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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Weizmann Institute’

Weizmann Institute Professors Launch Course Helps Women Juggle Science and Motherhood

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Profs. Maya Schuldiner of the Molecular Genetics Department, Nirit Dudovich of the Physics of Complex Systems Department and Michal Sharon of the Biomolecular Sciences Department were discussing the challenges their female students undergo as they move from childlessness to motherhood, and they reflected on the difficulties they had experienced during this time in their lives.

“Why don’t we give them the benefit of our own experience? We all wished we had such a course when we were in that situation. Maybe if we’d had one, the transition to becoming a mother would have been easier for us.” – Michal Sharon

The three professors approached Prof. Daniella Goldfarb, the President’s Advisor for Advancing Women in Science, who was happy to allocate funds for the course. They then consulted Orit Viterbo, Head of Social Work at the Institute, and she joined them in the planning and execution of the course. Finding interested participants for the course was the easy part; the difficulty was in having to turn away others. To maintain an intimate and open environment, the course is limited to twenty women.

The course consists of six sessions, in which the young women are taught practical solutions for managing their career and family life, emphasizing the need to maintain open communication with their advisors and set realistic expectations. Decision making is another area they work on, as is learning to define their own interpretation of success and learning to pay less attention to the expectations of others.

 “We are part of this culture in which, as women, we are pushed to be perfectionists. To be the best mother ever. To be the best scientist ever. We say: You don’t have to be best at one or the other. You can be happy about the way you mother and happy about the way that you do science, and you can combine them in a way that is optimal for you and not the outside world.” – Maya Schuldiner

Although the presence of women in the field of science has seen notable increase, there is still much progress to be made. At the Weizmann Institute 85 percent of the principal investigators are male. In the life sciences 70 percent of the PhD students are female, but they make up only 15 percent of the principle investigators. The childbearing period is also the critical juncture where women often decide not to proceed to the next stage in a scientific career. Indeed, many women at the Weizmann Institute of Science have their children while they are doctoral students. According to Schuldiner quite a few women obtain advanced degrees; it is the lack of support just when they are deciding whether to continue that often leads them to abandon their careers. This, she says, is why the course is vital. The women who participate are learning how to navigate a challenging situation, but during this process they also become confidantes who encourage one another and continue to meet after the conclusion of the course.

“When a student feels her situation is impossible, even if it doesn’t directly help to solve her specific problem for the day, knowing that other women – women who eventually succeeded in their careers – faced the same difficulties, it gives her some perspective. I think there is something relaxing about knowing that you are not the only one who faces certain difficulties.” – Nirit Dudovich

Schuldiner, Dudovich and Sharon all say that the biggest lesson they hope the participants will take away is that they are the sole proprietors of their careers. Balancing motherhood and a scientific career is difficult, but with the correct approach it is doable and can be very successful.

“There are voices that say if you try to combine family and a career, this is doing science like a woman. We say this is a good thing: Do science like a woman! ” – Schuldiner.
JNi.Media

Weizman Institute Revealing Secrets of Protective Coating of Wheat and Barley

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Young cultivated wheat has a very particular color. As opposed to wild wheat species, which can be either glossy green or matte and bluish gray, cultivated varieties are always the latter. An international team led by Weizmann Institute scientists has discovered the mechanisms by which plants produce the major component of the bluish-gray, waxy film that coats cultivated wheat. This film is thought to help increase yield and protect the stem, leaves and spikes of the plant against environmental hazards, particularly drought. The findings, reported recently in The Plant Cell, may in the future be used to impart hardiness to other crops.

Scientists have been trying for several decades to decipher how certain wheat varieties, and a number of other plants, manufacture their protective bluish-gray coating. Its presence on the plants’ surface is a dynamic feature, appearing at certain stages in plant growth or only on certain organs, reinforcing the notion that the wax-like substance plays an active role in defending the plant. But figuring out the wheat genome, which contains multiple sets of chromosomes and repeated copies of some of the genes, has presented a notoriously difficult challenge.

Weizmann’s Prof. Asaph Aharoni has picked up the gauntlet: His lab specializes in studying plant surfaces – what they’re made of and how they function. In the new study graduate student Shelly Hen-Avivi and other researchers on Aharoni’s team compared the genomes of two different types of wheat, one glossy green and the other bluish gray. They assessed gene activity in these two wheat types at different stages of their growth using various methods, including next-generation RNA sequencing technology, which makes it possible to simultaneously evaluate the expression of vast numbers of genes. The team also made use of the full readout of the wheat genome, sequenced recently by a consortium that included scientists from Tel-Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute and the Israeli company NRGene.

