Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Saving the world's coconuts - The Atlantic and BBC World News report

24 Nov 2016

While demand for coconuts and coconut products stays high, its long-term outlook is quite bleak despite researchers' efforts in safeguarding this unique fruit. Phytoplasma - a type of bacteria that cause lethal yellowing disease are threatening coconut trees across the world including in Côte d'Ivoire and Papua New Guinea where long established conservation plantations are threatened.

Recent articles in The Atlantic and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment warn of the dangers that the versatile and popular coconut is facing and how researchers at the Bioversity International-coordinated International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT) are thinking of clever ways to conserve this tricky fruit.

The coconut requires complicated conservation activities: the main way to bank coconut diversity is in a living genebank—a plantation where coconut palms are grown continuously. To make coconuts easier to preserve, Bioversity International and COGENT has coordinated work with partners on isolating and freezing coconut embryos. Most of a coconut’s white fleshy meat is endosperm, or food for the developing embryo. The actual embryo is at the base of the coconut, and alone, it is just bigger than a grain of rice. Scientists are figuring out how to cryopreserve this embryo, thaw it at a later time, and grow it in medium until it is big enough to pot in soil.

To guarantee its survival and provide an insurance against a changing world and climate, we need to safeguard its diversity. Interviewed by BBC World News, Vincent Johnson, Bioversity International, explains why coconut diversity matters when it comes to halting the spread of lethal yellowing disease, as well as for managing other threats such as climate extremes.