Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Utilization Division (PGRCUD) of PCA-ZRC and drafted a manual on collecting and characterizing coconut palms.

During the review, Science and Technology (S&T) Consultant Juanito B. Sangalang suggested the examination of the variations in embryo growth to obtain valuable data on factors such as tolerance to pests and diseases, productivity, and other economically significant aspects.

DOST Region IX Representative Thelma E. Diego and representatives from PCA’s Research and Development Branch (RDB), Region IX Regional Office, and CFIDP Project Management Office (PMO) also attended the project review via videoconferencing.

Crops Research Division (CRD) Director Leilani D. Pelegrina led the activity along with Industry Strategic S&T Program Manager for Coconut Alissa Carol M. Ibarra. 

Key personnel from DOST-PCAARRD’s Finance and Administrative Division (FAD) Accounting Section and Office of the Executive Director for Research and Development (OED-RD) also joined the meeting to provide additional guidance to the project team. 

The project’s accomplishments were validated through a field monitoring visit held recently at PCA-ZRC, San Ramon, Zamboanga City.