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.


Positive social impact of COVID-19 in KSA: Survey

Updated 12 August 2020

Positive social impact of COVID-19 in KSA: Survey

A survey commissioned by Al-Aghar Group, an independent Saudi think tank, in partnership with global management consultancy Kearney, has revealed that most thought leaders and decision-makers in the Kingdom anticipate that COVID-19 will be a positive accelerant of the transformation already underway in the Kingdom. The survey focused specifically on the social impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the Kingdom through 2025.

Respondents believed that COVID-19 is accelerating the advent of the “future of work” in the Kingdom and more than 65 percent see this as fundamentally positive. About 69 percent see the growing need for the retraining of employees as positive, spurring national adaptation to the new normal. However, the survey also revealed some concerns regarding the security of formal employment and self-employment, with 37 percent seeing the effect of the crisis as negative.

Most survey respondents (70 percent) expect education in the Kingdom to undergo a positive transformation with the adoption of new, innovative, and inclusive modes of learning.

Seventy-eight percent of the respondents believe that the impact of the pandemic on the health care in the Kingdom through 2025 will be highly beneficial.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe there will be a wide adoption of telemedicine services in the Kingdom in the near future, as patients gain greater comfort and confidence in this method of consultation with their health providers.

Most respondents believe the health crisis has accelerated the process of digital transformation in the country, particularly in the finance and retail sectors. Seventy-five percent of respondents see the anticipated wider prevalence of e-commerce as positive, and 89 percent see as positive increasing use of cashless payments for face-to-face transactions by 2025.

By 2025, 78 percent of respondents expect that COVID-19 will lead to a significant and welcome (83 percent) step change in government preparedness for future crises. Meanwhile, 68 percent of respondents anticipate a significant impact on government information-sharing and 65 percent anticipate a moderate, but positive change in the willingness of citizens to contribute toward government efforts.

Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Saud, chairman, Al-Aghar Group, said: “Saudi Arabia has a proud history of resilience and has thrived even in the most challenging situations. While this pandemic has severely affected us all, the survey results confirm the depth of our intention to use this current situation to accelerate our national progress.”

Rudolph Lohmeyer, partner and head of National Transformations Institute at Kearney Middle East, said: “The survey results clearly reveal the deep, optimistic resilience of the Saudi people and their implicit commitment to the Kingdom’s national transformation. Despite the near-term hardships caused by the crisis, respondents anticipate that the most significant medium-term impacts will be positive.”