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CAS President BAI Chunli Congratulates Saudi-Sino Date Palm Genome Project Made Progress
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On Dec 8 2013, a press conference was held at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Riyadh of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to celebrate the recent progresses of the Saudi-Sino Date Palm Genome Project (DPGP), a delegation headed by Prof. YU Jun from Beijing Institute of Genomics (BIG), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and The Agriculture Minister Fahad Balghunaim, KACST President Ibrahim Al-Suwaiyel, Prince Turki bin Saud, vice president of the KACST as well as more than 50 Saudi scientists from universities and research institutes attended the ceremony.

On behalf of CAS, BAI Chunli, President of CAS, sent a congratulation letter to the ceremony, extended his congratulation and regard to present and past members of the joint team from Saudi and China for their contributions to the projects, and expressed his wish to the friendship among the team members and between two countries.

KACST President Ibrahim Al-Suwaiyel said “the study, initiated in 2008, was a joint effort made by KACST and CAS, the sequencing could help increase productivity, as well as prevent and help in the treatment of diseases affecting date palms”.

The first Saudi-Sino research project DPGP was officially launched in the summer of 2008, which is supported jointly CAS and KACST. A series of research results have been published by the Joint Center of Excellence in Genomics Research (JCEGR) recently, which represent progresses made by collaborative efforts from both Saudi and Chinese scientists.

To support the project, a team of over 20 scientists from BIG have been working at KACST since 2008. Working closely with their Saudi colleagues, the group established DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, and molecular cloning facilities and platforms. They have launched several other related genome projects, including the sequencing of red palm weevil and Hassawi rice.

Date palm is a widely cultivated crop in the Middle East and North Africa, and it also has an important economic value and historical and cultural significance. In order to reveal the biological diversity, geographical distribution of the population, molecular mechanism for drought and stress resistance, sex determination (dioecious plant) and molecular breeding etc., the researchers carried out date palm genome and transcriptome sequencing.

By their hard work, the date palm genome draft was assembled and it covers 93% (605 million base pairs) of the whole genome. Through the analysis of date palm genome, the researchers found 41,660 genes, which account for more than 96% of all genes, and many genes and gene families related with resistance for drought, disease, salt and high temperature were also identified. Meanwhile, the study reveals the date palm genome duplication and evolution, as well as the process and mechanism for sugar metabolism and accumulation in date palm fruit.

In addition, through the comparative study of different date palm cultivars, the researchers described the genome variation in date palm and found some gene enrichment regions associated with important traits. These works provide the basic foundation for improving the environmental adaptation and fruit quality. Moreover, the works for genomes of organelles which are responsible for energy production and photosynthesis, mitochondria and chloroplast, date palm gene model analysis, and date palm fruit development analysis have ended. The relevant articles are published in PLoS ONE, Plant Molecular Biology, and Nature Communications.

In the future, based on the achievements of date palm genome project, the team will further carry out a project of large-scale genome sequencing and comparative genome analysis for other important palm crops. At present, 11 important palm plants, such as coconut, oil palm, peach palm, etc., have been collected and are being sequenced. The project will promote the collaborative research between China and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and enter into a new stage of closer cooperation.