(l-r) Prof. Asaph Aharoni, Sergey Malitsky, Shelly Hen Avivi, Dr. Elena Kartvelishvily, Dr. Gilgi Friedlander and Efrat Almekias-Siegl. The secrets of wheat's color may help protect other plants. / Courtesy

(l-r) Prof. Asaph Aharoni, Sergey Malitsky, Shelly Hen Avivi, Dr. Elena Kartvelishvily, Dr. Gilgi Friedlander and Efrat Almekias-Siegl. The secrets of wheat’s color may help protect other plants. / Courtesy

Over the course of experiments that lasted several years, Aharoni’s team managed to zero in on a cluster of three genes that were shown to produce beta-diketone, a waxy compound that constitutes the major component of the bluish-gray coating. Such groups of adjacent genes, responsible for a particular feature of the plant’s metabolism and known as metabolic clusters, are increasingly being discovered in plant genomes. When the scientists silenced the newly identified genes in wheat grown from seeds of bluish-gray plants, it grew to be glossy-green, which confirmed their findings. The researchers then deciphered the chain of biochemical reactions that leads to beta-diketone synthesis, including the genes and enzymes involved. Next, the team repeated the same research with barley, which also has a bluish-gray coating – as do certain species of rye and the leaves of eucalyptus trees. They found that the metabolic gene cluster and biochemical reactions that are responsible for the synthesis of beta-diketone in wheat perform the same function in barley.

In the future it may be possible to make use of the study’s findings to breed crops with a higher yield and a greater resistance to drought, by genetically engineering plants to contain the genes for beta-diketone production or by enhancing the activity of existing beta-diketone genes. It might conceivably be possible, for example, to introduce the beta-diketone genes derived from wheat into cucumbers or tomatoes. Whatever these vegetables will lose in brightness, they will gain in sturdiness.

This project was a collaborative effort between the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University, the University of British Columbia, and Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre, both in the United Kingdom.

Prof. Asaph Aharoni’s research is supported by the Tom and Sondra Rykoff Family Foundation; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Adelis Foundation; and Yossie and Dana Hollander, Israel. Prof. Aharoni is the incumbent of the Peter J. Cohn Professorial Chair.

JNi.Media

Weizmann Scientists Engineer Bacteria Making Sugar from Greenhouse Gas

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

All life on the planet relies, in one way or another, on a process called carbon fixation: the ability of plants, algae and certain bacteria to “pump” carbon dioxide (CO2) from the environment, add solar or other energy and turn it into the sugars that are the required starting point needed for life processes, reads a press release of the Weizman Institute headlined, “Eating Air, Making Fuel — Weizmann Institute scientists engineer bacteria to create sugar from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.”

At the top of the food chain are different organisms, such as humans, that use the opposite means of survival: they eat sugars (made by photosynthetic plants and microorganisms) and then release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This means of growth is called “heterotrophism.”

Is it possible to “reprogram” an organism that is found higher in the food chain, which consumes sugar and releases carbon dioxide, so that it will consume carbon dioxide from the environment and produce the sugars it needs to build its body mass? That is just what a group of Weizmann Institute of Science researchers recently did.

Dr. Niv Antonovsky, who led this research in Prof. Ron Milo’s lab at the Institute’s Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, says that the ability to improve carbon fixation is crucial for our ability to cope with future challenges, such as the need to supply food to a growing population on shrinking land resources while using less fossil fuel.

The Institute scientists rose to this challenge by inserting the metabolic pathway for carbon fixation and sugar production (the so called Calvin cycle) into the bacterium E. coli, a known “consumer” organism that eats sugar and releases carbon dioxide.

The metabolic pathway for carbon fixation is well known, and Milo and his group expected that, with proper planning, they would be able to attach the genes containing the information for building it into the bacterium’s genome. Yet the main enzyme used in plants to fix carbon, RuBisCO, utilizes as a substrate for the CO2 fixation reaction a metabolite which is toxic for the bacterial cells. Thus the design had to include precisely regulating the expression levels of the various genes across this multistep pathway.

In one way the team’s well-thought-out plan was a resounding success: The bacteria did indeed produce the carbon fixation enzymes, and these were functional. But the machinery, as a whole, did not “deliver the goods.” Even though the carbon fixation machinery was expressed, the bacteria failed to use CO2 for sugar synthesis, relying instead on an external supply of sugar. “Of course, we were dealing with an organism that has evolved over millions of years to eat sugar, not CO2,” says Antonovsky. “So we turned to evolution to help us create the system we intended.”

Antonovsky, Milo and the team, including Shmuel Gleizer, Arren Bar-Even, Yehudit Zohar, Elad Herz and others, next designed tanks called “chemostats,” in which they grew the bacteria, gradually nudging them into developing an appetite for CO2. Initially, along with ample bubbles of CO2, the bacteria in the tanks were offered a large amount of pyruvate, which is an energy source, as well as barely enough sugar to survive. Thus, by changing the conditions of their environment and stressing them, the scientists forced the bacteria to learn, by adaptation and development, to use the more abundant material in their environment. A month went by, and things remained fairly static. The bacteria seemed to not “get the hint.” But in a month and a half or so, some bacteria showed signs of doing more than “just surviving.” By the third month the scientists were able to wean the evolved bacteria from the sugar and raise them on CO2 and pyruvate alone. Isotope labeling of the carbon dioxide molecules revealed that the bacteria were indeed using CO2 to create a significant portion of their body mass, including all the sugars needed to make the cell.

