Food, clean water and energy – our planet is challenged to meet these basic needs, especially in the harshest environments.

To help solve these global problems, faculty members from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are teaming up with partners at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST, on the Red Sea Coast, north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The state-of-the-art, progressive public university has turned to the UA – a leading institution in arid lands studies – for expertise in the creation of the Desert Agriculture Research Institute.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, director of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences International Programs and an expert in aquaculture, said the partnership is expected to result in groundbreaking research that can aid in developing sustainable farming, water and living systems without damaging the ecosystem.

“Much of this research could impact a good portion of the globe,’’ said Fitzsimmons, who recently returned from KAUST. “Desert seacoasts and arid countries have the highest population growth rates across the planet. We need to find ways to feed, house, employ and find energy for millions and millions of people in exactly those areas.”

Collaborative study at the Desert Agriculture Research Institute is likely to benefit the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, Fitzsimmons said. “The more we can develop sustainable, productive farming and energy for people in these countries will be to everyone’s benefit.”

Fitzsimmons has visited the campus of the new university four times, most recently in October. KAUST expects to install greenhouses and fish tanks early in 2013 as part of the first phase of the $60 million project.

The UA is contributing expertise but no funding for the project, with KAUST providing for all expenses. The university, which opened in 2009, was developed with an endowment from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in conjunction with the Arabian-American Oil Company.

KAUST and the UA recently approved a memorandum of agreement to increase collaborations across several areas of research and outreach. The agreement could help qualify the Desert Agriculture Research Institute for significant grants to further research, Fitzsimmons said.

The UA has a history of collaboration with agricultural communities in arid regions around the world – including Saudi Arabia – dating back to the 1950s.

Through this most recent collaboration, UA faculty members and students are expected to study solar energy, desalinization of sea water, greenhouse food production, farming on desert coastlines and shrimp and fish farming.

KAUST has “virtually scoured the planet for top faculty’’ from the Middle East as well as the U.S., Korea, China, Canada, Spain and England, Fitzsimmons said.

Several recent UA doctoral graduates have been hired as junior faculty at KAUST, and some retired UA faculty members have taken more senior positions there. KAUST also is offering internships to UA students.

UA faculty and students benefit from the partnership “in being able to work with an institution that has state-of-the-art equipment and is conducting state-of-the-art science,’’ Fitzsimmons said.