Salim Al-Babili


Professor of Plant Science and Bioengineering | Principal Investigator of the BioActives Lab | Associate Dean of the Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division




Salim Al-Babili received his PhD from the University of Freiburg (Germany), followed by a Rockefeller Postdoctoral Fellowship for developing the “Golden Rice”. He was a group leader at the University of Freiburg, where he received his Habilitation in 2007, and joined KAUST in 2013. He has made essential contributions to combating micronutrients deficiency by genetic engineering, and discovered the metabolite carlactone that deciphered the biosynthesis of the plant hormone strigolactone. Al-Babili is currently heading an international consortium, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to control the parasitic plant Striga, a major threat to global food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Research Interests

Al-Babili has longstanding expertise in genetic engineering of biofortified crops and elucidating metabolic pathways. His BioActives Lab is currently working on basic and translational aspects of plant metabolism and hormone research, focused on strigolactones and on identifying novel small molecules regulating crop resilience and performance. In addition, he is developing hormone-based chemistries to combat the root parasitic plant Striga, and is establishing the molecular toolkit required for improving the resistance and performance of pearl millet, a nutritious and important cereal for arid and hot climates.

Selected Publications

  • Zaxinone, a natural apocarotenoid, regulates growth and strigolactone biosynthesis in rice, J.Y. Wang, I. Haider, M. Jamil, V. Fiorilli, Y. Saito, J., Mi, L. Baz, B., Kountche, K.P. Jia, X. Guo, A. Balakrishna, V. Ntui, B. Reinke, V. Volpe, T. Gojobori, I. Blilou, L. Lanfranco, P. Bonfante, S. Al-Babili, Nature Communications, 2019.
  • Anchorene is a carotenoid-derived regulatory metabolite required for anchor root formation in Arabidopsis, K.P. Jia, A.J. Dickinson, J. Mi, G. Cui, T.T. Xiao, N.M. Kharbatia, X. Guo, E. Sugiono, M. Aranda, I. Blilou, M. Rueping, P.N. Benfey, S. Al-Babili, Science Advances, 2019.
  • Implementing suicidal germination strategy for sustainable witchweed control in sub-Saharan Africa, B. Kountche, M. Jamil, D. Yonli, P. Nikiema, T. Asami, B. Zwanenburg, S. Al-Babili, Plant People Planet, 2019.
  • Strigolactones, a novel carotenoid-derived plant hormone, S. Al-Babili, H.J. Bouwmeester, Annual Review in Plant Biology, 2015.
  • The path from β-carotene to carlactone, a strigolactone-like plant hormone, A. Alder, M. Jamil, M. Marzorati, M. Bruno, M. Vermathen, P. Bigler, S. Ghisla, H.J. Bouwmeester, P. Beyer, S. Al-Babili, Science, 2012.
  • Engineering the provitamin A (beta-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm, X. Ye*, S. Al-Babili*, A. Klöti, J. Zhang, P. Lucca, P. Beyer, I. Potrykus, Science, 2000.


  • Venia Legendi and Habilitation in Cell Biology, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany, 2007
  • PhD, Biology, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany, 1996
  • Diploma, Biology, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany, 1992 

    Professional Profile

    • 2021-present: Associate Dean for Faculty of the Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering (BESE) Division, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
    • 2019-present: Full Professor, KAUST, Saudi Arabia 
    • 2014-2121: Chair of the Plant Science Program, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
    • 2013-2019: Associate Professor, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
    • 2008-2013: Akademischer Rat auf Zeit, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany
    • 2002-2008: Hochschulassistant (C1, Assistant Professor), Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany 
    • 1998-2002: Research Associate, Institute for Bio.II, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany
    • 1996-1998: Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, Golden Rice project, Germany/Switzerland


    • Elected Vice Chair of the Gordon Conference on Carotenoids (2020); Ventura, CA; and Chair of the Gordon Conference on Carotenoids (2023)
    • Awarded with an Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship (seed grant application for collaboration) 
    • The Rockefeller Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship
    • University of Damascus Scholarship for undergraduate study of Biology in Germany

    Research Interests Keywords

    plant metabolic engineering plant hormones carotenoids and apocarotenoids root parasitic plants plant biotic interactions small molecules plant growth regulators