The institute was established in 1974 as a result of a recommendation made by the Israeli Council for Higher Education in 1972. It was named as the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in 1980 after a donation to the university by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation. The name was later changed to the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR), when it was split in three: the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, the French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands and the Swiss Institute for Dryland Environmental and Energy Research.
The BIDR is one of the six research centers of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and is currently (June 2015) home to 85 academic, research faculty, 80 technical and administrative staff members, and over 200 Israeli and foreign research students and 35 post-doctoral fellows studying within the frame of the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies. The prime areas of research are environmental physics, solar energy, water and waste-water resources, agriculture, biotechnology, desert ecology and desert architecture..