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The UNESCO Biotechnology Educational and Research Center

Research Activities

The following internationally collaborated research projects are being conducted at
the UNESCO BETCEN laboratory:
biology and symbiosis of the bacto-helminthic complex Heterorhabditis
bacteriophora and Photorhabdus luminescens for the biological control of white
grubs (Maladera matrida) in the Middle East.

2.The research involves isolation and identification of new strains of
entomopathogenic nematodes from Palestinian territories, following a study of
their biological characteristic; such as infectivity, heat tolerance, and
desiccation tolerance. In addition to the conventional crosses method, the
identification employs restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) of
internal transcriptase spacers.

The project aims at developing
appropriate strains of entomopathogenic nematodes for the control of the white
grub Maladera matrida and other soil-borne insects. Ten straits of such
nematodes have so far been isolated and identified. Characterization of their
biological traits is in progress.

3.Development of a regional viral indexing and certification program for plant propagation
materials in the Middle East.

The project aims at developing standardized, sensitive methods for identifying the major viruses of tomato,
potato, banana, grapevine, and stone fruits. The techniques employed in this
project include: non-radioactive molecular hybridization (Dig labeling),
print-PCR, Immuno Capture Reverse Transcription PCR, Print Capture Reverse
Transcription PCR, Reverse Transcription PCR, Double Antibody Sandwich ELISA,
PCR-ELISA and others.

4.The molecular basis for pathogenicity of Clavibacter michiganensis sub.sp.
michiganensis, Erwinia herbicola pv.gypsophilae, and E. herbicola pv. Betae and
its Application for diagnosis.

This project studies genes for host
specificity in the Erwinia herbicola, as well as investigation into the
molecular-based interaction between the bacterium and host cells. This project
also aims to develop diagnostic methods based on pathogenicity genes in the
Clavibacter michiganensis.

5.Evolutionary Divergence, Reproductive Biology and Conservation of the Royal Irises (Iris
section Oncocyclus ) in Israel and the West Bank.

A study of genetic and phenotypic variations is being conducted on the genetic and phenotypic
variations within the Royal Iris populations in the Palestinian territories,
using the Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD-PCR) technique and
morphological characteristics.

6.Transformation of Palestinian tomato cultivars for drought resistance.

Protocols are being developed for somatic regeneration of the local tomato cultivars as well
as protocols for transformation with Agrobacterium carrying drought resistance

7. Mechanisms of abiotic stress responses in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Plants as sessile organisms have to efficiently cope with
adverse environmental conditions. Abiotic stresses like drought, cold and heat
crucially involve the function of the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA).
Extensive research during the past years especially in the model plant
Arabidopsis thaliana has uncovered and characterized central modules of ABA and
abiotic stress signaling. Such signaling components involve protein
phosphatases type 2C (PP2Cs), PYL/RCAR ABA receptors, ROP GTPases that all
function in ABA signaling and Calcineurin B-like proteins (CBLs) that together
with CBL-interacting protein kinases (CIPKs) function in calcium signaling.
Most recent research points to extensive interconnections and cross-regulation
of ABA and calcium signaling. However, mechanistic details of these
interactions are largely unknown. Tomato represents a crop plant that has been
intensively studied with regard to hormone and stress signaling. The above
mentioned signal components that function in Arabidopsis are present in this
species. However, their specific function and especially their functional
interconnections need to be explored. This has so far prevented comparisons of
signaling mechanisms between Arabidopsis and tomato and leaves open the
question to which extend findings from Arabidopsis hold true for
tomato.Consequently, this project addresses three major aims. (i) We want to
comparatively investigate the function of the ROP10/ROP11 GTPase pair that has
likely resulted from a recent duplication in Arabidopsis since the
corresponding ROP10 in tomato is encoded by a single gene. (ii) We want to
investigate the function and interactions of selected tomato CBL/CIPK/PP2C/ROP
modules. Here we will put emphasis on their role in fruit ripening as well as
heat and drought tolerance. (iii) We aim to identify the molecular basis for
the heat tolerance in fruit set of a Palestinian tomato variety that has been
identified at Bethlehem University. To achieve these goals we will pursue a
combination of genetic, cell-biological, biochemical, and molecular biological


Dr. Omar Darissa

Omar DarIssa, PhD

Director and
Principal Investigator

Biology Department

Tel: +972-2-2765404
Tel: +972-2-2741241, ext 2224
Fax: +972-2-2744440


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine