Bees Say ‘Buzz Off’ to Sleep When Caring for Young

      It’s a phenomenon that most new parents can identify with: chronic exhaustion due to lack of sleep. As it turns out, humans are not alone in this: all animals, including insects, need their sleep. Or do they? That’s the question Professor Guy Bloch and his team at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior are looking to answer in the journal Current Biology. They studied brood-tending bumblebee workers and found that those tending the young sleep much less than other bees do, even when caring for offspring that aren’t their own.

      “Our findings show that sleep is more plastic and less rigid than is commonly accepted,” shared Bloch. Insect sleep looks much like sleep in people and other animals. They stop moving, take on a typical sleep posture, and become less responsive to noise or touch. When humans, rodents, or flies are sleep deprived, it compromises their health and performance. But the new study suggests there may be ways around that in some cases.

      Bloch and colleagues had earlier shown that bees adjust their activities depending on their role in the colony, with foragers showing a strong circadian rhythm and “nurse” bees tending the brood around the clock. They wondered how activity around the clock affects the way they sleep. To find out, the researchers, spearheaded by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Moshe Nagari, combined video recordings, detailed behavioral analyses, sleep deprivation experiments, and response threshold assessments to characterize the sleep behavior of bumblebee workers.

      Their studies show that bumblebees tending young do indeed sleep much less. That’s true even when the brood doesn’t need to be fed and when the young are not their own offspring. The evidence suggests that substances produced by the pupae drive the reduction in sleep. Surprisingly, however, when the pupae and their substances were removed, those bees did not show the expected sleep rebound. It suggested that they weren’t sleep deprived in the expected way.

      “The fact that the nursing bees sleep so little, even when caring for pupae that do not need to be fed was the most surprising,” Nagari says. “Before this study, we assumed that the main functions of activity around the clock without circadian rhythms in nurse bees is to provide improved feeding to the developing larvae, enabling them to grow rapidly.”

      The findings add to emerging evidence showing that under certain conditions, animals can give up sleep, the researchers said. For example, they noted that birds sleep less during their seasonal migrations. Some male birds and fruit flies will forgo sleep to give themselves more time to mate. And some cavefish have evolved to sleep less compared with related species of fish that live in open water habitats.

      The findings in bees raise questions about whether the sleep loss comes at a cost in terms of health or cognitive performance.

      In the past, sleep research focused on the need for sleep and on the damage to small laboratory animals, such as mice and rats, by a lack of sleep. “However, with bees, if there is no cost for sleep loss, it means that the brood-tending bees have a mechanism that allows them to significantly reduce sleep without a cost to their brain or other tissue,” Bloch explained. “This, of courses, raises the question about what exactly are these mechanisms and what is the basic function of sleep.”

      Professor Bloch says his current research is the first proof that insects change their sleep schedules to care for offspring but adds that now that the precedent has been established he would not be surprised to find similar phenomena with other social insects, such as wasps and ants.


      Israeli Chatbot Could Diagnose Early Alzheimer’s Disease

      Hundreds of drugs have been developed to address Alzheimer’s disease, says Dr. Shahar Arzy, director of the computational neuropsychiatry lab at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. “Do you know how many have been found effective? Zero.”

      But if patients could be diagnosed in the preclinical stages of the disease, perhaps some of the new biological medications showing excellent results in other domains of neurology could be effective when applied early enough in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

      Arzy and his colleagues have developed a computer-based system to ferret out early signs of Alzheimer’s.

      The system, dubbed Clara (“a hint towards ‘clarity of mind,’” Arzy says), is an artificial intelligence-based chatbot that asks patients questions about themselves and their relationships to people, places and events.

      Clara then uses machine learning to compare that information to a baseline in order to generate a computer-based test tailored for the specific individual that can diagnose very early Alzheimer’s.

      Arzy’s team published research results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and in the American Psychological Association’s journal Neuropsychology showing the method to be 95 percent accurate.

      Dr. Shahar Arzy speaking about early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Photo: courtesy
      Arzy’s work on Clara is based on a relatively recent understanding of how the brain works and what Alzheimer’s does to it.

      Alzheimer’s affects the brain’s “orientation system” that dictates how a person relates to the world outside. “It’s easy to test memory,” Arzy says. “I can give you three words and ask you to retrieve them.” That’s very different than processing specific relationships.

      For example, a patient might remember both the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy and the election of Barack Obama but be confused about which came first. Or a patient might recognize his or her spouse and doctor, but not be able to distinguish which person is standing closer.

      Orientation can be measured in a functional MRI. Your brain will light up differently if you see a picture of your own daughter vs. someone else’s child or a generic image of a baby.

      “The overlap between how the self is oriented to the world and the brain mechanisms that are disturbed by Alzheimer’s disease is astonishing,”Arzy says.

      In the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s, the orientation system begins to deteriorate, “but people can still compensate for this by tapping into other resources like memory,” Arzy says. “They can write down a note, for example. Maybe their performance is a little off, but they come up with the same output.”

      It’s only when both systems – orientation and memory – go under a certain threshold that the disease becomes apparent. That’s when people seek help. But it’s already too late to present an effective treatment.

      The key to Clara is that the questions it asks are taken from a patient’s personal orientation system and are not just generic questions that could draw on the brain’s memory system.

      A blessing in disguise

      Arzy’s original idea was to skip the chatbot and get information about a patient from Facebook and social media. “That’s what we did at the beginning,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “We spent two years writing the code.”

      Then, just when they were done, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

      Cambridge Analytica was the consulting firm that mined openly available user data on Facebook in order to influence voting in the 2016 US elections. Facebook responded by disabling the functionality that allowed third parties to access user data. That threw Arzy and his team back to square one.

      It was a blessing in disguise. Arzy says that “the information we were getting from Facebook was not perfect” and that using artificial intelligence, as Clara does now,“is a better solution.”

      Arzyen visions Clara to be available free as a public service, through doctors’ offices and through download onto mobile devices or computers. The pilot Android and web versions support English, Hebrew, Chinese and Portuguese so far. French, Russian, Arabic and Japanese options are already under development.

      Clara is not ready to make its public debut, Arzy says. “We are at the stage of proving the efficacy of the AI agent and the two-system [orientation vs. memory] theory.”

      Clara is now in the second year of a five-year test at Harvard to compare data generated by the system with data from Alzheimer’s markers taken via amyloid PET scan, quantitative and functional MRI and other neuropsychological tests. Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv has been running its own study on Clara using combined PET-fMRI over the past year.

      The team from Dr. Shahar Arzy’s computational neuropsychiatry lab at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. Photo: courtesy
      Developing Clara has been a team effort on the part of the neuropsychiatry lab.


      Read the entire source article at ISRAEL21c


      Decoding Denisovans Using DNA

      If you could travel back in time to 100,000 years ago, you’d find yourself living among several different groups of humans, including Modern Humans (those anatomically similar to us), Neanderthals, and Denisovans. We know quite a bit about Neanderthals, thanks to numerous remains found across Europe and Asia. But exactly what our Denisovan relatives might have looked like had been anyone’s guess for a simple reason: the entire collection of Denisovan remains includes three teeth, a pinky bone, and a lower jaw. Now, as reported in the scientific journal Cell, a team led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers Professor Liran Carmel and Dr. David Gokhman (currently a postdoc at Stanford) produced reconstructions of these long-lost relatives based on patterns of methylation (chemical changes) in their ancient DNA.

