Agarwood Induction Through Microbes: A Stress-Induced Aroma

Naturally occurring agarwood is rare. Out of the 21 species of Aquilaria, Brunei Darussalam houses two species that produce high quality agarwood, namely Aquilaria beccariana and Aquilaria microcarpa.

Following a study which aims to artificially induce agarwood formation using eight different induction treatments, researchers from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) Herbal Research Group detected two aromatic compounds. The fungi used for agarwood induction were newly isolated in Brunei previously by these researchers and included Trichoderma, Exophiala, Cladosporium, Aspergillus and Penicillin sp. In addition, nine fungal strains including Aspergillus, Fusarium, Mucor and Trichosporon were isolated and identified from a naturally infected agarwood, and the last two fungi (Mucor and Trichosporon) have not been previously reported. Further studies are needed to establish if the two fungal strains are of significance to the hostplant-microbe interaction.

Dr Pooja Shivanand Breh from the Faculty of Science (FOS) said, "This project is a trailblazer of local microbial induction studies of agarwood in Brunei. We hope to continue to research the production, yield, formulation and quality studies of agarwood." Other researchers involved in the study "Agarwood formation in Aquilaria beccariana and Aquilaria microcarpa in response to inoculation of newly isolated fungi from Brunei Darussalam" which was published in the journal Biodiversitas include Yumni Haziqah Mohammad, Dr Faizah Metali, Dr Hussein Taha, Nur Bazilah Afifah Matussin, Abdul Muizz Al-Azim Abdul Halim and Abdul Zul'adly Mohaimin.

The process of natural agarwood formation is very slow, taking from 20 to 40 years. So artificial induction has been investigated recently to speed up the process, reducing it to a few months or up to a couple of years. This time-consuming process and its rarity makes natural agarwood highly valuable. Therefore the research involving trees and microbial infections is a long-term project.

Agarwood from Brunei Darussalam is known as one of the best in Southeast Asia, fetching high prices for its delicate and sweet fragrance. It is used as agar attar and incense, and the oil also serves as the base notes for perfumes and essential oil formulations. It is also used in aromatherapy and traditional herbal medicine. There have been reports of Aquilaria-derived treatments for abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and even asthma.

The interdisciplinary Herbal Research Group is inspired by many of the natural resources available and left undiscovered, particularly in the rainforests of Brunei Darussalam. Among the activities by researchers include extraction and isolation of novel compounds, determination of various biological and pharmacological studies in vitro and in vivo.

At the Herbal Research Laboratory in UBD, researchers evaluate herbs and their products for equality, safety and efficacy as therapeutic agents; investigate herbal extracts for their biological and pharmacological activities; and develop health products derived from natural resources/herbs in due course.

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