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.


Reham Bahauddin drives Ascott Sari to success

Updated 26 November 2020

Reham Bahauddin drives Ascott Sari to success

Spearheading the operations at Ascott Sari Jeddah, one of Saudi Arabia’s elite serviced properties, Reham Bahauddin, the operations manager, is a woman of substance and intellect. Having accomplished an educational background in biology and neuroscience, Bahauddin broadened her forte as a liberal arts alumnus through prestigious international institutes, and has managed multiple projects across the US, Spain, Morocco and Egypt prior to her stint with Ascott since May 2018. Her unrelenting passion to explore rewarded Bahauddin with a managerial stature at the age of 27.

Extending the group’s support to Saudi Vision 2030, and in alignment with the aims of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ascott introduced a regional talent project “Saudi Graduate Program” in 2019. The program empowers national talents, whereby high-achieving Saudis are trained for managerial leadership positions within the Ascott group. Bahauddin is a success story of this very initiative.

Part of Ascott’s portfolio, Ascott Sari Jeddah is a boutique luxury property on Sari Street in Jeddah. Home to short-stay guests and long-stay residents, the property offers studios, and one- and two-bedroom serviced spaces, adorned in exquisite Parisian décor. Complemented with global lifestyle amenities and business facilities, the property is locally renowned for its international standards of hospitality.

Under Bahauddin’s leadership since July 2019, the property has accomplished elevated rates of occupancy. Her managerial potential was applauded mid-year at the peak of the global COVID-19 crisis, where Ascott Sari Jeddah remained open and well-operational under her supervision, during the tense lockdown period. Bahauddin was also instrumental in the implementation of Ascott’s global safety program “Ascott Cares” at Ascott Sari Jeddah, elevating the property’s international safety protocols. The hotel received the Ascott Cares Hygiene Excellence and Safety Label by Bureau Veritas (BV), a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services. BV conducted field audits at the property to ensure that the nine commitments under Ascott Cares met the stringent requirements of BV’s inspection program.

An inspiring leader to her team and a successful hotelier, Bahauddin’s work and proactive approach has led the property to achieve numerous accolades.

On a personal front, she enjoys a well-balanced lifestyle as a recreational diver and an environmental enthusiast. She is also actively part of several nonprofit projects catering to the environment and street children.