x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Abu Dhabi scientists study the origins of date palms

NYU Abu Dhabi has launched a project that aims to find out the history and traits of date palms.

ABU DHABI // Scientists at New York University Abu Dhabi have begun sequencing the DNA of different varieties of date palms in a project they hope will enable them to develop tastier and more disease-resistant fruit.

The university's centre for genomics and systems biology has already sequenced the genomes of two of the more than 100 varieties they plan to analyse.

"Nothing is known about date palms in terms of their genetic diversity and what the varieties look like genetically," said Michael Purugganan, a professor of genomics at New York University in the US. "So we thought this was a great opportunity to understand a completely different species that's also very important to a wide group of people."

The 100 Dates! project could also help discover the origins of date palms.

"We want to find out where they first came from," said Jonathan Flowers, the project scientist.

"We have to identify the region that has the most genetic diversity, so we want to sample varieties from all over North Africa, the Middle East," he said.

The project scientist added that the region from which they probably originated "should have more genetic variation, so that means they'll have more differences".

Sequencing about 15 genomes can take from two weeks to a month. The researchers want to identify genes that determine specific characteristics, such as taste and yield. This will allow farmers and bioengineers to grow dates with the desired qualities.

The team hopes to sequence the genomes of another 30 date varieties by early next year.