By Isabel Ovalle
DOHA: Qatar-based researchers are studying the features of dates to improve the information farmers have when cultivating palms.
Scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in Qatar are working on this project.
The team has collected 65 varieties and has the goal to gather 300.
Once the dates are at the lab, the team will look into their features such as length, width, weight and colour.
The next task will be to find the gene responsible for the dates’ characteristics.
“We look at the DNA of each date and discover that whenever we see a date that is dark brown, there’s something in the DNA that’s always there as well,” explained Joel Malek, Assistant Professor of Genetic Medicine and Director of the Genomics Laboratory at WCMC in Qatar.
The purpose of this work is to learn how date palms resist salt water — because it does a better job than others species — and draught.
One of the biggest findings of the Genomics Laboratory was to discover the difference between a female and a male palm, something you can’t usually tell for the first five or six years of the tree’s life.
The female tree is the one that produces dates.
Before distinguishing between male and female, the farmer had to plant a seed in the ground, fertilise it, and wait six years until it grew to find out whether or not it would give dates.
“We did this big study to find the area of the DNA that controls the gender, so other labs around the world can test seeds and, within a week, know if the plant will give dates or not,” added Malek.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to improve the information that farmers have, for instance, if they want big dates, we know what gene controls this feature,” he concluded.
In its statement of intent regarding the Date Palm Research Programme, WCMC said that dates are the most important agricultural crop in irrigable desert lands.
They help combat desertification, offer protection to under crops and are a good source of human nutrition.
Dates are the first agricultural export product of Qatar, amounting up to 16,500 metric tonnes in 2003.