Atlas is based in Indonesia, but unlike most Indonesian producers they focus on pearls from silver-lip P. max. That’s unusual because the native shell population is overwhelmingly gold-lip. In fact, gold-lip is more prevalent everywhere, although silver-lip proportion rises south of the equator. After seven years of selective breeding, Atlas now grows more than 90 percent silver and white pearls. That, mates, is the work of a PhD marine biologist.
Atlas has teamed up with scientists at James Cook University to grow what they call the "perfect pearl." JCU researchers have sequenced the pearl oyster genome. Their next task is to determine which genes are responsible for producing the finest pearls with the finest colours.
“We’ve essentially got a list of all the genes the oyster uses to produce a pearl,” said Dr Dean Jerry of JCU’s Department of Agriculture. “Now we just need to identify which of those genes make the nicest pearls. Basically, we’ll be testing each gene in thousands of oysters to identify just five or six genes that make the pearl round, shiny and a pure gold colour,” said Jerry.
It will likely be some time before anybody knows whether a recipe for the perfect pearl exists.
This also raises new questions:
Is it certain that pearl quality is solely genetically determined?
If the genes tied to pearl quality are discovered and P. max is narrowly bred, thereby reducing genetic diversity, will not a farm’s entire population be susceptible to the same sort of disaster, whether environmental or disease?