Public Release: 

Genetic secrets of date palm unlocked by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center

DOHA, QATAR (May 1, 2009) -- Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) 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 Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. 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 at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. "It clearly demonstrates the feasibility and success of the most advanced genomics technologies in Qatar and represents a milestone toward 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 1,000 fold."

Mr. 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.

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

###

Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

Established in partnership with Qatar Foundation, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) is part of the Weill Cornell Medical College, the first American institution to offer its M.D. degree overseas. WCMC-Q offers a complete and integrated educational program, comprising a two-year pre-medical program, followed by a 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 Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. For more information, visit www.qatar-med.cornell.edu.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Weill Cornell, which is a principal academic affiliate of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, offers an innovative curriculum that integrates the teaching of basic and clinical sciences, problem-based learning, office-based preceptorships, and primary care and doctoring courses. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research in areas such as stem cells, genetics and gene therapy, geriatrics, neuroscience, structural biology, cardiovascular medicine, transplantation medicine, infectious disease, obesity, cancer, psychiatry and public health -- and continue to delve ever deeper into the molecular basis of disease and social determinants of health in an effort to unlock the mysteries of the human body in health and sickness. In its commitment to global health and education, the Medical College has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. For more information, visit www.med.cornell.edu.

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 14 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 www.qf.org.qa.

Michael Vertigans
Director
Phone: +974 492 8650
Fax: +974 492 8444
Email: miv2008@qatar-med.cornell.edu

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.