Times of Oman
Muscat: An Omani student is breaking new scientific ground with a study of the different genetic aspects of the Arabian Oryx at the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve. In a first of its kind, the Arabian Oryx genetic-genomic project aims to use genetics and genomics to “increase the likelihood of the best possible outcome for the populations that will be released into the wild,” said Qais Al Rawahi, 36, a Ph.D. student currently studying at Australia’s Sydney University.
“Genetics and genomics will also open new areas of understanding related to the Oryx, such as an immune response to diseases, biology, physiology, nutrition, and metabolism,” he added.
The Arabian Oryx genetic-genomic project “looks at the DNA or genes to investigate the genetic diversity of the Arabian Oryx populations used for the breeding programme,” said Professor Jaime Gongora, an associate at the University of Sydney, Australia, who supervises the project.
Launched in 2015, the project is supported by the Ministry of Higher Education, while the lab work is supported by the Office for Conservation of the Environment. The Arabian Oryx in the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve are “sourced from Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates,” said a supervisor. The reserve holds approximately 800 Arabian Oryxes.
The genetics/genomics component will help inform the Oryx breeding programme “as to which animals it would be best to choose or pair for mating and reintroduction in order to maintain or improve the genetic diversity of their descendants,” Gongora added.
The project is co-supervised by Dr. Mansoor Al Jahdhami, managing director of Environmental Affairs at the Office for Conservation of the Environment, at the Diwan of Royal Court. “In the future, more Omani students, academics, and scientists will be able to investigate these areas for this iconic Omani animal,” said Al Jahdhami.
In order to maintain the conservation of the Oryx, the Arabian Oryx genetic-genomic project is, “collaborating with the Wild Genes Laboratory at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the University of Florida and Cornell University, who are investigating the Arabian Oryxes used for the conservation program in Qatar,” Gongora explained.
“Publishing the results in some of the international scientific journals will give a global focus to one of Oman’s iconic animals,” added Al Rawahi.