KU Leuven is the saviour of coconut production


Faced with a constantly increasing demand for coconuts and their by-products, KU Leuven is proposing a fast, efficient, and inexpensive technique for producing thousands of new coconut trees with a very resistant genetic profile.

The benefits of coconut oil, like those of its water, are undeniable in terms of dietary health. The coconut market is therefore booming. But many plantations are currently threatened by disease, as well as by the consequences of climate change, rising sea levels and the degeneration of coconut trees.

The new technique of cloning coconut plants, discovered by the KU Leuven team led by Bart Panis, appears to be one of the solutions for their preservation, whereas in nature, a coconut tree reproduces only by vegetative propagation, i.e. by depending exclusively on the growth hormone from its nuts.

The scientists in Leuven have succeeded in splitting the side shoots of a coconut tree to grow new ones. The result has huge potential for their reproduction in plantations around the world.

In practical terms, the shoots are kept alive by cryopreservation and stored in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. The aim is also to ensure greater preservation of the genetic diversity of seedlings than is provided by more traditional seed banks.  But it is obviously important to have as many varieties as possible, each with its own resistance to certain diseases or climatic conditions.

Creating healthy plant species that can be planted where they are most perennial is the challenge that scientists aim to overcome.