      “We provide the first reconstruction of the skeletal anatomy of Denisovans,” says lead author Carmel of HU’s Institute of Life Sciences. “In many ways, Denisovans resembled Neanderthals but in some traits they resembled us and in others they were unique.”

      Denisovan remains were first discovered in 2008 and have fascinated human evolution researchers ever since. They lived in Siberia and Eastern Asia and went extinct approximately 50,000 years ago.  While we still don’t know why they went extinct, up to 6% of present-day Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians contain Denisovan DNA.  Further, Denisovan DNA likely contributed to modern Tibetans’ ability to live in high altitudes and to Inuits’ ability to withstand freezing temperatures.

      Overall, Carmel and his team identified 56 anatomical features in which Denisovans differ from modern humans and/or Neanderthals, 34 of them in the skull. For example, the Denisovan’s skull was probably wider than that of modern humans’ or Neanderthals’. They likely also had a longer dental arch and no chin.

      3-D printed reconstruction of a female Denisovan. CREDIT Maayan Harel

      The researchers came to these conclusions after three years of intense work studying DNA methylation maps. DNA methylation refers to chemical modifications that affect a gene’s activity but not its underlying DNA sequence. The researchers first compared DNA methylation patterns among the three human groups to find regions in the genome that were differentially methylated. Next, they looked for evidence about what those differences might mean for anatomical features—based on what’s known about human disorders in which those same genes lose their function.

      “In doing so, we got a prediction as to what skeletal parts are affected by differential regulation of each gene and in what direction that skeletal part would change—for example, a longer or shorter femur bone,” Dr. Gokhman explained.

      To test this groundbreaking method, the researchers applied it to two species whose anatomy is known: the Neanderthal and the chimpanzee. They found that roughly 85% of their trait reconstructions were accurate in predicting which traits diverged and in which direction they diverged. Then, they applied this method to the Denisovan and were able to produce the first reconstructed anatomical profile of the mysterious Denisovan.

      Comparison of Modern Human, Neanderthal and Denisovan Skulls_CREDIT Maayan Harel

      As for the accuracy of their Denisovan profile, Carmel shared, “One of the most exciting moments happened a few weeks after we sent our paper to peer-review. Scientists discovered a Denisovan jawbone! We quickly compared this bone to our predictions and found that it matched perfectly. Without even planning on it, we received independent confirmation of our ability to reconstruct whole anatomical profiles using DNA that we extracted from a single fingertip.”

      In their Cell paper, Carmel and his colleagues predict many Denisovan traits that resemble Neanderthals’, such as a sloping forehead, long face, and large pelvis, and others that are unique among humans, for example, a large dental arch and very wide skull. Do these traits shed light on the Denisovan lifestyle? Could they explain how Denisovans survived the extreme cold of Siberia?

      “There is still a long way to go to answer these questions but our study sheds light on how Denisovans adapted to their environment and highlights traits that are unique to modern humans and which separate us from these other, now extinct, human groups,” Carmel concluded.

      Professors Eran Meshorer from the Hebrew University, Yoel Rak from Tel Aviv University, and Tomas Marques-Bonet from Barcelona’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC) contributed to this research.

      Dr. David Gokhman
      Prof. Liran Carmel


      CITATION:  Cell, Gokhman et al.: “Reconstructing Denisovan Anatomy Using DNA Methylation Maps” DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2019.08.035

      FUNDING: National Geographic Society, Clore Israel Foundation, MINECO/FEDER, Howard Hughes International Early Career, ‘‘La Caixa,’’and Secretaria d’Universitats i Recerca and CERCA Programme del Departament d’Economia i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya.


      Just Press Pause? Can Women Halt Their Biological Clocks?

      What if women could press pause on their biological clocks? Human eggs begin to mature from the onset of a woman’s first period, however,  in Western countries, most women do not have children as teenagers. While women wait, their eggs age and the quality of their eggs decreases.  What if there were a way to delay egg aging without losing egg quality?

      Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Genetic Department have discovered the switch that may do this – in worms.  And they’re hopeful this breakthrough may help women extend their fertility windows and maintain high egg quality into their thirties and forties.

      Dr. Yonatan Tzur and associate Dr. Hanna Achache, along with scientists at Harvard Medical School, studied egg maturation in roundworms and published their findings in the scientific journal Genetics.  Why worms? Though tiny, C. elegans has been incredibly helpful in helping scientists understand human genetics. These worms contain the same number of genes as humans do (20,000) and their eggs mature in about one day.

      C Elegans in egg maturation. Credit: Hanna Achache

      Tzur and his team monitored the changes in each of the worm’s 20,000 genes during egg formation and were able to pinpoint an exact gene (ogr-2) that controls the rhythm of egg maturation.  Delving further, the team studied MAP Kinase (“MAPK”), the biochemical switch that turns egg development on and off. When they removed the ogr-2 gene with CRISPR gene-editing technology, MAPK went into overdrive and the worms’ eggs aged very quickly. “We tested the gene’s role by removing it from the worm’s gene sequence. Instantly, these ‘edited’ worms became less fertile and their eggs more closely resembled those of an older worm,” shared Tzur.

      These findings are significant because aging egg cells is the main cause of birth defects, miscarriages, and infertility.  As human eggs age, abnormalities develop.  While in-vitro fertilization (IVF) allows doctors to select the best eggs, women above the age of 35 have a harder time to produce a healthy baby with their own eggs, and for women 42 and older, those chances are even less. These statistics, along with the fact that the average age of first-time mothers in the Western world is increasing sharply, means finding the key to slowing down egg maturation is crucial and has spurred scientists like Tzur to discover the mechanisms that control ovarian development and oocyte aging.

      Though still in its early stages, Tzur sees two possible applications of his discovery for humans. One is to gently increase the equivalent of ogr-2 in girls via a food additive.  This may allow girls to maintain the high quality of young eggs until they’re ready to use them. Another would be to suppress MAPK during IVF cycles. This would help older eggs complete their development and improve women’s’ chances of having a healthy baby as they get older


      CITATION: Achache H., Laurent L., Hecker-Mimoun Y., Ishtayeh H., Rappaport Y., Kroizer E., Colaiácovo M.P., Tzur Y.B. (2019) Progression of Meiosis is Coordinated by the Level and Location of MAPK Activation Via OGR-2 in Caenorhabditis elegans, Genetics, 212(1):213-229.

      FUNDING:  Israel Science Foundation and European Commission Individual Fellowship


      Albert Einstein Heads to China

      A unique exhibit with original materials belonging to Albert Einstein will open today at the World Expo Museum in Shanghai, China. The exhibition, called “Albert Einstein: Life in Four Dimensions,” contains handwritten documents, scientific theorems, original pictures, and personal objects belonging to the man who discovered that E=mc2.  The collection, curated by Avi Muller, will be open to the public for three months before opening in Beijing.

      Hanoch Gutfreund and Nobel Laureate Zhenning Yang. Credit Shanghai Observer

      Even 140 years after his birth, Einstein’s scientific discoveries still impact our lives. Lasers, nuclear power, fiber optics, driverless cars, GPS, and space travel all trace back to his theories. Einstein was also one of the founding fathers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), and upon his death he bequeathed his personal and scientific writings to the university, giving birth to the Albert Einstein Archives.

