WCMC-Q, BCQ-MoE Research to Help Ensure Survival of Oryx

Doha, November 11 (QNA) – Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), in association with the Biotechnology Center, Ministry of Environment (BCQ-MoE), have announced that they have mapped the genome of the oryx for the first time, helping to secure the future of the animal and prevent its extinction.
 The announcement came at a joint press conference at Al Sharq Village. The event was attended by HE the Minister of Environment Abdullah Bin Mubarak Bin A’aboud Al-Mahdadi.
 The work, which was also done in collaboration with the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, took place in WCMC-Q’s genomics laboratories by researchers from WCMC-Q and BCQ-MoE and took four months to complete. The findings will help captive breeding programs select the most genetically-diverse animals to ensure the viability of the species. This also raises the possibility that more animals will eventually be released back into the wild. The work was done in partnership with the Ministry of Environment.
 Director of the Biotechnology Center at the Ministry of Environment Masoud Al Marri said, “The results gained from this project will open the door for further research programs which will help in oryx conservation in the promised future and build Qatar’s capacity in this regards.”
 He said, “This is the first animal to be sequenced in the State of Qatar and we should be proud of this achievement.”
 Dean of WCMC-Q Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh said the research demonstrated the value of partnerships between organizations. “This was a highly successful collaboration between Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar’s Research Division and the Biotechnology Center in Ministry of Environment,” he said.
 “Through working together and using cutting-edge technology, we have results which could make a real, tangible difference to the survival of a species. This has huge implications and everyone involved in the research sould feel justly proud of themselves,” he added.
 “Working with WCMC-Q was a great honor. One of our researchers, Amina Al-Malki, was in the project’s team and that helped in BCQ’s capacity building,” he added.
Dr. Joel Malek, Director of WCMC-Q’s Genomics Core where the research was conducted, said the findings could aid the survival of the oryx, which is currently classed as ‘vulnerable’.
 Dr. Malek said, “The data we have will be the foundation of a better understanding of the wild populations of oryx and the genetic pressures they face for their survival.”
 “The Ministry of Environment, in association with interested partners, has wisely chosen to commit to funding ongoing genomic research to ensure these results are applied for the oryx’s benefit,” added Dr. Malek.
 Spokesman for the Ministry for the Environment, added, “This achievement will be added to Qatar’s eventful record and will give Qatar the leadership in Arabian oryx conservation.”
 “The project was done in collaboration with WCMC-Q and that is really highly appreciated,” the spokesman said.
 During the 1950s and 1960s the number of wild oryx fell to just a couple of hundred individuals, added Dr. Malek. Unfortunately this has meant that the genetic diversity of oryx alive today is small. But the data arrived at by Dr. Malek and his team will allow breeders to select the most genetically different male and female oryx thus allowing them to produce healthier specimens in the future with greater resistance to diseases.
 Dr. Khaled Machaca, the Associate Dean for Research at WCMC-Q, said the work on the oryx genome was highly significant.
 “This is a milestone achievement for Qatar genomics research,” he said. “Qatar, through research undertaken at Qatar Foundation, is establishing an exceptional track record in terms of documenting the genetic diversity of species important for the region, starting with the date palm and now the oryx. Who knows what further excitement the future holds.”
The DNA used to map the genome came from an oryx kept at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation owned by Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani. Blood was taken from a young male animal and the DNA extracted using, in simple terms, soap and ethanol.
 The DNA was then broken into billions of fragments using sound waves – specifically focused acoustic pressure – before being re-constructed using a super-computer. This provided the researchers with the sequence of the genome. They also discovered that the genome of the oryx is 95% similar to that of the cow and the sheep, meaning that WCMC-Q researchers also know the function of each gene.
 At the press conference gifts were exchanged between the Minister and WCMC-Q’s dean. Dr. Sheikh presented His Excellency with the map of the oryx genome. Certificates were also presented to all those who were instrumental in the research.
 These were: Mr. Masoud Almarri, Director of BCQ, Ministry of Environment; Dr. Joel Malek, Assistant Professor of Genetic Medicine and Director of Genomics; Dr. Benjamin Shykind, Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology; Dr. Atef Sayed, Research Associate; Dr. Tim Bouts, Lead Veterinarian Researcher at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation; Amina Al-Malki, a Specialist at the Biotechnology Center; Eman Al-Dous, Research Technician; Eman Al-Azwani, Research Technician; Binu George, Bioinformatics Data Analyst; Yasmeen Salameh, Research Technician; Lisa Matthew, Research Specialist; and Yasmin Mohamoud, Manager of the Genomics Core. (qna)

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