Bitter Bites for Better Health?

      By Diane Hess

      Could bitter foods be the secret to a healthier body?

      Scientists at the Hebrew University shed new light on the popular notion that bitter tastes are bad for you. Their findings could revolutionize nutrition, pharmacology, and medicine. According to Dr. Masha Niv, Vice Dean of Research at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the Hebrew University, “bitter isn’t always bad, and it is well known that sweet isn’t that good.”

      For Dr. Niv, life is “bittersweet.” She joined the Smith faculty of the Hebrew University 11 years ago and has spent her career examining bitter and sweet molecules and the way our taste receptors recognize them.

      Dr. Niv’s cutting-edge research reveals that the negative taste for bitter compounds – thought to have evolved as a mechanism to protect humans from consuming poison – has caused people to miss out on eating bitter, but healthy foods. It has also led to an overconsumption of sugar, which is often used to mask a bitter taste.

      A year ago, Dr. Niv and Dr. Ilan Samish, founder of Amai Proteins, a Rehovot-based startup that makes sweet proteins for the food market, created the “Sweet Science Forum” to boost collaboration between academics and industry leaders. Its focus is to reduce sugar and make diets healthier.

      By discovering what makes the sweet taste receptor tick, Dr. Niv said she hopes to “discover new sweeteners and sweetness enhancers.”

      Dr. Niv’s lab is searching for a molecular combination that would improve the taste of sugar so that “we could use less but taste more sweetness,” she added.

      Dr. Niv received her undergraduate and doctorate degrees in chemistry at the Hebrew University. She did her post-doctorate at Weill Cornell Medicine.


      A mathematical wormhole

      Animals often rely on their sense of smell to locate food.  It’s a law of nature: the first one to reach a food source has a better chance of surviving than those who do not.  But how exactly do their brains translate scent and then navigate towards it?

      In new research published this week in Nature Communications, Hebrew University of Jerusalem neurogeneticist Dr. Alon Zaslaver and his team reveal the complex mathematical calculations that animals—even those as simple as worms—do to find their next meal.

      Think of the game “Hot or Cold?”, says Zaslaver. “Imagine you’re in a huge dark house and a chocolate cake has just been taken out of the oven. To find the cake, you’ll probably sniff around to see what direction the cake scent is coming from and begin walking in that direction.”

      Turns out, worms employ this “Hot or Cold” computation in their search for food—but with an added twist.  First, a neural cell picks up the scent of food and set the worm on a course.  As long as the scent intensity keeps getting stronger, this neural cell will remain active and direct the worm to keep moving forward.  Otherwise, it will instruct the worm to stop and look for a better path.

      But how does it calculate that better path? Enter a second neural cell which acts like Waze’s “recalculating route” function. This second cell senses “derivatives,” meaning it calculates whether the odor intensity is positive, and getting “hotter”, or negative, and getting “colder.” If the cell detects a negative derivative, it understands that it’s getting further from the chocolate cake and needs to recalculate its route. This cell constantly computes new scent data to detect whether the current odor intensity is getting stronger or weaker and charts a path based on these new differential measurements. With a negative reading, the second cell will tell the worm to chart a new path whereas a positive one will tell it to stay the course.

      This combination is a winning one, according to Zaslaver and Hebrew University graduate students Eyal Itskovits and Rotem Ruach.  The two-part system of charting a course based on an initial scent measurement and then conducting follow up checks (all the time comparing them to the original measurement) to compute whether scent intensity numbers are going up or down is not only an impressive feat for a worm but a very smart and effective method in the search for food.

      “These worms teach us an important lesson”, shares Zaslaver.  When looking to solve a problem, a quick solution is often attractive.  “However, we need a backup system in place that monitors whether we are indeed moving in the ‘right’ direction, even if that new path differs from the one we originally set out on”, concluded Dr. Zaslaver.

      “A worm uses only two neural cells to perform this critical calculation.  Imagine what we humans should be able to do with our 100 billion neural cells”.


      CITATION: Concerted pulsatile and graded neural dynamics enables efficient chemotaxis in C. elegans Eyal Itskovits, Rotem Ruach, Alon Zaslaver.Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05151.


      FUNDING: The work was funded by a grant from the ERC, ISF, and ICORE.


      Lab-grown meat co FutureMeat Technologies raises $2.2m

      The Israeli company is developing a distributive manufacturing platform for the cost-efficient, non-GMO production of meat directly from animal cells.