      Attending Thursday’s opening event are Professor Hanoch Gutfreund—the Archives’ academic advisor, the Deputy Mayor of Shanghai, Chinese Nobel Laureate Zhenning Yang, and Dr. Eyal Propper—Israel’s consul-general in Shanghai, among other notables.

      “This exciting new exhibition further deepens the ties between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Chinese people,” said Professor Asher Cohen, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “For years, our researchers have collaborated with colleagues in the Far East. As a leading institute of higher education, we have continued the legacy of our founding father, Albert Einstein, by becoming the world’s leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship, scientific discoveries and technological development, and we thank our partners at Jiefang Daily for making this wonderful project a reality.”


      Mechanism for Gamma-ray Bursts from Space is Decoded

      Gamma-ray bursts, short and intense flushes of energetic radiation coming out from outer space, are the brightest explosions in the universe. As gamma-rays are blocked by the atmosphere the bursts were discovered accidentally in the late sixties by the Vela satellites, defense satellites sent to monitor man-made nuclear explosions in space.

      Since their discovery, the bursts have been at the focus of attention with several dedicated satellites launched to explore their origin. In the late nineties, it was realized that long bursts (lasting more than a few seconds)  arise during the death and collapse of massive stars while in the first decade of this century it was found that shorter bursts (lasting less than a few seconds) arise in neutron star mergers. This last realization was confirmed dramatically two years ago with simultaneous observations of gravitational waves by the gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo and a short burst by two satellites, NASA’s Fermi and ESA’s intergral.

      Still many mysteries involving these bursts remained. Particularly puzzling was the question of how high energy radiation is produced. Last January a gamma-ray detector on board of NASA’s Neil Gehrls Swift satellite detected GRB190114C, a bright burst that took place 4.5 billion years ago in a distant galaxy.  Following a trigger from Swift, The MAGIC telescope, a Cherenkov detector at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma, Spain, slew towards the burst’s location and detected extremely high energy photons (at TeV energies) coming from it. The ultra-high energy TeV photons, that were observed about 50 seconds after the prompt emission, in the so-called “afterglow” phase, were at least 10 times more energetic than the highest energy photons detected previously from any burst.

      By now only preliminary data of the MAGIC observations have been posted. Still, Professor Evgeny Derishev from the Institute for Applied Physics in Nizhny Novogorod and Professor Tsvi Piran from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem combined these data with observations of lower energy (X-ray) photons carried out by the Neil Gehrles Swift and have shown that they reveal the details of the emission mechanism. In a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the authors show that the observed radiation must have originated in a jet moving at 0.9999 of the speed of light towards us.  The high energy radiation observed by MAGIC is was emitted by electrons accelerated to TeV energies within the jet. The emission process can also be identified, it is the so-called “inverse Compton mechanism” in which ultra-high-energy electrons collide with low-energy photons and boosts their energy. Remarkably the same relativistic electrons are also producing the low-energy “seed” photons via synchrotron radiation.

      “MAGIC has found the Rosetta stone of gamma-ray bursts” says Professor Piran. “This unique detection enables us for the first time to discriminate between different emission models and discover what are the exact conditions in the explosion. We can also understand now why such radiation wasn’t observed in the past.” Future Cherenkov telescopes such as the planned Cherenkov Telescope Array, a multinational project under construction will be much more sensitive than MAGIC. The current detection suggests that many other such events will be detected in the future and will continue to shed light on this cosmic mystery.


      More than an Image: Hebrew University’s New MRI Technique Can “See” Molecular Brain Changes

      MRIs give us a picture of our body’s insides—organs, bones, nerves, and soft tissue.  But what if MRIs could show us the molecular makeup of our body parts, and help doctors more quickly determine the onset of disease and begin treatment?

      In a paper published today in Nature Communications, Professor Aviv Mezer and his team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences found a way to enable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide information about molecular changes occurring in the brain, and not only images of organs, bones, nerves, and soft tissue, as the technology currently does. This is especially important for doctors looking to understand whether a patient is merely getting older or developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

      “Instead of images, our quantitative MRI model provides molecular information about the brain tissue we’re studying.  This could allow doctors to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient, and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue, without resorting to invasive or dangerous procedures, such as brain tissue biopsies,” explained Mezer.

      The new MRI Technique provides users with a molecular map of different areas in the brain. Credit: Shir Filo/Hebrew University

      External signs of aging are familiar to us: gray hair, a stooped spine, occasional memory loss.  However, how do we know if a patient’s brain is aging normally or developing a disease?  The answer is found on the biological level.  Both normal aging and neurodegenerative diseases create biological “footprints” in the brain, changing the lipid and protein content of brain tissue.

      Whereas current MRI scans provide only pictures of the human brain, this new technique provides biological readouts of brain tissue—the ability to see what’s going on on a molecular level, and to direct a course of treatment accordingly.  “When we take a blood test, it shows us the exact number of white blood cells in our body and whether that number is higher than normal due to illness.  MRI scans provide images of the brain but don’t show changes in the composition of the human brain, changes that could potentially differentiate normal aging from the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,” shared Ph.D. student Shir Filo who worked on the study.

      Looking ahead, Mezer believes that the new MRI technique will also provide a crucial understanding into how our brains age, “when we scanned young and old patients’ brains, we saw that different brain areas ages differently.  For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant.  However, we saw major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects.”

      Study author—Hebrew University’s Dr. Aviv Mezer

      All this bodes well for patients.  Not only will MRI’s be able to distinguish molecular signs of normal aging from the early signs of disease.   Patients will more likely receive correct diagnoses earlier, speeding up when they begin treatment and maintaining an improved quality of life longer, all via a non-invasive technique.


      CITATION:  Non-invasive detection of age-related molecular profiles in the human brain. Shir Filo, Oshrat Shtangel, Noga Salamon, Adi Kol, Batsheva Weisinger, Sagiv Shifman, and Aviv Mezer, Nature Communications.

      FUNDING: Israel Science Foundation.


      Were These 3,500-Year-Old Carvings of Nude Women Used As Ancient Fertility Drug?

      An inscribed ancient Egyptian scarab and five clay tablets with carvings of naked women have been found in Rehob, a 3,500-year-old city in Israel.

      The carvings likely depict ancient fertility goddesses, such as Asherah or Ashtarte, Amihai Mazar, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Live Science. “[They] were used at home, as part of popular domestic religious practice in the domestic sphere, mainly related to fertility of women,” Mazar said in an email, noting that similar carvings have been found at other archaeological sites in the region.

      The excavation showed that Rehob (known today as Tel Rehov) was founded about 3,500 years ago, and the city flourished at a time when Egypt controlled much of the region. Rehob was constructed near Beth Shean, a town protected by an Egyptian garrison, Mazar and Davidovich wrote in the journal article. [The 25 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

      Mazar and Uri Davidovich, a lecturer at the same institution, detailed their findings in a paper published recently in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

      This scarab has a hieroglyphic inscription on it saying that it was made for a deceased man named “Amenemhat.” It was found within a large building at Rehob. Credit: Gabi Laron/Tel Rehov excavations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


      Made of a mineral called steatite, the scarab contains a hieroglyphic inscription saying that it was created for a deceased man named “Amenemhat,” who was “scribe of the house of the overseer of sealed items,” according to Arlette David’s translation of the inscription.

      The “sealed items” referred to in the title represent various products and raw materials dealt with by the administration,” wrote David, an archaeology lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the appendix of the journal article.

      It’s a mystery who exactly this individual was and what the scarab was doing in the building where it was found. “Since there is no other attestation of an Amenemhat ‘scribe of the house of the overseer of sealed items,’ we don’t know anything else about him, including where he was buried,” David told Live Science in an email. [Photos: Mummies Discovered in Tombs in Ancient Egyptian City]

      David noted that it’s possible that Amenemhat never lived in or visited Rehob and the scarab may have been used in Rehob as a reminder of Egypt’s control over the area.

      A photo showing the hieroglyphic inscription on the scarab. Credit: Gabi Laron/Tel Rehov excavations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

      Read the full article at Live Science


      3,500-year-old staircase evidence of conquered Canaanite king’s grandeur

      Seven stunning large basalt stairs recently excavated at Tel Hazor give new indication of the ancient grandeur of the Canaanite kingdom 3,500 years ago, that according to biblical tradition was conquered by the Israelites and razed to the ground.

      As depicted in Joshua 11:10, Hazor was the “head” of the Canaanite settlements taken by the Israelite leader. While there are still more stairs to be uncovered, it is thought that they lead into the large palace complex from where the King of Hazor ruled on the northern slopes of the upper city facing the lower city.

      “This is exactly the palace that, if you were to go by the biblical narrative, would have been conquered by the Israelites,” said Tel Hazor co-director Dr. Shlomit Bechar. Tel Hazor National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited by the public.

      The newly unearthed 4.5-meter wide monumental staircase is unprecedented in its craftsmanship in this era and region, according to Bechar. Each stair is shaped to fit snugly into place in a manner that is not found anywhere else, said Bechar in conversation with The Times of Israel.

      Hebrew University Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Shlomit Bechar at the Tel Hazor site. (John Rinks)

      Hazor has served as a training ground for Israeli archaeologists — past, present and future. In 1955–1958 and 1968-70, celebrity archaeologist Yigael Yadin led excavations at the site assisted by another stalwart researcher, Yohanan Aharoni. Now its 30th consecutive dig season, the current Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin was founded by Hebrew University Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor in 1990 and under the auspices of the Israel Exploration Society.

      Located north of the Sea of Galilee on a trade route connecting Egypt and Babylon, Hazor was the largest biblical-era site in Israel. With an estimated population of 20,000, its size and strategic location made it an important city in antiquity. After its fiery destruction, it was rebuilt by the Israelites, perhaps by King Solomon. Several hundred years later, the Israelite settlement was destroyed by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE.

      According to a Hebrew University press release, the remains of the last Israeli settlement of Hazor were also uncovered this year, including a considerable quantity of shattered pottery vessels — evidence of its destruction.

      The stairs and two other much smaller basalt steps nearby were first uncovered in 2018. They have undergone conservation and are now available for viewing by the public. Bechar said she intends to continue the staircase’s excavation within the next three or four years.

      Stunning 8th century BCE staircase and paved entrance hall at Tel Hazor. (The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin)

      In speaking with The Times of Israel, Bechar said that while these stairs, strangely modern in appearance, are grand in their own right, it is quite possible that they are not “the” staircase into the palace, rather that they could lead to another courtyard, which could then lead to another large staircase.

      “To find such a grand staircase indicates the building is going to be much more amazing than what we would have expected,” she said. “Nobody expected to find this staircase, which is one of several. It could be that these are leading possibly to another staircase, possibly to another entrance, to another hall in the building. But we don’t know,” she said.

      A side view of the grand staircase, looking north. Note the shape of the basalt slabs, cut to fit the next stair. (M. Cimadevilla/The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin)


      Read the entire article at The Times of Israel



      Archaeologists Find City of Ziklag, Refuge of Biblical King David

      How was Biblical Ziklag found? Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, believe they have discovered the Philistine town near Kiryat Gat, immortalized in the Biblical narrative. Ziklag is mentioned multiple times in the Bible in relation to David (in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel). According to the Biblical narrative, Achish, King of Gat, allowed David to find refuge in Ziklag while fleeing King Saul and from there David also departed to be anointed King in Hebron. According to scripture, Ziklag was also the scene of a dramatic event, in which the Amalekites, desert nomads, raided and burned the town taking women and children captive.

      The excavation, which began in 2015 at the site of Khirbet a-Ra‘i in the Judaean foothills – between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, has proceeded in cooperation with Professor Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

      Excavation expedition to Khirbet a-Ra‘i

      The excavation was funded by Joey Silver of Jerusalem, Aron Levy of New Jersey, and the Roth Family and Isaac Wakil both of Sydney. The excavation has been ongoing for seven seasons with large areas being exposed – approximately 1,000 sq.m., leading to this new identification for Ziklag.

      The name Ziklag is unusual in the lexicon of names in the Land of Israel since it is not local Canaanite-Semitic. It is a Philistine name, given to the town by an alien population of immigrants from the Aegean. Twelve different suggestions to identify Ziklag have been put forward, such as Tel Halif near Kibbutz Lahav, Tel Sera in the Western Negev, Tel Sheva, and others. However, according to the researchers, none of these sites produced continuous settlement which included both a Philistine settlement and a settlement from the era of King David. At Khirbet a-Ra‘i, however, features from both these populations have been found.

      Excavation expedition to Khirbet a-Ra‘i

      Evidence of a settlement from the Philistine era has been found there, from the 12-11th centuries BCE. Spacious, massive stone structures have been uncovered containing finds typical of the Philistine civilization. Additional finds are foundation deposits, including bowls and an oil lamp – offerings laid beneath the floors of the buildings out of a belief that these would bring good fortune in the construction. Stone and metal tools were also found. Similar finds from this era were discovered in the past in excavations in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath–the cities of the Lords of the Philistines.

      Above the remains of the Philistine settlement was a rural settlement from the time of King David, from the early 10th century BCE. This settlement came to an end in an intense fire that destroyed the buildings. Nearly one hundred complete pottery vessels were found in the various rooms. These vessels are identical to those found in the contemporary fortified Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa—identified as biblical Sha‘arayim—in the Judean foothills. Carbon 14 tests date the site at Khirbet a-Ra‘i to the time of King David.

      Excavation expedition to Khirbet a-Ra‘i

      The great range of complete vessels is a testimony to the interesting everyday life during the reign of King David. Large quantities of storage jars were found during the excavation- medium and large-which were used for storing oil and wine. Jugs and bowls were also found decorated in the style known as “red slipped and hand burnished,” typical to the period of King David.

      Following a regional archaeological study in the Judean foothills managed by Professors Garfinkel and Ganor, a picture of the region’s settlement in the early Monarchic era is emerging: the two sites – Ziklag and Sha‘arayim-are situated on the western frontier of the kingdom. They are both perched atop prominent hills, overlooking main routes passing between the Land of the Philistines and Judea: Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley sits opposite Philistine Gath, and Khirbet a-Ra‘i, sits opposite Ashkelon. This geographic description is echoed in King David’s Lament, in which he mourns the death of King Saul and Jonathan in their battle against the Philistines: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon.”

      Excavation expedition to Khirbet a-Ra‘i

      Penn Dental Renews Exchange with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine

      Building upon its global engagement, Penn Dental Medicine has renewed ties with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Jerusalem, Israel, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate collaborative exchange and research with faculty and students. The MOU signing was part of the Power of Partnership program, held June 18-19 at Penn Dental Medicine, when the School hosted a delegation from Hadassah.

