Oryx gets new lease of life

November 12, 2012 - 5:09:28 am

Dr Sheikh Faleh bin Nasser Al Thani (left), Director General for Agriculture Researches and Development and Dr Javaid Sheikh, Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar during the press conference at Sharq Village and Spa yesterday. Shaival Dalal

Doha: In a breakthrough study that will help prevent the extinction of oryx, the genome of the animal has been mapped for the first time in Qatar.

This was announced by researchers of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), in association with the Biotechnology Center--Ministry of Environment (BCQ-MoE), during a press conference yesterday. The research took place in WCMC-Q’s genomics laboratories. 

Oryx, which is Qatar’s national animal, is currently classed as ‘vulnerable’.

During the 1950s and 1960s the number of wild oryx fell to just a couple of hundreds, which is why the genetic diversity of oryx alive today is small. 

The findings will help captive breeding programmes select the most genetically-diverse animals to ensure the viability of the species. This also raises the possibility that more animals will eventually be released back into the wild. 

“This is the first animal to be sequenced in Qatar and we should be proud of this achievement,” Masoud Al Marri, Director of BCQ-MoE, said.

The data arrived at by Dr Joel Malek, Director of WCMC-Q’s Genomics Core, and his team, will allow breeders to select the most genetically different male and female Oryx, thus allowing them to produce healthier specimen in the future with greater resistance to diseases.

“The results gained from this project will open the door for further research programmes, which will help in oryx conservation in the promised future and build Qatar’s capacity in this regards,” Al Marri added.

The DNA used to map the genome came from an oryx kept at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation owned by Sheikh Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani. 

Blood was taken from a young male animal and the DNA extracted using, in simple terms, soap and ethanol.

The DNA was then broken into billions of fragments using sound waves – specifically focused acoustic pressure - before being re-constructed using a super-computer. 

This provided the researchers with the sequence of the genome. They also discovered that the genome of the oryx is 95 percent similar to that of the cow and the sheep, meaning that WCMC-Q researchers also know the function of each gene.

“Through working together and using cutting-edge technology, we have results which could make a real, tangible difference to the survival of a species. This has huge implications and everyone involved in the research should feel justly proud of themselves,” Dr Javaid I Sheikh, Dean of WCMC-Q, said.

At the press conference, certificates were presented to those who were instrumental in the research. This included: Al Marri, Dr Malek, Dr Benjamin Shykind, Dr Atef Sayed, Dr Tim Bouts, Amina Al Malki, Eman Al Dous, Eman Al Azwani, Binu George, Yasmeen Salameh, Lisa Matthew, and Yasmin Mohamoud. 

The Peninsula