Monday, August 1, 2016

St. Louis Startup Orion Genomics Aims to Disrupt the Palm Oil Industry

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 7:16 AM

click to enlarge Orion Genomics is helping palm tree growers get more oil from palm fruit — a game changer for Malaysia. - KAVAHN MANSOURI
  • Kavahn Mansouri
  • Orion Genomics is helping palm tree growers get more oil from palm fruit — a game changer for Malaysia.
A St. Louis startup is on the brink of saving hundreds of thousands of acres of Malaysian rainforest, even while saving millions of dollars for companies that harvest palm oil in Malaysia — all through the science of DNA.

Orion Genomics has discovered how to tell during a palm tree’s infancy if a seedling, which takes nearly 30 years to grow to a harvest-ready palm tree, will yield the right type of fruit.

Palm fruit can come in three forms: with a thick shell, a thin shell or with no shell at all; the three forms all give different amounts of palm oil. Thin-shelled fruits yield 30 percent more palm oil, but until now, during the tree’s three decades of growth, it was unclear which trees would produce that type of fruit. That was a major headache for one of the world’s largest palm oil exporters, Malaysia, and a waste of land and water.

Orion has found a way, through examining early-stage samples, to ensure only thin shell seeds with the maximum amount of palm oil are planted, saving harvesters huge amounts of time and money.

Orion’s technique allows Malaysian growers to weed out the bad trees before they take up valuable resources, increasing yield and, ultimately, by making existing farms more efficient, sparing acres of rain forest from destruction.

The list of products that use palm oil is incredibly long: toothpaste, dish soap, beauty products, soda, crackers, chips, cosmetics, cookies and ice cream. Palm oil alone provides half of the edible vegetable oil sold worldwide. Orion Genomics President and CEO Nate Lakey says most Americans use palm oil throughout their entire day without even knowing it.

“A lot of people don’t know what palm oil goes into,” Lakey says. “There’s a lot of palm oil in daily things. The New York Times wrote once that it touches you all day. When you wake up and brush your teeth, guess what? Then you put on makeup, guess what?”

That means Orion’s discovery has major repercussions.

click to enlarge One of Orion Genomic's scientists works in the company's suite in the Center for Emerging Technologies, part of the Cortex hub in the Central West End. - KAVAHN MANSOURI
  • Kavahn Mansouri
  • One of Orion Genomic's scientists works in the company's suite in the Center for Emerging Technologies, part of the Cortex hub in the Central West End.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2017 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation