Dr. Martin is graduated from University of Calicut, Kerala, India in 2001. He is a recipient of the prestigious UKEIRI-India research fellowship, and he performed his research to enhance the production of pharmaceutical compounds in medicinal plants using molecular tools in De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. He continued his research in Blumwald Lab, University of California, Davis as a postdoctoral fellow (2009-2014), and worked on the development of abiotic stress tolerant plants through genetic transformation. He started his research in KCGEB in 2014.
Research Summary: Crops tolerant to abiotic stresses
Crops growth is severely affected by the abiotic stresses such as drought, temperature and salinity. The development of crops adaptable to stress conditions addresses agricultural productivity. Plants surviving the extreme adverse conditions of UAE are the potential sources of unique genetic determinants conferring tolerance to various abiotic stresses. A number of genes enabling the plants to adapt the stress conditions have been identified and cloned from the plants growing well in the UAE conditions. The research focus is to functionally characterize these genes as to the stress conditions, and also to be stacked to compete high to the stresses. Besides, promoters inducing the expression of the key genes conferring tolerance to different stresses have also been identified and cloned. The genes conferring tolerance to different stresses under the control of these inducible promoters are used to develop genetically modified crops adaptable to the various stresses. The strategies include genomics, proteomics, molecular biology, plant transformation, and metabolomics approaches to characterize the genes. The target crops are tomato, eggplant, peanut, quinoa, pearl millet, maize, and date palm. In addition, the research on fruit crops focuses on flowering time, ripening and other novel fruit traits.
CRISPR/Cas9, the designer nuclease enables to switch genes off by knocking out or inserting new sequences with surgical precision at a specific site in the genome. The state-of-the-art Genome Editing technology have extensive practical applications in agriculture such as the development of new crop varieties, high-yielding crops tolerant to abiotic and biotic stresses, and fruits/vegetables/grains of high nutritional value. The research is focusing to develop crops with high tolerance to abiotic stresses, and also fruits with improved quality using CRISPR/Cas.
Dr. Ling joined the Khalifa Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology as a Senior Research Associate in 2014. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the Ohio State University (Ohio, USA). She completed her doctoral degree in Molecular Genetics under the supervision of Professor Harald Vaessin at the Ohio State University in 2000. Her doctoral research focused on cell cycle regulation of the neuronal stem cells. In 2001, she joined the Bruce Edgar laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – FHCRC (Seattle, USA) as a postdoctoral fellow to work on cell cycle and cell growth regulations. In 2008, she continued her research in the Eisenman laboratory at the FHCRC, focusing on post-translational regulations of the Myc oncogene.
Research Summary:Learning from halophytes for crop improvement
Increased salinity is a major abiotic stress resulting in both osmotic and ionic stresses presenting a great challenge for plant growth and crop productivity. Through various changes in genetic, metabolic and physiological traits, local plants growing in the UAE are well adapted to different abiotic stresses in the arid or semi-arid environment. These plants could potentially provide important genetic resources for crop improvement to enhance abiotic stress tolerance. As majority of crops are glycophytes, i.e. sensitive to saline environment, an enhancement in their salt tolerance could contribute to overall increase in crop production.
The research interests of my group are to investigate and utilize the natural genetic potential of abiotic stress tolerant halophyte for crop improvement. We are keen to understand how these halophytes survive in the saline environment through their physiological, biochemical and anatomical adaptations. Comparative genomic and transcriptomic studies on related halophytes and glycophytes could provide some vital insights into the ionic, molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in salt tolerance. By incorporating comparative genomics, bioinformatics and bio-engineering, my group aims to identify and analyze novel salt-responsive genes and regulatory elements that contribute to overall salt tolerance in local halophyte. The identified genes and regulatory elements will be utilized to improve salt tolerance in the crops using genetic engineering approach.
Dr. Rashid joined the Khalifa Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (KCGEB) as a Research Assistant Professor in 2016. Prior to his appointment at KCGEB, he served at the University of Connecticut and the John Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) as a Post-Doctoral Fellow. He has also served at the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in Pakistan as a Senior Scientific Officer. He holds his doctoral degree in Botany and Molecular Biology from the University of the Punjab, Pakistan. His specific area of expertise is in metabolic engineering of plants and yeast. The current focus of his projects is to investigate the underlining molecular, biochemical and physiological mechanism of stress tolerance (biotic and abiotic) in plants and microorganisms.
Research Summary:Survival and Sustainability in the Arid Climate, Possible or not Possible: that is the Question
Desert presents unique challenges and limited availability of natural resources, which adversely affects the population and diversity of the flora and fauna of the desert. Rashid’s research group is interested in studying the survival and resource acquisition mechanism in desert plants, especially Prosopis species. Despite being in the extreme environment, desert sustains many lifeforms. The survival of these lifeforms depends on tapping into and proper management of limited natural resources, especially water. An intrinsic physiological, anatomical and reproductive property imparts such qualities among the inhabitants of the desert.
Prosopis cineraria, a flowering tree belonging to the Pea family, Fabaceae, locally known as Ghaf, is one such member of the desert flora. Ghaf survives, thrives and reproduces in extreme environment of West Asia, Indian Subcontinent and in the Middle East. It has been an important source of food and forage for humans and animal respectively, who depend on the desert natural resources for their survival. Ghaf tree survives because of its unique morphological, physiological and reproductive characteristics. It can produce long taproot which allows it to utilize underground water resources. It is self-incompatible which allows it to reproduce through cross fertilization and generate large gene pools to survive in the rapidly changing desert environment. By studying Ghaf as a unique model plant, we wish to achieve two significant milestones:
Drought is a major challenge that affects flora growing in arid climate. Rashid’s group is also interested in developing transgenic crops which can sustain these challenges. Osmolyte synthesis is one of the strategies adapted by many plant species to survive under abiotic stresses (salt, osmotic and heat). Engineering model plants to synthesize osmolyte has led to improve stress tolerance. However; there is still room for improvement in this strategy. His group’s main objective is to identify the rate limiting steps at molecular and physiological level and modify in such a way so that the plant can drive osmolyte synthesis under stress without draining its vital energy and metabolic resources.
Research Summary:Genomics and Bioinformatics
Khaled Hazzouri’s bioinformatic group is dedicated to provided extensive state-of-the-art genomics and bioinformatics expertise to other researchers at the KCGEB. His group offers support in the Next-generation sequencing (NGS) experimental design, sample quality-control, sequencing and large data analysis. The group is specialized in the discovery of novel molecular markers from the microorganisms, plants, insects, birds and microbes in the UAE, centering on the use of DNA polymorphisms, differential gene-expression and chromatin modifications that can have a potential application from a translational genomics into a commercial crop such as Tomato, Eggplant and Water Spinach.
Bioinformatics pipelines: Transcriptomics; Computational Genomics; Comparative Genomics; Functional Genomics; Genetic Variation Analysis; Metagenomics; Pathogen bioinformatics; Plant-Pathogen genomics.
The group activities include –
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