      Jerusalem-based biotechnology lab-grown meat company Future Meat Technologies has announced a $2.2 million seed investment round co-led by Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods is a Fortune 100 company, and one of the world’s largest food producers. Future Meat Technologies is developing a distributive manufacturing platform for the cost-efficient, non-GMO production of meat directly from animal cells, without the need to raise or harvest animals.

      In addition to Tyson Ventures, the Neto Group, one of the largest food conglomerates in Israel, S2G Ventures, a Chicago-based venture capital fund, BitsXBites, China’s first food technology venture capital fund, and Agrinnovation, an Israeli investment fund founded by Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of The Hebrew University, participated in this round. New York-based HB Ventures also joined the round.

      Israeli startup Future Meat Technologies focuses on developing a new generation of manufacturing technology that enables the cost-efficient production of fat and muscle cells, the core building blocks of meat.

      Future Meat Technologies expects to use the funds to establish its engineering activities and increase its biological research. The company is currently recruiting engineers, chefs and scientists.

      “It is difficult to imagine cultured meat becoming a reality with a current production price of about $10,000 per kilogram,” said Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, the company’s founder and Chief Scientist. “We redesigned the manufacturing process until we brought it down to $800 per kilogram today, with a clear roadmap to $5-10 per kg by 2020.”

      Tyson Foods EVP Corporate Strategy and Chief Sustainability Officer Justin Whitmore said, “This is our first investment in an Israel-based company and we’re excited about this opportunity to broaden our exposure to innovative, new ways of producing protein. We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices.”

      Animal fat produces the unique aroma and flavor of meat that “makes our mouth water,” noted Nahmias, and Future Meat Technologies is now the only company that can produce this fat, without harvesting animals and without any genetic modification. “I want my children to eat meat that is delicious, sustainable and safe,” said Nahmias. “This is our commitment to future generations.”

      Future Meat Technologies CEO Rom Kshuk said, “Global demand for protein and meat is growing at a rapid pace, with an estimated worldwide market of more than a trillion dollars, including explosive growth in China. We believe that making a healthy, non-GMO product that can meet this demand is an essential part of our mission Cultured meat production may also be eco-friendlier than traditional meat production. “We want to feed the world while protecting the environment.”

      Future Meat’s technology is based on Prof. Yaakov Nahmias’ research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is licensed through Yissum. Dr. Yaron Daniely, President and CEO of Yissum, noted that Israel is a leader in cultured meat technologies. “Hebrew University, home to Israel’s only Faculty of Agriculture, specializes in incubating applied research in such fields as animal-free meat sources. Future Meat Technologies’ innovations are revolutionizing the sector and leading the way in creating sustainable alternative protein sources.”

      Read the source article at


      The Goal: Printing the Perfect Burger from Cellulose

      Israeli food tech company Chef-it is about 18-24 months away from disrupting the fast food burger industry, according to Oded Shoseyov, Chef-it’s co-founder. The startup’s secret weapon: cellulose.

      Chef-it is developing a machine that can instantly “print” a juicy burger from a cartridge containing plant-based proteins, fats, and flavor components and the aforementioned cellulose, a common fiber that can be manipulated into a variety of textures, including that of beef muscle and fat. Chef-it’s technology uses infrared light to simultaneously cook the food as it prints.

      Oded Shoseyov. Photo: Tal Azoulay
      Oded Shoseyov. Photo: Tal Azoulay

      According to Mr. Shoseyov, a professor of plant molecular biology, protein engineering and nano-biotechnology at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Chef-it can imitate the flavor effect of different cooking styles, such as grilling, baking, and frying.

      A prototype of this machine, located at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment in Rehovot, in central Israel, currently takes 10 minutes to print a single burger, Mr. Shoseyov told Calcalist in an interview Tuesday. Chef-it’s team is hard at work bringing the printing time down to three minutes, he added.

      The company’s first target markets include coworking spaces, offices, and food trucks, Mr. Shoseyov said. The company successfully printed its first burger six months ago and is expecting to hit the market within two years.

      A fast and convincing alternative to meat, Chef-It is setting out to deliver products that are environmentally-friendly and potentially healthier than traditional processed foods. Cellulose, Mr. Shoseyov says, has a zero glycemic and caloric value.

      Along with Scientific co-founder Ido Braslavski, Mr. Shoseyov began the research behind Chef-It’s technology in 2013. In 2016, the company received a $282,000 (NIS 1 million) grant from Israel’s government innovation investment arm. Currently employing a team of eight, the company is in the process of raising a $2 million funding round, which Mr. Shoseyov said is expected to complete within two months.

