Monday, April 13, 2009

Gaharu Commercial Production

Researchers are looking at various inducement techniques to produce aromatic gaharu on a commercial scale.

The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (Frim) began researching in the late 1990s following a surge in market demand for gaharu and is still refining its inoculation technique.

Based on anecdotes from Orang Asli collectors, researchers deliberately wound the tree trunk and indeed, gaharu was produced in varying degrees of formation, suggesting that it can be induced in standing Aquilaria trees by artificial means. But the grade obtained was inconsistent.

Over 100 Aquilaria malaccensis saplings were planted on a 1ha trial plot at the institute’s research station at Bukit Hari between 1998 and 2000. Artificial inducement was carried out after three years but the trees did not respond.

FRIM research co-ordinator Dr Chang Yu Shyun suspects that the trees were not mature enough to produce the resin.

"In nature, when a branch or twig is broken, the wound attracts bacteria, fungi and pathogens. In gaharu-producing species like Aquilaria, the tree will produce the resin to contain the infection from spreading, covering the wound and blackening the whitish heartwood. That’s how gaharu is produced.

"The challenge is to come out with high quality or the desired grade and predictable volume to make planting a viable solution to over-harvesting of wild species," says Chang.

The senior research officer in the biotechnology division says the research initially focused on inoculation trials but later expanded to cover the biological aspect, economic value, trade and chemical analysis of the fragrant resin.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Institute of Nuclear Technology (Mint) has applied nuclear irradiation technology to mass-produce plantlets via tissue culture.

Seeds were screened for fast-growth and single-bole characteristics at the cellular level and lead researcher Dr Rusli Ibrahim claims he has found the secret formula after one year of experimentation.

"With this technique, we can fast-track the growing stage. Many plantation investors will benefit from this advancement."

Five hundred plantlets are growing in a trial plot near Dengkil. Rusli says two other research groups will look for suitable antagonists to induce the tree and the best extraction technique to yield oil of the desired chemical composition.

The hill within the MINT compound was recently discovered to host 157 matured Aquilaria trees. "At the end of the year, we intend to invite two United States experts to demonstrate to the growers the right way of inoculating these trees," says Rusli.

MINT has submitted four funding proposals under the Ninth Malaysian Plan to support the research work which will also include developing a standard grading system for woodchips and oil extracts.


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