Posted on June 14, 2011

In an effort to conserve agricultural biodiversity in Qatar and the region, the Ministry of Environment’s Biotechnology Centre will establish a gene bank within the next three years to help preserve genetic material. According to the English daily "Gulf Times", the gene banks are used to store and conserve the plant genetic resources of major crop plants and their wild relatives.

In plants, gene banking could be by freezing cuts from the plant or stocking the seeds while in animals, it is the freezing of sperm and eggs in zoological freezers until further need. With corals, fragments are taken which are stored in water tanks under controlled conditions. Also in plants, it is possible to unfreeze the material and propagate it. However, in animals, a living female is required for artificial insemination. The Biotechnology Centre comprises four units – Tissue Culture Production, Genetic Resource, Genetic Engineering and Gene Bank.

As part of the Genetic Resource, the center is also in the process of establishing a genetic resource database, which will keep the findings of the three main sections under it - namely plant genetic research, animal genetic research and micro-organisms genetic research. "The advantages of genetic resource database were to ensure Qatar’s fauna and floral are well preserved and documented through quality research, which we would be conducting alongside other countries in the region," Genetic Resources Division head, Salwa Al-Kuwari, explained.

She mentioned that the division will kick start its activities first in plant genetic research after technicians have been trained on gene banking by experts to be invited from Egypt. According to her, plants’ seeds, stems and roots would be preserved in the gene bank for mass reproduction. Plant Tissue Culture section head Kamla Al-Rumaihi said maintained that the tissue culturing will help in commercial production of plants and animals, apart from protecting and preserving them. "Tissue culture will assist in producing thousands of commercially viable plants, which is making planting more cost effective," She explained. She said the section has already started to culture tissues of fruits such as pineapple, bananas and most importantly date palm as well as ornamental and deserts plants.

Tissue culture is the growth of tissues and/or cells separate from the organism, which is typically facilitated via use of a liquid, semi-solid, or solid growth medium, such as broth or agar. Genetic Engineering section engineers Ali and Ashraf explained that with tissue engineering and culturing, the Centre will in the future be able to produce up to 100,000 palm trees within a year. It used to produce only 10,000. They are charged with tendering plants culture right from the laboratory through the greenhouse, nursery and up to the farm in order to ensure the plants are well protected and later produce healthy fruits. Apart from palm trees, they also tend to bananas, orchids and other ornamental plants.