Sequencing date palm genomes could lead to drought, disease resistant varieties

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Date palms have provided food, shade and building material in the Middle East for thousands of years. But unlike other staple crops, relatively little is known about the traits or evolution of this economically important plant.

Now, a team of scientists has found the genetic mutation responsible for the red or yellow colour of the sugary date fruit.

The discovery is part of the ongoing 100 dates! gene sequencing project at NYUAD. Thanks to a three-year collaboration between researchers in the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Qatar, Pakistan and the US, the team at NYUAD has analysed the genomic sequence of 62 varieties of date palms from 12 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

Their work, published in Nature Communications, provides the first comprehensive catalogue of molecular variation in date palms and identifies more than seven million genetic mutations. As well as fruit colour, the team has also found genes that may be important in fruit quality, ripening and disease resistance.

Genetic information could be used to identify date varieties that can handle the challenges of climate change such as rising temperatures, reduced water supply and increased salinity without compromising on the sweetness of the fruit produced, explains Joel Malek from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

The team is also interested in how to use genetics to combat pests and diseases, such as Bayoud disease, which can wipe out entire plantations.

“The identification of mutations in pathways associated with disease resistance, fruit quality, flowering time and sugar metabolism are essential for future breeding of the species,” says Frederique Aberlenc, an independent genetic researcher at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développment, France.

Read full, original post: Decoding the date palm

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