New genomic research facility to support food security efforts in UAE and abroad

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment. — Supplied photo
Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment. — Supplied photo

Dubai - ICBA, BGI partner to establish Desert Life Science Laboratory.


A Staff Reporter

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 3:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 3:06 PM

A new advanced genomic research facility was inaugurated today at the headquarters of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) to further genomic research on, among other things, healthier, more nutritious, and resilient crops for sustainable food systems.

As a joint venture between ICBA and BGI, the world’s largest genomic research institution, the Desert Life Science Laboratory (DLSL) will help to fast-track the discovery and development of food and other crops suited to marginal environments, that is agroecosystems constrained by a range of factors such as water scarcity, soil and water salinity, heat and drought, among others.

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE, said: “The Desert Life Science Laboratory is a vital initiative and one that is a significant addition to the UAE’s food security efforts, as enshrined in the country’s National Food Security Strategy 2051. Increased desertification as a result of climate change is expanding marginal environments, so finding crops with a food value that can not only tolerate but thrive in these environments is a strategic priority.”

The establishment of the DLSL is a result of strategic collaboration between ICBA and BGI and is in line with their shared objective of addressing global challenges such as hunger and poverty through use of cutting-edge science and technology.

“The Desert Life Science Laboratory, through its advanced research into more resilient and nutritious crops, can assist other countries that have large marginal areas. This enables the UAE to play an important role in helping to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 2 – zero hunger by 2030,” added Almheiri.

DLSL to cater to public- and private-sector stakeholders

The DLSL will serve the needs of both public and private entities for various types of sequencing services in the UAE and other countries. It is specially designed to conduct whole genome resequencing, genotyping-by-sequencing, metagenomics, transcriptomics, and other omics studies.

It is equipped with some of the latest biotechnological equipment, including the next-generation sequencing platform (DNBSEQ-G400RS); M220 Focused-ultrasonicator; Agilent Bioanalyzer 2100; and the Applied Biosystems™ Real-time PCR.

The laboratory also features such tools as a Qubit 4 Fluorometer; PCR machines (Bioer and Applied Biosystems™); high-speed centrifuges; an autoclave; laminar flow hoods; and growth chambers.

Dr Tarifa Alzaabi, Acting Director General of ICBA, said: “At ICBA, our goal is to provide solutions — from crops to technologies — to wide-ranging problems affecting agriculture and food production in marginal environments worldwide. With the aid of the DLSL, we hope to be able to serve better the needs of our stakeholders, including smallholder farmers, scientists, and policymakers, for such solutions both in the UAE and elsewhere."

The laboratory is intended to carry out the complete gamut of genomic research from genome-wide association studies to soil metagenomic analysis.

Dr. Ren Wang, Special Advisor to the Chairman of BGI, said: “In today’s genomics era of plant science, the state-of-the-art equipment of the joint lab will also boost the exchange and collaboration between ICBA and China. There are about 100 million hectares of salinity-prone agricultural land in China. We are excited about the potential of the joint lab to help China to combat such challenges as climate change, drought and salinity to ensure sustainable agriculture and food security.”

The DLSL will directly support strengthening the resiliency of food security and plant genetic resources.


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