KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Dr. Ikram Blilou, professor of plant science at KAUST, and her research team in Saudi Arabia collected samples from ancient date palms in the historical farm of Al-Dabeta, by the Quba mosque in Madinah.
Updated 16 October 2019

KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Today on World Food Day, a team of plant scientists from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) has begun a major project to improve global date palm production and protection.

This project is the first time that the date palm genome has been studied so comprehensively. Dr. Ikram Blilou, professor of plant science at KAUST, and her research team in Saudi Arabia have collected samples from ancient date palms in the historical farm of Al-Dabeta, by the Quba Mosque in Madinah. 

“Our main goal is to improve date palm fruit production and quality in the Kingdom. With more than 2,000 existing varieties globally from which 400 grow in Saudi Arabia, we are concentrating on the ‘Ajwa’ date variety, because of its important societal and religious value for Saudi Arabia in particular,” said Dr. Blilou. 

Earlier this year, Dr. Blilou published in the scientific journal Plant Cell, findings that provide an insight into how desert plants are able to thrive in hostile habitats. The research teams within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture are creating molecular and biotechnological tools to improve date palm agriculture by sequencing the genome of the Ajwa date palm.

“The date palm is one of the few fruit trees that, remarkably, can grow in the desert, a habitat with an arid climate where extreme temperature changes and drought conditions limit plant growth,” said Dr. Blilou. 

“Within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture Research we are studying date palms using advanced genome sequencing techniques and have begun to develop new breeding strategies to help palms grow faster and healthier as well as making them more resistant to pathogens and pests like the red palm weevil.” 

According to the National Palms and Dates Center (NCPD), Saudi Arabia produces an estimated 1.1 million tons of dates per year, 15 percent of the world’s date production. In addition, export of dates from Saudi Arabia grew by 11.7 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

“Despite this economic importance, basic research into the date palm, including understanding mechanisms of growth and adaptation to the desert environment, is still in its early stages mainly because of the lack of molecular tools and the challenging nature of the plant. It requires a long generation time for flowering which can be four to five years and setting fruits that take 10 to 15 years,” said Dr. Rod Wing, professor of plant science and director of the KAUST Center for Desert Agriculture.

The next step for researchers at this center is to work on generating high-quality genomes for a large number of other varieties of date palms, bringing further potential benefits for date palm agriculture around the world.


Huawei ICT Competition opens to students in KSA

Updated 28 October 2020

Huawei ICT Competition opens to students in KSA

Huawei is now running the 4th edition of its flagship annual ICT competition in Saudi Arabia to support the next generation of leaders for an intelligent world, in line with government national plans and strategies.

The Huawei ICT Competition underpins technology utilization and aims to support socioeconomic development by bolstering the overall ICT ecosystem through local talent. Such individuals can in turn help the Kingdom achieve its national development plans and ambitious visions for more sustainable knowledge-based economies. This year’s competition is being held in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).

From October to December, thousands of undergraduate students are expected to participate in the competition, which is being held virtually for the first time due to physical distancing measures. All university students in the Kingdom can take part in this competition.

Ibrahim bin Nasser Al-Nasser, general director of the Digital Innovation Center at MCIT, said: “The ICT sector is a significant national industry promoting Saudi Arabia’s global competitiveness and economic strength. Private sector programs like the Huawei ICT Competition are highly valued in supporting these ambitions, developing indigenous innovation overall while nurturing a supportive environment for the ICT sector in particular.”

Faisal bin Ayyad Al-Otaibi, director general of HR at Huawei Tech Investment Saudi Arabia, said: “Empowering the Kingdom’s youth with global knowledge and new skills plays a key role in the future of socioeconomic growth. Huawei is committed to expanding the ICT value chain in Saudi Arabia through local talent and building open ecosystems ... Moreover, by offering participants access to online exchanges and learning, we can create more equal opportunities for quality education, enabling more people to benefit from the digital economy.”

Zhao Liuqing, minister counselor for economic and commercial affairs at the Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia, added: “Saudi Arabia has long been our partner in many endeavors, and we value this relationship immensely. By working together on initiatives such as talent development and the evolution of the ICT sector, we can create new value for both of our societies.”

The training and competition tracks for this year — held under the theme “Connection, Glory, Future” — focus on advanced technologies such as 5G, AI, cloud computing, and data storage, facilitating connections between international talent.

This year will also see the introduction of the Huawei Innovation Competition, held in parallel to the ICT competition. It focuses on supporting undergraduate students and teachers in using innovative technologies such as AI, cloud computing, and big data to create valuable and meaningful applications for society.

Winners of the regional competitions will receive a certification, future learning opportunities, a $20,000 cash prize, and more.

In the past years, over 7,100 students from across the Kingdom applied for the Middle East ICT Competition from leading colleges and universities. The competition was supported by ministries, various ambassadors, and academic chancellors from some of Saudi Arabia’s top-ranking universities. 

Three teams participated in the ICT competition, and traveled to China to compete at Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, where they came in third place in the competition.