UAE: Whole-genome sequencing of ghaf tree unveiled at Arab Health 2024

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The landmark ghaf tree genome sequencing project, announced at on-going Arab Health, which runs from January 29 till February 1 2024, will enhance understanding of the ghaf tree’s genetic adaptations for thriving which safeguards and champions the UAE’s natural legacy.
Image Credit: File

Abu Dhabi: The tough Ghaf tree carries great significance in the UAE, and is recognised for its ability to thrive in arid environments.

Now, DNA sequencing and analysis of the Ghaf tree has been completed, it was announced at the four-day Arab Health 2024, which kicked off on Monday.

As the national tree of the UAE, the ghaf represents an icon of stability and peace in the desert environment.

Able to live for a century or more, the tree stands as a witness to old customs.

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Now, the ghaf genome sequencing project will continue building on previous research conducted by the Khalifa Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

DNA sequence of national tree

The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with M42, recently completed the DNA sequencing and analysis of the Ghaf tree.

By sequencing the genome of the ghaf tree, the project will help advance understanding of the genetic traits that enable organisms to grow in difficult environments.

This is especially crucial as the world addresses the impacts of climate change and its impact on human health.

Ghaf trees
⦿ Ghaf trees were designated the national tree of the UAE in 2008 due to its cultural and traditional significance.

⦿ The ghaf tree, scientifically known as prosopis cineraria, plays a crucial role in stabilising desert soil and preventing damage, while also providing refuge for various desert creatures.

⦿ Each tree can for up 120 years on average.

⦿ Traditionally, the tree was used to feed livestock and for its purported medicinal properties.

⦿ As an icon of hospitality and generosity – the ghaf has been used traditionally to welcome guests and travelers who come to the region.

⦿ It has also been used for centuries as a source of food, shelter, and medicine for the local Bedouin people.

Whole-genome sequencing

M42’s team of environmental scientists, led by Dr Wael Elamin, Medical Director at M42, utilised cutting-edge sequencing platforms from Oxford Nanopore Technologies to achieve high-quality whole-genome sequencing of the Ghaf tree.

With more than 99 per cent mapping rate and 240 times more genome coverage to the existing genome reference, the study demonstrates a high-quality of data generated.

This work supplements the effort to create a robust catalogue of genetic variants offering valuable insights into gene functionality, gene expression patterns and unique genetic traits.

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Recently, the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), in collaboration with M42, announced the completion of the DNA sequencing and analysis of the Ghaf tree.
Image Credit: Supplied

Conservation efforts

The technology used by M42 also provides methylation information over and above the DNA sequence.

The findings pave the way for further nature conservation efforts, understanding draught-resistance biology, the development of resilient trees adaptable to diverse ecological conditions and enables capacity building for agro-genomics solutions for the region and beyond.

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The genome sequencing analysis will continue building on previous research conducted by the Khalifa Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

Intertwined with human health

Dr Fahed Al Marzooqi, Deputy Group Chief Operating Officer at M42, said: “Human health is intricately intertwined with environmental health, and this has become increasingly clear to the world at large. Operating at the intersection of health, technology and sustainability, M42 is committed to addressing national and global health themes with disruptive health-tech solutions.

“Our groundbreaking sequencing initiative aims to enhance the understanding of the ghaf tree’s genetic adaptations for thriving in arid conditions, which safeguards and champions the UAE’s natural legacy. The research also assumes critical significance as the world seeks to tackle the environment-warming effects of climate change.”

Landmark project

Ahmed Al Hashmi, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said: “We are pleased to partner with M42 on this pioneering project analysing and sequencing the genome of the Ghaf tree in line with our mission of monitoring and conserving plant species in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

“Our main goal is to have a better understanding through scientific research of the Ghaf tree to develop policies and a conservation framework to assure sustainability of the species for the future generations and to preserve the natural heritage of the UAE.”

Sequencing tech

M42’s sequencing technology can be used anywhere in the world for the investigation and conservation of flora and fauna of interest.

The announcement of the landmark project was made at Arab Health 2024, which runs from January 29 until February 1, 2024 in Dubai.

M42, the event’s Global Health Partner, is leading the charge in shaping the future of sustainable health and showcasing the organisation’s health technology capabilities at its booth, located in Hall6.