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May 03, 2009

Genetic secrets of date palm unlocked

By mapping a draft version of the date palm genome, scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) have unraveled the genetic secrets stored in the fruit. Date palm trees play a significant role in agriculture throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Pakistan and the fruit is a major source of nutrition in those areas.

Joel Malek, director of the Genomics Laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, said that the date palm sequencing work was a proof-of-concept study. “We have generated a draft DNA sequence and initial assembly of the date palm using the most advanced technology,” said Malek.

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.

To produce the draft map, researchers used a next-generation sequencing approach, which, according to Malek, 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,’ said Malek.

The researchers 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). Malek said that his team would continue to improve the draft sequence and publish their data.

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