Public Release: 

Hebrew University researcher identifies gene that assists plants to overcome stress

Ph.D. candidate Alexander Mazel wins Kaye Award

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, June 10 - Alexander Mazel, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Sciences at the Faculty of Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been awarded a prestigious Kaye Innovation Award for identifying a gene that helps the Arabidopis plant survive in difficult conditions. His discovery could significantly advance efforts to increase crop yields by genetic engineering.

Various environmental stresses, such as salt water, difficult access to water, and soil containing heavy metals, can significantly lower the productivity of crops, Mr. Mazel explained, noting that salty water is an obstacle to farming in the Negev. In his study of the Arabidopis plant, a plant that often is used in research and is in the same group as the cabbage, he identified a gene which helps this plant flourish despite such stresses. Mr. Mazel found that Arabidopis plants in which this gene is over-expressed can grow better than wild Arabidopis plants in soil containing cadmium, salt or a detergent (digitonin).

Mr. Mazel hypothesized that the gene could have a similar effect on other plants used in agriculture, such as squash, melon, cucumber, and tomato.

Dr. Alex Levine, a lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences who is supervising Mr. Mazel's work, and the Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University are negotiating with a high-tech company about conducting further research on the gene in order to investigate its practical applications in agriculture.

Mr. Mazel also noted that the genetically engineered Arabidopis plant's ability to grow in cadmium-rich soil could have significant environmental effects. The plant absorbs the cadmium from the soil, thus cleaning the soil. If the genetically engineered Arabidopis plant, and other plants altered to over-express the gene, have a similar effect on other heavy metals they could be used to clean up areas polluted by heavy metals, he said.

Mr. Mazel immigrated to Israel from Saint Petersburg, Russia, 11 years ago after spending 5 years studying medicine. He then studied pharmacology and physiology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Mr. Mazel recently began postdoctorate work on leishmaniasis at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center. He is married and has two daughters.

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The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the University and society.

Picture available upon request. For further information, contact:
Heidi Gleit, HU foreign press liaison: tel. 972-2-588-2904; cell, 972-64-454-593; email heidig@savion.cc.huji.ac.il
Orit Sulitzeanu, HU spokeswoman: tel. 972-2-588-2811

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