Public Release:  WCMC-Q researchers unlock genetic secrets of date palm

Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar

Doha, Sept. 15, 2009 - Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar have mapped a draft version of the date palm genome, unlocking many of its genetic secrets.

"We have generated a draft DNA sequence and initial assembly of the date palm using the most advanced technology," says Joel Malek, director of the Genomics Laboratory at WCMC-Q. Genetic information about the date palm is extremely valuable to researchers who are working to improve fruit yield and quality and to better understand susceptibility and resistance to disease.

"This is an important step for our biomedical research program," says Khaled Machaca, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics and associate dean for basic science research. "It clearly demonstrates the feasibility and success of the most advanced genomics technologies in Qatar and represents a milestone towards establishing Qatar and Weill Cornell as a regional research center of excellence. In addition, this achievement by the WCMC-Q research team holds great promise for the application of the genomics technology to a better understanding of biomedical problems."

The date palm sequencing work was a proof of concept study, according to Malek, who established the genomics laboratory last year. The goal was to establish and validate the capabilities of the core lab for large-scale genomics projects. The lab is an integral part of a large biomedical research program launched last year by WCMC-Q with support from the Qatar Foundation that aims to make Qatar a hub for research in the Middle East.

To produce the draft map, the WCMC-Q researchers used a next generation sequencing approach, which Malek says offers data quality between that of the expressed sequence tag (EST) method and the traditional whole-genome mapping method. "We were able to develop a relatively unbiased view of the gene space of the entire date palm plant at a fraction of the cost and in a much shorter period of time. Using this approach, which takes advantage of the lower repetitive DNA in the date palm gene regions, we have increased the publicly available knowledge of the date palm gene by about 1000 fold."

Malek and his research assistants obtained the DNA from leaves of the date palm provided by the Qatar Plant Tissue Culture Lab in the Department of Agriculture and Water Research (Qatar Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture).

Date palm trees play a significant role in agriculture throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Pakistan. The fruit is a major source of nutrition in those areas, and the tree itself plays an important role in the development of sustainable agriculture in many drought and saline-affected regions of the world. References in the Qur'an have kept alive the use of dates for medicinal purposes over the centuries.

Malek says he and his colleagues will continue to improve the draft sequence and publish their data. Meanwhile, they are making the information available to scientists and researchers around the world.

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It is available at http://www.qatar-weill.cornell.edu/research/datepalmGenome/download.html.

NOTES TO EDITORS

Established in partnership with Qatar Foundation, WCMC-Q is part of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, the first American institution to offer its M.D. degree overseas. WCMC-Q offers a complete and integrated educational program, comprising the two-year Pre-medical Program, followed by the four-year Medical Program, with teaching by Cornell faculty. There are separate admission processes for each Program, guided by the standards of admission in use at Cornell University in Ithaca, and its Medical College in New York City.

Website: www.qatar-med.cornell.edu

About Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development

Founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, and chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, Qatar Foundation is a private, non-profit organization committed to the principle that a nation's greatest natural resource is its people.

The headquarters of Qatar Foundation are located within its flagship project, Education City, a fourteen million square-meter campus which hosts numerous progressive learning institutions and centers of research, including branch campuses of five of the world's leading universities, plus a cutting-edge research and development center. Qatar Foundation also works to enhance the quality of life in Qatar by investing in community health and development.

For more information please visit: http://www.qf.org.qa/

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