Head of the Desert Life Sciences Center

Posting Date
27 December 2018
Closing Date
4 August 2019
Dubai, UAE
Report To
Director of Programs
Vacancy Type
Job Number

The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and BGI Shenzhen Co. Ltd (BGI) signed a Cooperative Agreement to establish the “Desert Life Sciences Center” as a joint venture between the two organizations, which will have an international mandate, and located at ICBA in Dubai, United Arab of Emirates.

BGI was established in 1999 in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with the vision of using genomics to benefit mankind and has since become the largest genomic organization in the world, with a focus on research and applications in the healthcare, agriculture, conservation, and environmental fields. BGI’s goal is to make state-of-the-art genomics highly accessible to the global research community and clinical markets by integrating the industry’s broadest array of leading technologies, including BGI's own sequencing  platform, economies of scale, and expert bioinformatics resources. BGI’s services and solutions are available in more than 60 countries and regions around the world.

ICBA is an international, non-profit agricultural research center established in 1999 by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Fund, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), and the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Originally focused on the problems of salinity and using saline water for irrigated agriculture, ICBA has evolved into a world-class modern research facility, with a team of international scientists conducting applied research which identifies, develops and promotes innovative solutions and technologies that can increase food, nutrition and water security, improve the livelihoods of people and protect natural resources in marginal environments where natural resources are limited or have been degraded. ICBA’s areas of focus include: assessment of natural resources; land and water management technologies, crop productivity and diversification; the use of conventional and non-conventional water sources (including saline water, treated wastewater, industrial water, agricultural drainage, and seawater); aquaculture and bio-energy; climate change adaptation (including remote sensing and modeling technologies); promotion of agribusiness; and policy analysis. ICBA is the custodian of the world’s largest collection of genetic resources of crops and forages suitable for salt-affected lands, with a proven capacity of seed development and seed multiplication for a variety of environments. ICBA is an equal opportunity employer and appoints qualified staff regardless of race, creed, color, age or gender.

The Desert Life Sciences Center (DLSC) will have an international mandate and pursue the following specific objectives:

  • To undertake in-depth study of the genome structure of climate-resilient crops such as quinoa, Amaranthus, Salicornia and others
  • To develop crops adapted to desert environments that are resilient to climate change
  • To enhance biodiversity, improve food security, nutrition and health, and contribute to sustainable development, especially in marginal environments
  • To promote the application of modern genomics and biotechnologies in developing countries
  • To train and nurture young expertise from the PRC, the UAE and developing countries.
Job Summary

As Head of DLSC, the incumbent will provide strategic and operational leadership to the joint ICBA-BGI venture, establishing a sophisticated genomics facility at ICBA-Dubai that enables in-depth studies and application of genomic approaches for the development of climate-resilient food and feed crops, and multipurpose halophytic plants suitable for cultivation in marginal environments. The incumbent will report to Director of Programs and work in consultation and collaboration with ICBA Program Leaders as well as BGI experts, under the overall guidance of the Advisory Group established by ICBA and BGI to provide oversight to the Center.

Job Responsibilities

As a member of the ICBA and BGI Working Group leading the establishment of the Center, the Head of DLSC will be required to:

  • Develop a 5-year Business Plan for the Center
  • Determine DLSC facility and equipment requirements, develop an establishment budget and work with ICBA and BGI members of the Working Group to raise the necessary resources
  • Establish the Center on ICBA’s premises in collaboration with the Directorate of Corporate Services, specifically the Finance and Facilities Operations  and the Procurement and People Resources Sections
  • Determine staffing requirements and lead the recruitment process in collaboration with ICBA’s HR personnel
  • Develop an annual work plan and operating budget for the DLSC in consultation with the ICBA Director General and the Advisory Group
  • Monitor and report on the work progress of DLSC to the ICBA Director General and the Advisory Group through periodic progress reports based on agreed-upon KPIs
  • Manage and report on the utilization of financial resources of DLSC in consultation and collaboration with the Directorate of Corporate Services
  • Foster effective partnerships with other international and national research centers, public and private sector partners, and academic institutions
  • Represent DLSC at different appropriate fora to present advances in genomic approaches and increase the visibility of the Center
  • Lead resource mobilization efforts to ensure the financial sustainability of the DLSC through submission of fully costed proposals to donors, partners, the private sector and other interested stakeholders

Technical responsibilities

The Head of DLSC will lead the Center’s scientific team in collaborative research that develops and/or utilizes novel methodologies that facilitate gene discovery and the development of climate-resilient varieties of crops suitable for cultivation in marginal environments, including efforts to:

  • Undertake in-depth study of the genome structure of climate-resilient food and feed crops, halophytes and relevant species of the bio-saline agri-system.
  • Use cutting-edge technologies to identify new adaptation mechanisms and their application to improve the resilience of crop varieties to drought, heat, salinity and stress combinations
  • Undertake molecular profiling of the germplasm and varieties of Quinoa, Salicornia and other relevant crops conserved at ICBA
  • Undertake allele mining for beneficial traits in crops prioritized by ICBA for marginal environments through association mapping and other innovative approaches, including approaches that facilitate pest management (e.g. the Red Palm Weevil)  
  • Facilitate genomic selection for crops mandated by ICBA in collaboration with plant breeders and geneticists working within ICBA’s Crop Diversification and Genetics (CDG) Program
  • Extend the support for genotyping services and genetic analysis to ICBA’s programs and project activities aiming to promote climate-smart crop varieties in developing countries
  • Undertake research and application of genomic technologies in broader areas such as nutrition and health
  • Develop the Center’s digitalized data storage and analysis capabilities
  • Train researchers from developing countries and support them in the development of genomic tools for their country-specific research
  • Facilitate the exchange of personnel for collaborative research and training in either the UAE or the PRC  
  • Publish joint research in peer reviewed/refereed journals and as technical reports.
Qualifications and Experience


  • PhD in Plant Biotechnology or related fields with specialization in genomics
  • Relevant experience of 15 years or more, including in a managerial capacity
  • Experience in gene expression analysis, genome sequencing and mapping
  • Sound knowledge of quantitative genetics
  • Chinese Language proficiency
  • Experience in managing and analyzing scientific data
  • High level of organization, ability to manage multiple tasks and teamwork.
  • High level of proficiency in English and excellent technical/scientific writing skills


  • Experience working in diverse and multi-cultural environments
  • Suitably qualified women are encouraged to apply.