      This two-day program, which included meetings with faculty counterparts from both schools and a continuing education program, also celebrated the late Dr. D. Walter Cohen, Dean Emeritus of Penn Dental Medicine, who had close ties to Hebrew University over his lifetime.

      Dr. Mark Wolff, Penn Dental Medicine’s Morton Amsterdam Dean, with Dr. Aaron Palmon, Dean of Hadassah School of Dental Medicine.

      “We are so pleased to reignite this relationship with colleagues from Hadassah,” says Dr. Mark Wolff, Penn Dental Medicine’s Morton Amsterdam Dean. “Already through this gathering, researchers and faculty have met and our relationship is alive and growing, and doing it in the name of Walter, is particularly rewarding. It is wonderful when a legacy like his can carry on.”

      Dr. Cohen, a 1950 graduate of Penn Dental Medicine who led the School as Dean from 1972 to 1983, shared a strong bond with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine.

      His father, Abram, was the first Chairman of the Palestine Dental School Committee, which helped plan the dental school, and both father and son played central roles in its history. In 1997, these efforts were celebrated with the creation of the D. Walter Cohen, D.D.S. Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University.

      The Power of Partnership dinner celebration, held June 18 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, honored Dr. Cohen. Along with the signing of the MOU by Dean Mark Wolff and Dr. Aaron Palmon, Dean of Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, tributes were made to Dr. Cohen by Stanley Bergman, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Henry Schein, Inc.; Daniel Perkins, CEO of AEGIS Communications; and Dr. Marc Rothman, past Chair of the Alpha Omega Foundation and co-developer of the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity’s Global Oral Health Initiative.

      The continuing education program on June 19 included the inaugural D. Walter Cohen Memorial Lecture, presented by Dean Mark Wolff on The Global Challenge of Managing Oral Health. Other lectures included Periodontal-Prosthesis: 70 years in Retrospect by Dr. Henry Salama; Cells and Signaling Pathways in Microbe-driven Periodontal and Peri-implant Inflammation by Dr. Gabriel Nussbaum; CAD/CAM Ceramic Update by Dr. Markus B. Blatz; Esthetic Full-Mouth Rehabilitations – 40 Years Perspective by Dr. Gerard Chiche; and Modern Clinical Dilemma: Save or Extract and Implant by Dr. Syngcuk Kim.

      It is anticipated that Penn Dental Medicine and Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine will gather annually for a collaborative meeting with the 2020 program to be hosted at Hebrew University.

      Read the source article at


      Neanderthal Settlement Where Our Prehistoric Relatives Lived for 10,000 Years Discovered in Israel

      A Neanderthal settlement that was occupied by our ancient relatives on multiple occasions over the course of 10,000 years has been discovered by archaeologists in northern Israel.

      The ‘Ein Qashish site was first identified in 2005 when flint artifacts and bones that appeared to date to the Stone Age were found. In 2013, after the site was damaged during the construction of a road, researchers were able to excavate almost half of the huge site. At this time, they came across the skeletal remains of three individuals, two of which could be identified as being Neanderthals.

      The discovery allowed archaeologists to start building a picture of the occupants of the settlement—including when they were living there and what they were using the site for. The findings have now been published in the journal PLOS One.

      The researchers, led by Ravid Ekshtain from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzed a 4.5 meter thick layer that they were able to date to between 71,000 and 54,000 years ago. Along with the Neanderthal remains, they found over 12,000 artifacts dating from across this period, suggesting the site was repeatedly occupied. They said Neanderthals probably lived at the site between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago.

      Analysis of the artifacts and bones found indicate the occupants were making tools at the site and killing and consuming animals, including aurochs, deer and gazelle.

      Annemieke Milks, an archaeologist from the U.K.’s UCL, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek the findings provide an “exciting glimpse” into the potential settlement systems of Neanderthals. “We know that certain sites, such as La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey were ‘persistent places’ used over long periods by Neanderthals, but these tend to be cave or rockshelter sites, providing natural locations for residential use,” she said.

      “The evidence from ‘Ein Qashish shows repeated use over a very long period of at least 10,000 years of an open-air location, and increasingly looks to have been used for a variety of activities, including ones we would typically associate with living spaces. As a rare open-air site, ‘Ein Qashish helps us understand Neanderthal landscape use and behaviors.”

      “We discovered that the site included evidence for meat consumption, transport of chert from short and longer distances into the site in order to knap and evidence for the knapping procedures at the site,” Ekshtain told Newsweek.

      “One of the finds was a large partial skeleton of a wild cattle, including horn cores, located in an area surrounded by many flint artifacts. This find represents the location of the animal death because is unlikely that such a large animal was transported from a butchery location to an area of consumption activities.”

      Normally, Neanderthal settlements are found in caves—these habitats provided shelter from the elements and a relatively constant temperature, being cool in the summer and warm in the winter. ‘Ein Qashish is unusual in that it is open air.

      Ekshtain said the site would have been attractive to Neanderthals as it was close to a water source and different ecological niches—including mountains and a relatively low lying plateau. “The site’s inhabitants could hunt animals exploiting diverse habitats,” he said.

      The team suggest that open-air sites like Ein Qashish may have been used by Neanderthals more than previously thought. They will now carry out more analysis on the artifacts found to build and even clearer picture of how the site was used—from how animals were exploited to the way tools were built and used. This includes the purpose of some unusual limestone slabs that appear to have been used as an anvil, “for purposes not yet known.”

      Evidence suggests Neanderthals disappeared from the Levant about 50,000 years ago. “‘Ein Qashish dates very close to the end of this period [and] appears to be a site of repeated occupations,” Ekshtain said. “Each of the occupation hosted a range of general activities suggesting a complex and robust settlement system in the open air. The reasons for leaving the site or the region are still not clear.”

      Read the source article at Newsweek


      Hebrew University Leads the Pack in PH.D.s

      As part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s 82nd Board of Governors (BOG) meeting, 335 students will be awarded Ph.D. degrees, more than at any other academic institution in Israel.  The majority of new Ph.D.s are in the Natural Sciences (72), Humanities (70) and Social Sciences (46) fields.  Fifty-three percent of the recipients are men, and forty-seven percent are women.  Last year, the university awarded 311 PhDs, with a peak of 366 doctorates in 2012.

      The graduates themselves span generations—the oldest is a 75-year-old completing a Ph.D. in History, while the youngest is a 27-year-old completing a doctorate in Medicine.

      In addition to the Ph.D. degrees, HU will be awarding honorary degrees and academic prizes to several prominent individuals and researchers.  These include an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy for retired Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, the Samuel Rothberg Prize for the founder of Efrat and the Ohr Torah Stone educational network Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin.  The list also includes honorary degrees for Judea Pearl of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, for Germany’s Axel Springer media magnate Friede Springer, for Avichai Foundation Chair Mem Bernstein, and Israeli writer Meir Shalev, among others.

      The upcoming BOG will provide our international participants an insider’s view of Jerusalem’s high-tech ecosystem, with a special focus on innovation in food- and agro-tech, nanoscience, and advances in the entrepreneurial sector.  To cap the festivities, Mobileye founder and HUJI computer science professor Amnon Shashua will inaugurate the new Mobileye Building at HU’s Edmond J. Safra Campus.

      As HU President Asher Cohen shared, “We see ourselves as creating the next generation of leaders that connect knowledge and innovation with industry.  Our Board of Governors participants will have a front-row seat to the wonderful synergy of entrepreneurship and academia here in Jerusalem, as we celebrate our new doctorates and honor global and local leaders who advance science, social goals, law, and learning and promote pluralism and peace.”



