At the heart of the desert to attain sustainable agriculture

04 July, 2022

Meet Wouter Smet, the first KAUST Postdoctoral Global Fellow to begin his independed research journey here at KAUST, Saudi Arabia.

Wouter holds a joined PhD between Wageningen University and VIB (Flemish Institute for Biotechnology) and has postdoctoral experience at VIB. His previous work focused on the control of cell division orientation during root vascular development during his PhD and, on a chemical screen to identify novel fertilizer additives that could enhance phosphate use efficiency in crop species during his Postdoc.

“With global warming, drought is becoming a significant threat to crop production. However, in a desert environment plants have evolved their developmental program to survive and thrive with scarce water, low nutrients, and high temperatures. Calotropis procera is a good example illustrating these developmental adaptations. Despite its resilience to desert conditions, mechanisms underlying developmental adaptations remain largely unknown.”, he explains. 

Thanks to the KAUST Global Fellowship Program and funding, Wouter can now focus on his own independed research that it to examine the desert plant Calotropis procera, also known as Sodom apple and understand how its roots have adapted to resist the harsh desert climate. This information will then be translated to non-desert crop species aiming to improve their drought tolerance. The outcome of this study will contribute towards sustainable agriculture in desert habitats.

“KAUST with its excellent facilities, surrounded by desert is the perfect place to study this plant species in its native environment”, Wouter states.

Wouter is working at the Plant Cell and Developmental Biology Laboratory with KAUST Professor Dr. Ikram Blilou and is affiliated with the Center of Desert Agriculture (CDA).