UAE’s ICBA unveils new genomic research facility to address food security

By Arya M Nair, Official Reporter
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The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) has launched a new advanced genomic research facility to expand genomic research on, among other things, healthier, more nutritious, and resilient crops for sustainable food systems.

The Desert Life Science Laboratory (DLSL), a joint venture (JV) between ICBA and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), the world’s largest genomics research institution, will help accelerate the discovery and development of food and other crops suited to marginal conditions. These are agroecosystems that are hampered by a variety of conditions, including water scarcity, soil and water salinity, heat, and drought.

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 (NGS) platform, M220 Focused-ultrasonicator, Agilent Bioanalyser 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.

Mariam Hareb Al Mheiri
Mariam Hareb Al Mheiri
Minister of State
Food Security

“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 laboratory will perform the complete gamut of genomic research, from genome-wide association studies to soil metagenomic analysis. The DLSL will directly support strengthening the resiliency of food security and plant genetic resources. 

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.”

The gene bank houses 15,140 accessions from 270 drought-, heat- and salt-tolerant plant species from over 150 countries and territories, as well as 270 seed samples from 70 wild and cultivated plant species across the UAE. With bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the laboratory can also provide similar services to gene banks in other nations.

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