MANILA, JULY 7, 2005 (STAR) By Ray Ong - Makapuno, a form of coconut with soft meat, is much sought after for its versatile role in the preparation of dessert. It is characterized by the absence of the liquid endosperm (coconut water) which is replaced by a dense viscous fluid or solid soft meat (hence the name makapuno).
Thailand has its own variety of makapuno. The soft meat comes in layers dispersed in the viscous endosperm. The denser Philippine makapuno is preferred by the Thais for dessert making.
Using embryo plus brought by Thai students from makapuno sweet processors in Laguna in the early 80’s, a thai scientist — Dr. Uthai of Bangkok Flower Center — conducted a process called embryo rescue. The first batch of embryo rescued plants was planted in what is called Makapuno Island.
The Makapuno Island
The Makapuno Island is an island created when the Thai government constructed a dam near the Burmese border. The mountains were submerged and mountain peaks turned into islands. All the coconut trees in the island were destroyed and 100 percent embryo-rescued Makapuno Trees were planted. No stray coconut pollens can reach the island because of the water barrier, so that all the trees produced 100 percent Makapuno fruits.
A few years back, the Makapuno Island in Kanjanaburi received a complaint from one of their customers that one of their 100-percent guaranteed Makapuno fruits germinated. The owner investigated and upon opening the fruit, it turned out to be Makapuno. This began a search for the mother tree that bore the germinating Makapuno fruit.
Makapuno has a double recessive trait that converts the coconut meat into soft endosperm coupled with absence or reduced liquid endosperm. The endosperm normally cannot be metabolized by the growing Makapuno embryo inside the Makapuno seed and therefore incapable of germination.
As the evolutionary process is continually unfolding, one individual Makapuno was somehow able to develop enzymes to digest and metabolize the endosperm, thereby effecting germination. The plant grows like normal coconut but has the soft solid endosperm of the normal Makapuno.
The oldest method of propagating Makapuno is by planting the "kabuwig" (from same bunch). This is usually done in Laguna. This ensures that the recessive genes of the Makapuno will surface in the next generation when trees are planted near each other. The resulting trees give low yield of Makapuno due to the dominant stray pollens from normal coconuts.
In the late 60’s to early 70’s, Hector Balaga of UPLB developed an embryo rescue technique to grow the embryos by extracting the embryos from Makapuno seeds and nurturing them with artificially prepared media. This resulted in the first 10 genetically pure Makapuno trees planted in front of the Biological Science Building at UPLB.
With the above-mentioned evolutionary event occurring, there might not be a need for embryo rescue of Makapuno eventually. A new line of seed-grown Makapuno is in the making. The seedlings are now available for sale in Chatuchak Market, Thailand.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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