DOHA: Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) have published the first genetic map of the date palm, paving the way for Qatar to become a leader in date palm genetics and biotechnology.
The map shows the order in which the date palm’s chromosomes are placed and which chromosome is responsible for reproduction.
In theory, the information could one day allow growers to manipulate the development of seeds, creating more female fruit-bearing plants than male plants,which do not produce dates. It also places Qatar at the head of research into the date palm, an important food source for much of the Middle East. The map has been produced by the genomics group under the direction of Dr Joel Malek, Assistant Professor of Genetic Medicine, in collaboration with Dr Karsten Suhre, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and with help from colleagues at the Ministry of Environment’s Biotechnology Centre and its Department of Agricultural Affairs.
The programme ‘Establishing World Leadership in Date Palm Research in Qatar’ (NPRP-EP X-014-4-001) was funded by Qatar National Research Fund’s NPRP Exceptional Proposal programme that provided $4.5m for the research.
Dr Malek said, “This is us laying the foundation for establishing world leadership in date palm research. To be a world leader, you have to have infrastructure and I consider this a genetic infrastructure that will allow us to be the leaders when it comes date palm biotechnology.”
Three years ago, he and his team produced a draft version of the date palm genome which paved the way for the more accurate map. To create the map, Dr Malek and Dr Suhre worked with the centre and the Department of Agricultural Affairs. The ministry provided 150 seeds from a female tree and they were then propagated by Ameena Al Malki at the centre. Once they were large enough, leaves and DNA were taken from the seedlings. A new process ‘genotyping-by-sequencing’ was applied which sequenced portions of the genomes of all seedlings. It allowed the researchers to look at the parent tree and ascertain how it passed her DNA to her offspring.