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When doing the initial research for our synthetic alternative to palm oil components, we quickly came across lots of information regarding the current palm oil industry. It soon became apparent that the economies of some countries, for example Indonesia and Malaysia, depend almost entirely upon the current methods of palm oil production. Therefore we compiled a detailed impact analysis report for synthetic palm oil, which can be found by clicking on the button to the right.

Could Synthetic Palm Oil and Natural Palm Oil Exist In Harmony?

According to recent figures, the palm oil industry as it stands today can reach only half of the production rate required to meet global demand for the vegetable oil[1]. This means that our project could be implemented to supplement natural cultivation:

  • Amyris Biotech originally planned to supplement natural artemisinin production[2], but later announced they could completely replace Artemisia annua growth[3]

  • This is unlikely to happen with palm oil - global demand is constantly increasing and would be difficult to meet using solely synthetic biology

  • Currently existing oil palm plantations could continue business as usual - the damage to the environment has already been done and clearing the plantations would result in more carbon emissions

  • Synthetic palm oil would step in where further deforestation would be required - the major people affected by a ban on deforestation would be the large international investors who regularly grab land for huge financial gain[4]

  • There will always likely be a market for ‘authentic’ palm oil - some countries may entirely reject palm oil derived through synthetic biology, whilst certain individuals may opt to buy only naturally-grown palm oil

  • The recent sequencing of the oil palm genome gives rise to the possibility of genetically optimised oil palms being the main horsepower of plantations of the future, with synthetic palm oil topping up the supply to meet global demand[5]

So in short, yes, synthetic palm oil and natural palm oil could exist in harmony! Neither source of this high-value product could hope to meet global demand alone, but by joining forces a halt to deforestation could be nigh!

[1] Humanity United. Exploitative labor practices in the global palm oil industry
[2] San Francisco Business Times (2008), ‘OneWorld Health, Amyris, Sanofi-Aventis sign malaria drug deal’, March 3rd.
[3] Thomas, J. (2013) 'Synthetic anti-malarial compound is bad news for artemisia farmers' The Guardian. April 12th.
[4] Vidal, J (2013) ‘“The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years”’ The Guardian. May 26th.
[5] Morelle, R. (2013) ‘Genome of oil palm sequenced’ BBC news. July 24th.
[6] Photo © Rainforest Action Network