      Entrepreneur Ori Allon Donates 1.2 Million NIS to Hebrew University for Computer Science Scholarships

      The top student scholarship recipient will be given the opportunity to intern at the Compass Offices in New York and to work with company engineers on their technological platform in the field of real estate.

      The Hebrew University is expected to grant generous scholarships over the next two years to computer science students thanks to the contribution of entrepreneur Dr. Ori Allon. A condition of the donation is that such scholarships will be distributed equally to female and male students (subject to the actual application numbers), in order to promote gender equality in the high-tech sector.

      For the purpose of awarding scholarships, Allon is donating some 1.2 million NIS to the Hebrew University in the first stage, and intends to donate 600,000 shekels annually thereafter for the same purpose.

      The top student scholarship recipient will be offered a summer internship at the Compass offices which was founded by Allon together with his business partner, Robert Reffkin, a former White House advisor and Chief of Staff to the COO and president of Goldman Sachs. Compass, which operates a technology platform in the field of real estate, has reached a $4.4 billion valuation last September and listed $45.5 billion in sales in 2018.

      Ori Allon

      Professor Asher Cohen, President of the Hebrew University, stated that “we are happy and excited about this initial collaboration with Dr. Ori Allon and we are grateful for this donation for scholarships designated for female and male students. The field of Computer Science has traditionally been characterized as one with a relative minority of women and we are partners in Dr. Allon’s efforts to encourage and support female students who are studying for advanced degrees in Computer Science.”

      Allon made two successful exits when he sold two companies which he founded to Google and to Twitter. The first was when he sold the search engine Orion, developed in the framework of his doctorate, which was bought in 2006 by Google. After the sale, Allon joined Google’s management team, and the search engine he had developed was the basis of Google’s ability to offer its users related searches.

      Four years later, he founded the start-up company Julpan, which developed a search engine for social networks and was acquired in 2011 by Twitter. Following this sale, Allon joined Twitter as the Director of Engineering of its New York office, a role in which he worked for a year until he left to establish Compass.


      Cybersecurity and Health Research: Cooperation between Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and Israel’s Hebrew University

      Cybersecurity and Health Research: Two Fraunhofer Project Centers opened in Israel

       The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is collaborating globally with excellent partners to create synergies for research and to build bridges to regional markets. With this in mind, two new Project Centers opened in Israel on May 21 during a ceremony at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: The “Fraunhofer Project Center for Cybersecurity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem” and the “Fraunhofer Project Center for Drug Discovery and Delivery at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.” The two Project Centers combine the expertise of the Israeli partners from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) with the competencies of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT and the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB and are the first project centers of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in Israel.

      Both cybersecurity and health research play a central role in Fraunhofer research and are of great importance for the global economy and society. Cybersecurity is a future issue of critical importance and a prerequisite for a functioning digital industry, economy and society. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s health research aims to apply the latest technologies to develop effective methods and products to improve the diagnosis, prevention, therapy, care and rehabilitation of patients. In addition to Professor Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Professor Asher Cohen, President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, numerous other high-ranking representatives from science, politics and society took part in the festive opening of the two project centers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

      “Science knows no borders and international cooperation has long been a cornerstone of today’s cutting-edge research. By cooperating with excellent partners around the globe, we are strengthening the transfer of knowledge and setting new impulses for Germany and our international partners,” explains Professor Reimund Neugebauer. “We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with our Israeli partners in two strategically important research areas. The new collaborations in the fields of cybersecurity and health research will soon have positive effects for all those involved thanks to their complementary competencies.”

      Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, says: “New technologies and the digitalization regarding all aspects of life provide coexisting chances and challenges. It is crucial to handle them responsibly – and I am convinced that this obligation is in good hands at the Hebrew University and at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.“

      Security Innovations and New Strategies for Cybersecurity
      The “Fraunhofer Project Center for Cybersecurity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem” will serve as a bilateral R&D platform for companies and form the core of a network of excellence in the field of cybersecurity. The Project Center is to become an international hub for security innovation and is located at the Faculty of Computer Science at Hebrew University. In the collaboration between scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT and Hebrew University, new strategies are to be developed to protect data, IT systems and critical infrastructures from unauthorized access.

      “Israel is one of the most innovative nations and the Hebrew University is one of the world’s leading research universities. With this Project Center for Cybersecurity, the Hebrew University and the Fraunhofer SIT are pooling their expertise,” says Professor Michael Waidner, director of Fraunhofer SIT and Co-Director of the Project Center. “I am optimistic that the Project Center will quickly become the top address for application-oriented and industry-oriented cybersecurity research in Israel.”

      HU President Professor Asher Cohen praised the partnership, adding, “We work hard to strengthen the link between scientific research and its applications in real life and industry.  Today, we’re taking the next step towards this goal and are honored that Fraunhofer chose us to be their academic partner.”

      “Hebrew University’s Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering is excited by the potential for excellence in this partnership,” shares Professor Danny Dolev, Chair of HU’s Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering. “The Project Center will open new avenues for research and provide us a united force with which to tackle critical cyber challenges.“

      Research into a new generation of drugs
      The “Fraunhofer Project Center for Drug Discovery and Delivery” is a cooperation between the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB and scientists from the Institute for Drug Research of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Hebrew University. The aim of the Project Center is to use innovative and efficient methods to identify lead structures and nanocarriers for new drug candidates in order to make them accessible for the treatment of infectious diseases, inflammatory processes, and autoimmune diseases. To this end, various innovative technologies are combined to support pharmaceutical companies in the development of new active substances in the preclinical phase as well as to discover new active substances and bring them to the target location by means of targeted formulations.

      As Professor Gershon Golomb at HU’s Institute for Drug Research explains, “The Fraunhofer Project Center for Drug Discovery and Delivery at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem ([email protected]) is a wonderful outgrowth of the close cooperation between the IGB (Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering) and the IDR (Institute for Drug Research, School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, HU). Dating back to 2012, our transnational research collaboration focuses on infections (herpesviridiae, herpes simplex virus), inflammation and innate immunity. In the years to come, we hope to develop and evaluate new immuno-modulators using computational chemistry and to examine targeted delivery systems for genes and drugs, mainly nano-medicines.“ Further, Golomb shares, “the contributions of individual research groups function like a complementary feeding model: each partner depends on the expertise of the other, and only by working together will we succeed.“

      “I am delighted that the successful cooperation between the Fraunhofer IGB and the Institute for Drug Research at Hebrew University is now being continued at a new level. In this way, we are jointly positioning ourselves as an international research partner in the field of drug development for pharmaceutical companies from all over the world,” says Dr. Markus Wolperdinger, Director of the Fraunhofer IGB. “Thanks to the unique combination of complementary expertise, the Project Center for Drug Discovery and Delivery will develop into a highly visible innovation center for new active ingredients and novel formulations,” adds Prof. Steffen Rupp, who heads the Project Center on the German side.

      Added value through international collaboration
      International collaborations with excellent research partners promote the innovative strength of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and provide direct access to the most important present and future scientific and economic regions. Therefore, in view of globally networked value chains, bilateral or multilateral collaborations are an important prerequisite for long-term success in global competition. Research collaborations in an international context are successful and lasting if the expertise of the partners complement each other and thus generate added value as well as new scientific added value.



