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New UAE study to help scientists understand how mangroves thrive in desert climate

Abu Dhabi - Experts at NYUAD have reconstructed the genome of the grey mangrove tree in a first-of-its-kind study.


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Tue 2 Feb 2021, 1:57 PM

Last updated: Tue 2 Feb 2021, 2:01 PM

UAE researchers have recently published the first in-depth look into the genetic makeup of the grey mangrove tree, a common sight on the Emirates’ coast.

Now available to scientists across the globe, the findings will be key to understanding how these mangroves are able to thrive in the UAE, despite harsh weather conditions.

The research group led by the NYU Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Centre for Genomics and Systems Biology (CGSB) published the high-resolution genome for the grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) in the journal G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics.

The grey mangrove, a pan-tropical species, has a distribution that extends from New Zealand to the Arabian Gulf. As an important ‘ecosystem engineering’ species that provides habitat for many other species and protects coastlines from erosion and storm surges, there has been growing research across the globe on how these mangroves might cope with the repercussions of climate change.

“The grey mangrove is the most widely distributed mangrove species in the world, and it is the only natural evergreen forest here in Abu Dhabi and across the Arabian Peninsula. This is the first highly detailed reconstruction of the genome for this mangrove, a species that is incredibly important both locally and across the tropics,” said John Burt, associate professor of biology at NYUAD and project lead.

The goal of the research was to develop a high-resolution resource for global scientists trying to understand the biology of this widely occurring tropical species.

“Our new assembly provides an excellent reference for evolution and genetic connectivity studies focused on A. marina and related species,” said NYUAD research group member Guillermo Friis-Montoya.

“An annotation of unprecedented quality is also provided, enabling the identification of candidate genes involved in evolutionary processes like local adaptation and speciation. Overall, the data reported are a valuable resource for the study of mangrove biology, a highly relevant species both ecologically and socioeconomically.”

Burt and Friis-Montoya continue to look into the mangrove populations in Abu Dhabi and they are now nearing the completion of a two-year study of the environmental biology of this species.

“The UAE actually represents a uniquely challenging environment, with extremely hot summers, very cold winters, and very salty seawater that is challenging for mangroves,” said Burt.

“By combining our genomic analyses with monitoring of the molecular and biochemical responses of Abu Dhabi’s mangroves over time, we will show how our local mangroves have been able to cope and even thrive in conditions that are found nowhere else in the world.”

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