The date palm tree produces a highly nutrition fruit in harsh environments found in a region stretching from North Africa, through the Arabian Gulf to India. The ability to withstand high temperatures, high salinity water and other environmental challenges makes the date palm an excellent candidate for food security in this region of the world. In 2011 we published the first date palm genome sequence in Nature Biotechnology (Al-Dous et al. 2011). Based on this ground-breaking work we proposed to establish both the infrastructure and research to allow Qatar to lead in the biotechnological development of the date palm tree. This proposal was recently supported by QNRF who awarded the first exceptional award for date palm research.

Here we show our findings from both the research and infrastructure development. This includes the establishment of the first date palm biobank, genome sequencing of multiple date palm trees from across the world, identification of candidate genes for gender determination, fruit length and fruit color among others. The results of the research will provide opportunities for development and commercialization in Qatar and the rest of the region as emphasis is put on changing environments and the need for food security. To establish the infrastructure for this research we have utilized expertise and pipelines developed in Qatar to analyze multiple date palm ‘omics data. Our approach is based on the combined expertise in next-generation DNA sequencing, Single Molecule Sequencing, Metabolomics, Bioinformatics and Phenotype analysis. These are then combined with expertise in local date palm orchards to look at the possibility of translating findings to the farmers.

Our major outcome is the date palm genome and its metabolic characterization as its read out. To obtain the most detailed results we created the first date palm biobank with over 250 date fruit types collected from across date palm cultivating countries. Phenotype and genotype information has been collected on these fruit. Candidate markers related to date palm gender, flowering time, fruit color and size have been identified and are currently being developed further. To translate our research to agricultural application we have worked with Ministry of Environments Biotechnology Centre to understand how various fertilizers affect the microbiomes surrounding date palm trees and ultimately their fruit yield. Additional ongoing projects with Qatar University seek to identify the optimal date palm male pollinators to improve date palm fruit yield.

To understand the relationship of the date palm to Qatars Environmental sustainability we have conducted a survey of date palm genetic diversity across the municipalities of Qatar. Multiple leaf samples were collected from each municipality and genotyping was conducted on all DNA including date palm and any potential pathogens. This study has identified the main types of trees growing across Qatar as well as the main associated potential fungal and microbial pathogens.

The project has resulted in multiple intellectual property disclosures and partners for the commercialization of these are actively being pursued.

This work was conducted by the Date Palm EP group and funded by a grant from Qatar Foundation National Research Priorities, NPRPX-014-4-001 Link: http://dactylifera.org


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