Approximately 40% of the Earth's terrestrial surface comprises drylands, which are home to more than 2 billion people.
These arid areas, which include such diverse ecosystems as deserts, savannahs and tropical dry forests, are threatened by over-exploitation and desertification.
With this global problem in mind, scientists at the FAAB are engaged in cutting-edge basic and applicable research to empower sustainable agricultural solutions in arid areas where traditional or conventional methods of agriculture are difficult – or impossible – to implement.
Research at the FAAB is focused in two main directions:
1. Soil-Plant-Atmosphere continuum in relation to environmental stress
Much of the land that has the potential for agriculture is arid or semi-arid, and plants growing in such areas are subject to harsh environmental conditions (such as drought, high salinity, temperature extremes, and high light intensities) that significantly reduce productivity. The problem is compounded by the increasing salinization of soils due to irrigation malpractices, global warming, and desertification.
Scientists at the FAAB conduct research directed to understand the different components of the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere continuum and to enhance crop tolerance to stress, develop biotechnological methods for sustainable crop production, and finding new agricultural uses for inherently tolerant dryland plants. Fields of research include plant biotechnology, molecular biology, metabolomics, physiology, ecophysiolohy, breeding, epigenetics, biochemistry, soil physics, soil chemistry and micrometeorology.
The research effort in aquaculture biosystems is focused on two main themes, microalgae and fish farming. R&D on microalgae seeks to maximize the commercial potential of microalgae to produce a variety of biochemicals (such as carotenoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and algal biofuels) by exploiting the conditions in arid zones—high solar irradiance, high temperatures, and the year-round availability of brackish or seawater. Research on fish is also based on the exploitation of arid-zone resources, in this case the large aquifer beneath the Negev Desert. Research activities focus on fish biology, nutrition and diseases.
This research effort is complemented by research on dryland animal adaptations and parasitism. For many of the inhabitants of drylands, livestock production is the major form of agriculture, yet it is also one of the main causes of environmental degradation due to factors such
as overgrazing and trampling of vegetation. Scientists at the FAAB are developing innovative solutions to allow sustainable dryland animal production that makes efficient use of water resources with minimal impact on the environment.
Prof. Jhonathan E. Ephrath, Director