      Cocktails with Cleopatra: Israeli Scientists Resurrect Yeast from Ancient Beer Jugs to Recreate 5,000-Year-Old Brew

      What kind of beer did Pharaoh drink? In ancient times, beer was an important ingredient in people’s daily diet. Great powers were attributed to beer in the ancient world, particularly for religious worship and healing properties. The pottery used to produce beer in antiquity served as the basis for this new research. The research was led by Dr. Ronen Hazan and Dr. Michael Klutstein, microbiologists from the School of Dental Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU). They examined the colonies of yeast that formed and settled in the pottery’s nano-pores. Ultimately, they were able to resurrect this yeast to create a high-quality beer…that’s approximately 5,000 years old.

      Many cooks were invited into this beer kitchen to isolate the yeast specimens from the ancient debris and to create a beer with it. First, the scientists reached out to vintners at Kadma Winery. This winery still produces wine in clay vessels, proving that yeast may be safely removed from pottery, even if it had lain dormant in the sun for years.

      Beer cruse from Tel Tzafit/Gath archaeological digs, from which Philistine beer was produced. Photography: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

      The yeast was then photographed by Dr. Tziona Ben-Gedalya at the Eastern R&D Center of Ariel University. Following her initial examination, the team reached out to archaeologists Dr. Yitzhak Paz from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAI), Professor Aren Maeir at Bar Ilan University, and Professors Yuval Gadot and Oded Lipschits from Tel Aviv University. These archaeologists gave them shards of pottery that had been used as beer and mead (honey wine) jugs back in ancient times—and miraculously, still had yeast specimens stuck inside. These jars date back to the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Narmer (roughly 3000 BCE), to Aramean King Hazael (800 BCE), and to Prophet Nehemiah (400 BCE) who, according to the bible, governed Judea under Persian rule.

      The researchers, with the help of HU student Tzemach Aouizerat, cleaned and sequenced the full genome of each yeast specimen and turned them over to Dr. Amir Szitenberg at the Dead Sea-Arava Science Center for analysis. Szitenberg found that these 5,000-year yeast cultures are similar to those used in traditional African brews, such as the Ethiopian honey wine tej, and to modern beer yeast.

      Now it was time to recreate the ancient brew. Local Israeli beer expert Itai Gutman helped the scientists make the beer and the brew was sampled by Ariel University’s Dr. Elyashiv Drori, as well as by certified tasters from the International Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), under the direction of brewer and Biratenu owner Shmuel Nakai. The testers gave the beer a thumbs up, deeming it high-quality and safe for consumption.

      Dr. Ronen Hazan, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine: “The greatest wonder here is that the yeast colonies survived within the vessel for thousands of years—just waiting to be excavated and grown. This ancient yeast allowed us to create beer that lets us know what ancient Philistine and Egyptian beer tasted like. By the way, the beer isn’t bad. Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archaeology—a field that seeks to reconstruct the past. Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods, and enables us to taste the flavors of the past.”

      Dr. Yitzchak Paz, Israel Antiquities Authority: “We are talking about a real breakthrough here. This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.”

      Prof. Yuval Gadot, Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures: “We dug at Ramat Rachel, the largest Persian site in the Judaean kingdom, and found a large concentration of jugs with the letters J, H, D – Yahud – written on them. In a royal site like Ramat Rachel it makes sense that alcohol would be consumed at the home of the Persian governor.”

      Prof. Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology: “These findings paint a portrait that supports the biblical image of drunken Philistines.”


      Commentary: A Huge Leap for Microscopic Health Treatments

      WHEN CLEVELAND CLINIC first entered discussions with Hebrew University about a collaboration in nanoscience in 2016, I must admit I did not have extremely high expectations.

      Although I was well aware of the University’s excellent reputation, I was mindful of the long distance between the institutions, which typically doesn’t lend well to fruitful partnerships.

      The task we faced was daunting: Combining forces, nearly 6,000 miles apart, to create and commercialize new therapies, technologies and drug-delivery systems. Using particles too small for the naked eye to see, our goal was to utilize molecular-level engineering to target medications to attack illnesses ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. No small order.

      The Cleveland Clinic’s Biomedical Engineering Department at the time had a group of engineers and scientists working on a few key projects, but their portfolio expanded dramatically once they were introduced to counterparts at Hebrew University.

      Together with Hadassah, the university operates one of the leading hospitals in Israel, and its researchers have won worldwide acclaim, including eight Nobel Prizes. Albert Einstein was a supporter at its founding a century ago. They have been hugely successful in bringing nanotechnologies to the global market.

      That’s why Victor Cohn, a Cleveland philanthropist who supports both institutions, brought us to the table to explore what we could accomplish together. He returned from a trip to Israel with a vision to form a global nanotechnology initiative to help patients around the world. The marriage of these two nanotechnology programs form what is now known as the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine.

      While the Cleveland Clinic has a rich history of healthcare innovations, at the time we were relatively young in the field of nanomedicine.

      Yissum, Hebrew University’s technology transfer arm, has a team-based approach to commercialization that assists the technology inventors each step along the sometimes-long timeline from discovery through licensing. Their approach has resulted in dozens of start-up companies, and their products generate billions of dollars annually. One of their most famous successes was the chemotherapy drug Doxil, which was invented by HUJI professor Chezy Barenholz and has prolonged the lives of millions of patients.

      So despite my initial skepticism about logistics, I was truly amazed by the Hebrew University team’s willingness to collaborate and their commitment to making the partnership work—taking frequent late night calls, visiting Cleveland, and graciously hosting my team in Israel.

      The research conducted by the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine has resulted in potential treatments including: loading nanoparticles with chemotherapy drugs to deliver them to precise tumor targets, reducing collateral damage to healthy tissues; destroying amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients using nanoparticle-enhanced drug delivery; using nanoparticles to deliver various drug combinations to miniature, personalized brain tumors to determine best treatments for individual patients; designing tiny pressure sensors that simulate healthy kidney function for patients with end-stage renal disease, potentially replacing the need for dialysis; and encapsulating drugs with nanoparticles so they do not degrade in the body, improving precision of dosages.

      We see that real partnerships and relationships are built in person, and everyone involved felt very strongly that we needed to visit each other often in order to be successful. The Hebrew University team was on board from day one.

      I am most proud that we’ve been able to raise a great deal of philanthropic support—approximately $6 million to date—and have been able to generously fund five promising projects at $600,000 each. That is a significant amount of start-up funding for an early-stage research project to get off the ground.

      The initial two funded projects have done exceptionally well; the teams are currently preparing to apply for follow-on funding and to file for intellectual property.

      Cleveland Clinic wants to leverage Yissum’s expertise to get its promising projects out of the laboratory and into patient care. In exchange, we offer Hebrew University researchers unprecedented access to valuable, anonomized healthcare data from our diverse and complex pool of patients and clinical trial participants.

      These two institutions share common goals: to improve human health across the globe and to increase international exchange of ideas and academic opportunities.

      While it remains to be seen if this partnership will truly “transform nanomedicine” as its name suggests, it is certain to boost worldwide innovation in nanotechnology research and discovery.

      Geoffrey Vince will discuss biotech innovation and the quest to cure at Hebrew University’sNEXUS:ISRAEL conference May 6 in New York City.

      Corrected on May 1, 2019: This article has been updated to correct the name of philanthropist Victor Cohn and of the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine.

