Scientists seek to unravel date code 2009-02-12 08:42:31   Print

    BEIJING, Feb. 12 -- Chinese and Saudi scientists are working together to unravel the genetic code of the date palm, which Arabs call the "king of the oasis".

    By mapping out its genetic structure, the scientists hope to determine its genome organizations and all its genetic characteristics, Yu Jun, professor and associate director of the Beijing Institute for Genomics (BIG), under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said Wednesday.

    It will also provide basic information for other species within the Phoenix genus and enable scientists to work out ways to control the red palm weevil - the most destructive and dangerous pest in the growing areas for coconut and date palms in Asia, Yu said while introducing the project to President Hu Jintao during his visit to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

    The Date Palm Genome project is viewed as a landmark mission between Chinese and Saudi scientists. It is the first research project under the Saudi-Sino Science and Technology Collaboration Framework Memorandum signed in 1996. It is also the largest life science research project funded by the Saudi Arabia government.

    Wishing the joint genome project a success, Hu said China is willing to push forward the science and technology cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

    With the arrival of 11 Chinese scientists from Yu's institute six months ago, the project has provided good experience for their Saudi colleagues, Dr Morahim S al-Mesnilem told China Daily.

    The scientists have so far set up for three platforms for starting genomic and bioinformatics studies, nutrition and metabolism analysis, and research into the date palm's genetic breeding and biotechnology.

    The date palm, one of 60 species of palm, is one of the oldest cultivated trees.

    "It is the only tree that can tolerate such hard conditions - water deficiency, salty soil, and so on," he said.

    The Saudis have treasured the trees for generations as they provide shade against the burning sun. Their fronds are used to thatch roofs and woven into baskets, while its fruit is eaten.

    "For centuries, the dates have been our main source of food and energy," al-Mesnilem said.

    After the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, the date palm was incorporated in its national emblem, as representative of "vitality and growth".

    Saudi's groves feature more than 20 million trees and more than 320 varieties of the fruit, and yield 15 percent of the world's date palms.

    The country also donates a large amount of dates to hunger-stricken countries through the United Nation's World Food Program.

    BIG is renowned for its work on the International Human genome project, its sequencing of chicken genome diversity, and its mapping of silkworm genes.

    (Source: China Daily)

Editor: Yang Lina
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