When the scientists sequenced the genomes of the evolved bacteria, they found many changes scattered throughout the bacterial chromosomes. “They were completely different from what we had predicted,” says Milo. “It took us two years of hard work to understand which of these are essential and to unravel the ‘logic’ involved in their evolution.” Repeating the experiment (and again waiting months) gave the scientists essential clues for identifying the mutations necessary for changing the E. coli diet from one based on sugar to one using carbon dioxide.

Prof. Milo noted that “the ability to program or reengineer E. coli to fix carbon could give researchers a new toolbox for studying and improving this basic process.”

Although currently the bacteria release CO2 back into the atmosphere, the team envisions that in the future their insights might be applied to creating microorganisms that soak up atmospheric CO2 and convert it into stored energy or to achieving crops with carbon fixing pathways, resulting in higher yields and better adaption to feeding humanity.

JNi.Media

Weizmann Institute Teams with Pfizer

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

The Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and its commercial arm, the Yeda Research and Development company has announced a multi-year deal with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals’ Global  Research division, to explore areas of research that may not be as often addressed in the United States.

The agreement, made public on Monday (June 6), involves collaboration at the newly-established National Drug Discovery Institute (DDI) – located at the Weizmann Institute – in the Nancy and Steven Grand Israel National Center for Personalized Medicine (G-INCPM).

The center will work on projects of mutual interest, in particular those that might address unmet medical needs.

“This is an exciting partnership for Pfizer,” said Mikael Dolsten, President of Pfizer Global Research.

“We have interacted with the Weizmann Institute for many years and have confidence in their scientific vision and expertise. We anticipate that this arrangement could potentially result in meaningful discoveries in the coming years,” he added.

For projects that appear to have further potential, Pfizer and Yeda said they would discuss research and development agreements.

Hana Levi Julian

Weird Science: Weizmann Institute Study: People Sniff Their Hands Twice As Much After A Handshake

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Published on Jewish Business News

People sniff their hands twice as much after a handshake, according to a Weizmann Institute study Why do people shake hands? A new Weizmann Institute study suggests one of the reasons for this ancient custom may be to check out each other’s odors.

Even if we are not consciously aware of this, handshaking may provide people with a socially acceptable way of communicating via the sense of smell. Not only do people often sniff their own hands, but they do so for a much longer time after shaking someone else’s hand, the study has found.

As reported today in the journal eLife, the number of seconds the subjects spent sniffing their own right hand more than doubled after an experimenter greeted them with a handshake. “Our findings suggest that people are not just passively exposed to socially-significant chemical signals, but actively seek them out,” said Idan Frumin, the research student who conducted the study under the guidance of Prof. Noam Sobel of Weizmann’s Neurobiology Department.

“Rodents, dogs and other mammals commonly sniff themselves, and they sniff one another in social interactions, and it seems that in the course of evolution, humans have retained this practice – only on a subliminal level.” To examine whether handshakes indeed transfer body odors, the researchers first had experimenters wearing gloves shake the subjects’ bare hands, then tested the glove for smell residues.

They found that a handshake alone was sufficient for the transfer of several odors known to serve as meaningful chemical signals in mammals. “It’s well known that germs can be passed on through skin contact in handshakes, but we’ve shown that potential chemical messages, known as chemosignals, can be passed on in the same manner,” Frumin says.

Next, to explore the potential role of handshakes in communicating odors, the scientists used covert cameras to film some 280 volunteers before and after they were greeted by an experimenter, who either shook their hand or didn’t. The researchers found that after shaking hands with an experimenter of the same gender, subjects more than doubled the time they later spent sniffing their own right hand (the shaking one). In contrast, after shaking hands with an experimenter of the opposite gender, subjects increased the sniffing of their own left hand (the non-shaking one).

“The sense of smell plays a particularly important role in interactions within gender, not only across gender as commonly assumed,” Frumin says. The scientists then performed a series of tests to make sure the hand-sniffing indeed served the purpose of checking out odors and was not merely a stress-related response to a strange situation. First, 2 they measured nasal airflow during the task and found that subjects were truly sniffing their hands and not just lifting them to their nose.

It turned out that the amount of air inhaled by the volunteers through the nose doubled when they brought their hands to their face. Next, the scientists found they could manipulate the hand-sniffing by artificially introducing different smells into the experimental setting. For example, when experimenters were tainted with a commercial unisex perfume, the hand-sniffing increased. In contrast, when the experimenters were tainted with odors derived from sex hormones, the sniffing decreased.

