Research Themes

KAUST is a state-of-the-art research university with a broad range of expertise in science and engineering. Such expertise is required if we are to meet our goals of finding solutions to developing sustainable crop production systems for the Kingdom by 2030.

At present, the CDA has a primary focus on the research theme “field-based cropping systems”, with two CCF project proposals covering important aspects of sustainable agroecosystem agriculture in KSA, fit date palms and neodomestication.

Dates are a culturally and economically significant commodity, both locally and regionally. The overall goal of the CDA’s fit date palm project is to gain a basic understanding of the genome biology, physiology and development of date palm that can be used to breed new varieties that will outperform existing varieties (i.e., higher yields with fewer inputs), while maintaining superior quality.

Neodomestication can be defined as the conversion of crop wild relatives, or other potentially economically important wild plants, into sustainable commodities. This project has the potential to change the face of agriculture in the KSA, and beyond, by taking a plant that can already thrive under extreme conditions (in particular, heat, desiccation and salinity) and improve it, through a variety of methods (breeding, mutation, genome editing), so that it becomes a high-yielding cultivated crop that can grow under marginal conditions with minimal input, and thus enable the development of several sustainable crop production systems.

Over the next five years, the CDA will collaboratively focus on these two research projects, while simultaneously building the infrastructure and intellectual capacity needed to foster sustainable agricultural practices in field, greenhouse and algal pool settings. As the Center grows and matures after these initial five-years, the CDA will increasingly partner with existing KAUST faculty members (e.g., in engineering, artificial intelligence and machine learning, visualization, desalination, etc.), as well as hire additional faculty members who complement our existing strengths. The CDA will exploit this complementarity to accelerate our quest to develop novel ways to meet our vision.

A molecular toolbox for efficient date palm breeding

An integrative omics approach to unlock the potential of underutilized and wild plant species for sustainable desert agriculture