Jul. 15, 2014
Gil Eshel, a PhD student in The Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is one of the recipients of this year’s President of the State of Israel Scientific Excellence and Innovation grants. The NIS 200,000 grant over three years was awarded this year to Israeli researchers at Israeli institutions in the fields of agriculture, environment, and water.
Gil Eshel with President Shimon Peres |  Photo: Mark Neyman/GPO

The grants are given to encourage education and quality academic research, to spotlight various scientific fields, to raise public awareness to the purposes and fields in which the grants are given, to incentivize scientific research and promote scientific excellence and innovation in Israel. This is the second year that the grants are being given. Each year, the president chooses the field of scientific research.

The grant committee included Dr. Michele Zaccai of BGU and six of her colleagues. The grant is supported with the help of the Estate Committee. 

Eshel (32) attended BGU for his BA and MSc and continued on for his Phd under the supervision of Dr. Simon Barak, Dr. Shirli Bar-David and Dr. Aaron Fait.

He is a PhD student on the combined track program. He is studying the adaptations of desert plants to harsh environmental conditions and focusing on the Negev desert plant, Anastatica hierochuntica, which is a relative of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. During his MSc, which he graduated Cum Laude, he generated (sequenced and assembled) a reference Anastatica transcriptome (all the genes that are expressed in various plant tissues, under several abiotic stress conditions). This is the first transcriptome of a plant species from the Negev desert, and one of the first desert plants ever to be sequenced. In addition, he analyzed the metabolic profile of this species under salt stress conditions, and compared it to Arabidopsis (which is salt-sensitive) and another relative species, Thellungiella (Eutrema) salsuginea, a salt-tolerant species that can survive and complete its life cycle in highly saline conditions.

“My research goal is to characterize the response of this plant to a combination of environmental stresses (which better mimics field conditions), at the level of gene expression, metabolic profiling and the activity of specific enzymes in order to identify key regulatory genes which are governing plant stress response and tolerance to abiotic stresses. I hope that my study results will help with the effort of improving crop stress tolerance, and will facilitate our ability to grow crop plants in harsh conditions such as those found in the Negev desert,” he says.

Eshel lives at Midreshet Ben-Gurion with his wife Tamara and his daughter Noa. Growing up in the Negev, he’s always loved and been fascinated by the desert.