These final tests confirmed the olfactory nature of the hand-sniffing behavior. Taking part in the study were Ofer Perl, Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, Ami Eisen, Neetai Eshel, Iris Heller, Maya Shemesh, Aharon Ravia, Dr. Lee Sela and Dr. Anat Arzi, all of Prof. Sobel’s lab “Handshakes vary in strength, duration and posture, so they convey social information of various sorts,” says Prof. Sobel. “But our findings suggest that at its evolutionary origins, handshaking might have also served to convey odor signals, and such signaling may still be a meaningful, albeit subliminal, component of this custom.”

JBN / Jewish Business News

Israelis Star in Nobel Prizes, so Why Doesn’t BDS Boycott Them?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Three more Jews, two of them with Israeli citizenship, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday, bringing to two the number of professors associated with Israeli universities who have been awarded Nobel prizes so far this year. Most of the winners have been Jews.

The-three man all Jewish team of Professors Aryeh Warshel, Michael Levitt and Martin Karplus, won the prize in chemistry for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems.

Warshel is an Israel who was born in Kibbutz Sde Nachum, studied at Haifa’s Technion Institute and earned his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv. Levitt, who also holds Israeli citizenship, was born in South Africa and is a professor at Stanford University. Karplus was born in Austria in 1930 and in 1938 escaped to the United States, where he earned his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology

Intentionally or not, TIME magazine’s report did not note that two of the winners were Israeli citizens.

It is doubtful that TIME was suddenly being so pro-Israel that it wanted to bury the facts from the Boycott Israel movement, which includes academics in Britain and other countries in Europe as well some in Australia who want to punish for the supposed “occupation” Israel by breaking off ties with its universities.

That would mean the Israelis would not be able share research with them, but in this childish game, it is the anti-Zionists who would lose out. Perhaps they deserve their own punishment. If the BDS folks were intellectually honest, they would protest against the Nobel Prize judges for awarding professors from Israleli universities.

There also is plenty of leeway for the anti-Semitic crowd to claim that Jews, including a Holocaust survivor, are running the world since they have won no less than six of the Nobel prizes awarded this week. A couple of non-Jews also have been recognized, and their numbers will likely rise as prizes are announced in the fields of literature and peace.

Francois Englert, a Belgian Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University and a Holocaust survivor, shared the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for their discovery of the Higgs particle, known as the “God particle,” which is said to have caused the Big Bang.

On Monday,  Jewish Americans James Rothman of Yale University and Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, joined German-born researcher Thomas Suedhof, a non-Jew from Stanford University, in winning  the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Israeli leaders were as excited as the Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, if not more so.

President Shimon Peres called and congratulated Prof. Warshel and joked, “How does it feel for a man from the kibbutz to win a Nobel Prize?”

President Peres continued and said, “I want to congratulate you on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people and every person who hopes to overcome sickness and suffering because of your work. I am sure that your breakthrough will lead to advances in medicine and further scientific breakthroughs.”

He asked Prof. Warshel to convey his congratulations to the other prize winners, professors Levitt Karplus.

Israelis have won no less than six Nobel prizes in the past 11 years.

The BDS movement has not commented.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Archaeologists Find Israel Was Land of Milk, Honey – and Cinnamon

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Cinnamon, once thought to have been carried on trade routes in ancient Israel, may have been made along the northern Israeli coast and not just in Africa and India, as previously thought, Israeli researchers told LiveScience.

They analyzed 27 flasks from archaeological sites in Israel dating back 3,000 years and found that the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor was in 10 of the containers.

Cinnamon bark is found in southern India, and another form of the spice is found in China and southeast Asia. It is now yet known the source of the cinnamon in the flasks found in Israel, but the discovery that it probably was made in Israel “raises the intriguing possibility that long-range spice trade from the Far East westward may have taken place some 3,000 years ago,” the Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute researchers wrote in a paper to be published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry.

“We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the 16th century A.D.” Dvory Namdar, a researcher with the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University, told LiveScience in an interview.

Namdar and research colleague Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa said the flasks, which at that time were in area that was part of ancient Phoenicia, feature a narrow opening with thick walls, indicating their contents were highly prized. Flasks with similar shapes previously have been found in temple storerooms and treasuries of ancient kingdoms, the researches added.

They think that the cinnamon bark was brought from the Far East to ancient Israel and mixed with liquids before it was placed in the flasks prior to shipping the spice elsewhere.

Namdar and Gilboa speculate that people of the time mixed the cinnamon in with wine. “If you mix it with a bigger [container of wine], then you get flavored wine,” they said.

Jewish Press Staff

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/archaeologists-find-israel-was-land-of-milk-honey-and-cinnamon/2013/08/22/

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