Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) and the Ministry of Environment’s Biotechnology Center have launched the Date Palm Research Program to
establish Qatar as an international leader in date palm research.
WCMC-Q and the Biotechnology Center have already made a remarkable contribution to date
palm research the past few years. In 2008, WCMC-Q’s Genomics Laboratory mapped the date
palm genome for the first time. In 2010, the research team identified the region of the genome
that is linked to gender, making it possible to quickly and easily classify male and female
seedlings - information that has huge significance for the cultivation and propagation of the
The goal of this new international collaborative project is to increase Qatar’s lead in date
palm research further, advancing basic, applied and human health research into this national
resource and establishing a nucleus for a future Qatar Institute of Date Palm Research.
The inaugural meeting of the research program on October 2 was held via video-conferencing
at WCMC-Q with leading scientists in Qatar, France and Germany. The meeting was chaired
by Dr. Joel Malek, Director of Genomics at WCMC-Q; Mr. Masoud Al Marri, Director of the
Biotechnology Center; and Dr. Karsten Suhre, Lead Principal Investigator and WCMC-Q’s
Director of Metabolomics.
Dr. Malek said: “We have a great team of scientists assembled for this project from a broad set
of backgrounds. Really, integrated research like this has not been conducted on the date palm
before and we expect that the results will directly impact this important crop in the future. The
joining of local and international expertise will ensure that project stays focused on the needs
of Qatar and the region while bringing the latest technologies to bear on challenges in date
Dr. Suhre said: “We believe that we already have very original research tools in our hands that
allow us to investigate the genetic and biochemical properties of the date palm. What we aim
at now is to translate our basic research know-how into real-world applications. This can only
be achieved in close collaboration with the local stakeholders, represented here by the Qatar
Biotechnology Center and representatives of the Ministry of Environment’s Department of
Mr. Masoud Al Marri, Director of the Biotechnology Center, said: “For hundreds of years the
date has been a part of daily life in this region. The continued partnership and cooperation
between the Biotechnology Center and WCMC-Q means that Qatar is now leading research into
the cultivation of this fruit. Not only is this very exciting, it also demonstrates Qatar’s ambition
to be a center of research excellence for the Middle East.”
Also present at the meeting by video link were the project’s partners which included Dr.
Abdelhafid Bendahmane, Research Director at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
(IRD); Dr. Frederique Aberlenc, Researcher at the IRD; and Dr. Klaus Mayer, Researcher at the
Helmholtz Center Munich;
Local partners in the project include Dr. Ali El Kharboutly, Biotechnology Consultant at the
Biotechnology Center; Dr. Emad Hussain Al-Turaihi, Agricultural Expert at the Ministry of
Environment’s Department of Agriculture; and Mr. Amer Fayed Al Khis, Research Engineer at
the Department of Agriculture. The project has received financial support of $4.5 million from
Qatar National Research Fund and will run for a period of five years.
Date palm horticulture has been practiced in the Middle East for thousands of years. The fruit
is an essential part of the daily diet in the Arab world and play a central role at Iftar during
Ramadan. Dates are the main agricultural product in Qatar, amounting to 19,844 metric tons
per year in 2005 although production is decreasing.
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