For India, in Israel: Srivignesh Sundaresan

Hebrew University doctoral student Srivignesh Sundaresan comes from a farming family of very modest means from Mambaddy, a village in the rural area of Tamil Nadu in India. He and his younger sister went to the village elementary and high schools, with Sundaresan continuing his education at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, where he completed his undergraduate degree in horticulture.

"Sixty percent of India's rural population is employed in agriculture. I wanted to do something more than return home to work the farm. I wanted to learn more, in order to add something new to agricultural research," he says.

Thus, Sundaresan applied to participate in the 2006-2007 international one-year master’s program in plant sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Though accepted into the course, he could not meet the participation fees. The Pears Foundation of England, which provides master’s program scholarships for students from developing countries, stepped in. Sundaresan was found to be an excellent candidate for a Pears scholarship and was able to participate in the program.

Sundaresan’s outstanding performance during the program qualified him to pursue a master’s thesis degree but, again, there was a financial challenge. Again the Pears Foundation stepped in and provided a second-year grant which, combined with a scholarship from his advisor, ensured Sundaresan’s continued studies.

His thesis dealt with the regulation of genes associated with flower and leaf abscission — a process whereby the separation of organs from the parent plant, results in pre-harvest and postharvest losses of quality and longevity — in the tomato. Sundaresan sought to “shed light on the molecular mechanisms that drive the acquisition of abscission competence and facilitate novel approaches for the control and manipulation of abscission in horticultural and agricultural crops, in order to improve their postharvest quality."

Conducted under the joint supervision of Prof. Joseph Riov of the Smith Faculty's Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture and Dr. Shimon Meir of the Agricultural Research Organization at the Volcani Center, Sundaresan completed his thesis in April 2010.

The success of his work gave Sundaresan the impetus to begin his doctoral degree at the Faculty, continuing with the same supervisors but now further expanding his research within the same area. "For my master’s thesis, we identified the genes responsible for flower abscission,” says Sundaresan. “In my doctoral research, we are silencing selected genes in order to prevent abscission and to study the detailed abscission mechanism. This study can potentially be applied to prevent flower abscission in most plant systems, thereby increasing crop plant productivity and the shelf-life of cut flowers." Sundaresan is one of the authors of an article on his subject in Plant Physiology, one of the premier journals in plant sciences.

Sundaresan was recently awarded a doctoral fellowship by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) within the framework of a new scholarship program for doctoral-level research being conducted by Indians studying overseas and non-Indians studying in agricultural institutes in India. The program covers all expenses for three years and a commitment by the recipients to return to their home countries and serve as researchers, with ICAR providing the returning Indian students with appropriate research positions.

Thousands applied for just 15 places for the 2010/2011 academic year. The selection process was lengthy and included an interview with a scientific panel. "I feel proud and happy," says Sundaresan of his achievement, "and am especially pleased to give my family the same feelings."