Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) and the Ministry of Environment’s Biotechnology Center have launched the Date Palm Research Program to establish Qatar as an international leader in date palm research.
WCMC-Q and the Biotechnology Center have already made a remarkable contribution to date palm research the past few years. In 2008, WCMC-Q’s Genomics Laboratory mapped the date palm genome for the first time. In 2010, the research team identified the region of the genome that is linked to gender, making it possible to quickly and easily classify male and female seedlings – information that has huge significance for the cultivation and propagation of the palms.
The goal of this new international collaborative project is to increase Qatar’s lead in date palm research further, advancing basic, applied and human health research into this national resource and establishing a nucleus for a future Qatar Institute of Date Palm Research.
The inaugural meeting of the research program on October 2 was held via video-conferencing at WCMC-Q with leading scientists in Qatar, France and Germany. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Joel Malek, Director of Genomics at WCMC-Q; Mr. Masoud Al Marri, Director of the Biotechnology Center; and Dr. Karsten Suhre, Lead Principal Investigator and WCMC-Q’s Director of Metabolomics.
Dr. Malek said: “We have a great team of scientists assembled for this project from a broad set of backgrounds. Really, integrated research like this has not been conducted on the date palm before and we expect that the results will directly impact this important crop in the future. The joining of local and international expertise will ensure that project stays focused on the needs of Qatar and the region while bringing the latest technologies to bear on challenges in date palm biotechnology.”
Dr. Suhre said: “We believe that we already have very original research tools in our hands that allow us to investigate the genetic and biochemical properties of the date palm. What we aim at now is to translate our basic research know-how into real-world applications. This can only be achieved in close collaboration with the local stakeholders, represented here by the Qatar Biotechnology Center and representatives of the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Agriculture”.”
Mr. Masoud Al Marri, Director of the Biotechnology Center, said: “For hundreds of years the date has been a part of daily life in this region. The continued partnership and cooperation between the Biotechnology Center and WCMC-Q means that Qatar is now leading research into the cultivation of this fruit. Not only is this very exciting, it also demonstrates Qatar’s ambition to be a center of research excellence for the Middle East.”
Also present at the meeting by video link were the project’s partners which included Dr. Abdelhafid Bendahmane, Research Director at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD); Dr. Frederique Aberlenc, Researcher at the IRD; and Dr. Klaus Mayer, Researcher at the Helmholtz Center Munich;
Local partners in the project include Dr. Ali El Kharboutly, Biotechnology Consultant at the Biotechnology Center; Dr. Emad Hussain Al-Turaihi, Agricultural Expert at the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Agriculture; and Mr. Amer Fayed Al Khis, Research Engineer at the Department of Agriculture. The project has received financial support of $4.5 million from Qatar National Research Fund and will run for a period of five years.
Date palm horticulture has been practiced in the Middle East for thousands of years. The fruit is an essential part of the daily diet in the Arab world and play a central role at Iftar during Ramadan. Dates are the main agricultural product in Qatar, amounting to 19,844 metric tons per year in 2005 although production is decreasing.
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