      Read the source article at


      Forget sperm and eggs, researchers have created embryo stem cells from skin cells

      A new, groundbreaking study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) found a way to transform skin cells into the three major stem cell types that comprise early-stage embryos. This work has significant implications for modeling embryonic disease and placental dysfunctions, as well as paving the way to create whole embryos from skin cells.

      As published in Cell Stem Cell, Dr. Yossi Buganim of HU’s Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research and his team discovered a set of genes capable of transforming murine  into all three of the cell types that comprise the early embryo: the embryo itself, the placenta and the extraembryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord. In the future, it may be possible to create entire human  out of human  cells, without the need for sperm or eggs. This discovery also has vast implications for modeling embryonic defects and shedding light on placental dysfunctions, as well as solving certain infertility problems by creating human embryos in a .

      Back in 2006, Japanese researchers discovered the capacity of skin cells to be “reprogrammed” into early embryonic cells that can generate an entire fetus, by expressing four central embryonic genes. These reprogrammed skin cells, termed “Induced Plutipotent Stem Cells” (iPSCs), are similar to cells that develop in the early days after fertilization and are essentially identical to their natural counterparts. These cells can develop into all fetal cell types, but not into extra-embryonic tissues, such as the placenta.

      Now, the Hebrew University research team, headed by Dr. Yossi Buganim, Dr. Oren Ram from the HU’s Institute of Life Science and Professor Tommy Kaplan from HU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, as well as doctoral students Hani Benchetrit and Mohammad Jaber, found a new combination of five genes that, when inserted into skin cells, reprogram the cells into each of three early embryonic cell types—iPS cells which create fetuses, placental stem cells, and stem cells that develop into other extraembryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord. These transformations take about one month.

      The HU team used new technology to scrutinize the molecular forces that govern cell fate decisions for skin cell reprogramming and the natural process of embryonic development. For example, the researchers discovered that the gene “Eomes” pushes the cell towards placental stem cell identity and placental development, while the “Esrrb” gene orchestrates fetus stem cells development through the temporary acquisition of an extraembryonic stem cell identity.

      To uncover the molecular mechanisms that are activated during the formation of these various cell types, the researchers analyzed changes to the genome structure and function inside the cells when the five genes are introduced into the cell. They discovered that during the first stage, skin cells lose their cellular identity and then slowly acquire a new identity of one of the three early embryonic cell types, and that this process is governed by the levels of two of the five .

      Recently, attempts have been made to develop an entire mouse embryo without using sperm or egg cells. These attempts used the three early  isolated directly from a live, developing embryo. However, HU’s study is the first attempt to create all three main cell lineages at once from skin . Further, these findings mean there may be no need to “sacrifice” a live embryo to create a test tube embryo.

      Read the source article at


      Hebrew University hosts cannabis conference to forge way forward

      Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, hosted a Wednesday conference aiming to boost cooperation between industry and academia for a variety of cannabis-related research and development.

      Hebrew University is one of the leading academic institutions globally with expertise in cannabis-related research and patents. The university’s Prof. Raphael Mechoulam kickstarted the field in 1964 when he discovered tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

      The Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research set up by the university supports over 30 labs dedicated to cannabis tech, covering related agricultural technologies, formulation and manufacturing methods, novel therapeutics and combination treatments.

      The one-day conference held Wednesday brings Hebrew University researchers and industry professionals together to focus on furthering cannabis research for future commercialization. By some estimates, the global cannabis market is thought to be worth $150 billion with predicted growth reaching $272 billion by 2028 and legal worldwide spending hitting $70 billion, the university said in a statement.

      Yaron Daniely, president and CEO of Yissum, the technology transfer institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Courtesy)

      The idea of the conference is to have a “face-to-face discussion between industry players, entrepreneurs and faculty members as to where we are today and how we can go forward, and also to create collaborations,” Yaron Daniely, the CEO and president of Yissum, said in a phone interview ahead of the conference.

      In 2018, the university struck 25 licensing agreements or research collaborations related to cannabis, he said, with such agreements accounting for 10% of Yissum’s total licensing volume, he said. “The field has grown dramatically.”

      In March, Weed Inc. announced a multi-million dollar licensing agreement with Yissum based on the research results of Hebrew University’s Prof. Elka Touitou.

      The focus of the cannabis industry going forward will likely be in a number of areas, Daniely said in the interview. For medical use, research will focus on pinpointing which extracts of the cannabis leaf can be used to treat which conditions; it will also study what formulations of the weed are best suited to treat various diseases, whether in cream form or in drops, and focus on better understanding the endocannabinoid system, the neurotransmitters in our bodies that have the ability to bind and react to components in the cannabis plant.

      The aim is to understand what role the endocannabinoid system plays in a variety of diseases, and how cannabis “can be combined with other drugs to either enhance their efficacy and or decrease the side effects of these drugs, allowing more appropriate and continuous use of these drugs,” Daniely said.

      “The endocannabinoid system is a very important bodily system and we believe that the use of agents that work with the endocannabinoid system can potentially help existing drugs work better and also reduce some of the side effects,” he said. “This is something we are very excited about and seeing a lot of interest as well.”

      During the event, Yissum will honor Professor Mechoulam for his achievements in advancing collaboration between academia and the medical cannabis industry.

      Itzik Ozer, director of business development for the Jerusalem Development Authority, said in the statement that the authority sees cannabis as an industry with “huge potential” for creating jobs and attracting Israeli and international companies to the city. Biotech companies and new cannabis companies setting up operations in Jerusalem will be entitled to entry grants of NIS 100,000 ($28,000) for each employee and up to NIS 4 million for the company.

      Read the source article at The Times of Israel


      Scientists Design Decoys to Fight Cancer

      In recent years, it’s become clear that RNA-binding proteins play a major role in cancer growth. These proteins, active in all cells but especially so in cancer cells, bind to RNA molecules and accelerate cancer cell growth. Unfortunately, no cancer treatment has targeted these proteins. Until now.

      In the upcoming issue of Nature Communications, Professor Rotem Karni and his team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) present a new technology to fight cancer. They designed decoy molecules that trick RNA-binding proteins into binding with them. Once bound, these RNA-binding proteins are no longer able to bind with the natural RNA molecules in cancer cells and lose their cancer-promoting activity. These “sterile” RNA molecule decoys are called oligonucleotides.

      “Our technology is a new approach in the war on cancer. By understanding the biological function of RNA-binding proteins we successfully designed decoy molecules that inhibit these proteins and move us ever closer to creating an anti-cancer drug,” shared Professor Karni.

      Professor Karni and his HU Institute for Medical Research team, led by Ph.D. student Polina Cohen-Denichenko, developed several decoy molecules that inhibit the RNA-binding proteins that speed-up brain and breast cancer growth. To test the decoys, they treated brain cancer cells with decoy molecules. When the cells were then injected into healthy biological models, the cancer cells did not replicate and, soon after, the tumors died off.

      Though this study tested the efficacy of decoy molecules on breast and brain cancer cells, Karni explained that his technology enables scientists to tailor-make decoys for other types of cancer, thereby streamlining and improving treatment for cancer patients. “We still need to examine the toxicity of the decoy molecules and to test their efficacy before we can move on to humans,” cautioned Karni. “However, I’m optimistic, given that we’ve already succeeded at creating decoy oligonucleotides that inhibit RNA binding proteins in other kinds of cancers.”

      To date, a patent describing this technology has been registered in the United States and Europe by Yissum, Hebrew University’s R&D company.


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