      The global meat industry is ripe for disruption, being one of the world’s biggest polluters, generating as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes combined, and using 30% of all land and over 25% of all freshwater on Earth, Mr. Shoseyov said Monday speaking at a Food and Tech conference. The conference was hosted by Calcalist, and by Israel’s Bank Leumi at Labs TLV, a co-working and events space in central Tel Aviv.

      By using cellulose as a malleable binder, Chef-It could potentially print every type of food known to men, and even invent new foods, Mr. Shoseyov said.

      As a first target, the company set out to print the perfect its burger. By utilizing adjustable infrared cooking levels the company hopes it can get it just right.

      “We are a few months away from delivering a burger that is indistinguishable from the real thing,” Mr. Shoseyov said.

      Read the source article at


      Reinventing Agriculture From the Ground Up

      To reduce the need for toxic pesticides, Jaacov Katan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s (HU) Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment developed a solution that has lead to a brighter future. Soil solarization harnesses solar power to naturally control weeds, pests, and disease. This remarkably simple, sustainable, and highly effective method has been adopted by farmers across the globe. Soil solarization is one of the many incredible agricultural innovations happening at HU. From disease prevention to longer shelf life and higher crop yields, the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment is at the forefront of developing sustainable innovations to feed our world.

      This is just some of the work you fund when you give to American Friends of the Hebrew University. Founded in 1925, AFHU is a national, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, headquartered in New York City. We connect the passions of Americans to the talent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most distinguished academic and research institutions. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is located in Israel, but its work transforms our world. Its students, faculty, and alumni have won eight Nobel Prizes, developed treatments for diseases, and ignited innovation that has led to more than 8,900 patents.

      Discover how you can advance knowledge in food production, technology, medicine, internet security, and more.


      Pollution’s impact on weather, crops worse than once thought

      Even the tiniest of particles from human emissions can fuel powerful storms and influence weather and crops much more than previously thought, according to new research published January 26 in the journal Science.

      The study focuses on the power of manmade aerosol emissions to grow rain clouds and intensify storms. These particles come from urban and industrial air pollution, wildfires and other sources.

      While scientists have known that these particles play an important role in shaping weather and climate, the new study shows that even the smallest aerosol particles can have an outsize effect, creating more severe thunderstorms, which in turn may lead to soil erosion, runoff and damaged crops.

      These tiny pollutants – less than one-thousandth of the width of a human hair – were long considered too small to have much impact on raindrop formation.

      However, according to lead author Jiwen Fan of the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, “We showed that the presence of these particles is one reason why some storms become so strong and produce so much rain. In a warm and humid area where atmospheric conditions are otherwise very clean, the intrusion of very small particles can make quite an impact.”

      This study was conducted in the Amazon, a largely pristine area that provided scientists the rare opportunity to study the impact of pollution from nearby Manaus, a city of 2 million people, and to pinpoint the effects of human pollution on the weather environment.

      Second-author Professor Daniel Rosenfeld of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Earth Sciences studied the role of ultrafine particles on thunderstorms. While larger particles were known to enhance thunderstorms, scientists had not observed – until now – that even smaller particles, like those produced by vehicles and industry, could have the same effect.

      Storm clouds over the Amazon. Photo by Daniel Rosenfeld/Hebrew University

      The study also revealed that the ultrafine particles could invigorate rain clouds and increase rainfall in a much more powerful way than their larger counterparts.

      “This groundbreaking research strongly suggests that mankind has likely altered the rainfall and weather in densely populated tropical and summer monsoon areas such as India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and even southeastern USA,” said Rosenfeld.

      Significantly, this heavier downpour often leads to soil erosion and crop damage, affecting the lives and livelihoods of those living in the affected areas.

      Through detailed computer simulations, the scientists showed how the smaller particles have a powerful impact on rain clouds. While small in size, these particles are large in number and serve as a platform upon which small water droplets congregate and excess water vapor condenses.

      This enhanced condensation releases more heat, which in turn causes updrafts to become more powerful. The updrafts cause more warm air to be pulled into the clouds, which ultimately produces more ice and snow pellets, lightning, and heavier rain in the regions.

      The study, in which scientists from Israel, United States, China, Germany and Brazil participated, was funded by a grant from the BACCHUS European Commission.

      Read the source article at ISRAEL21c


      Advancing Science that Fuels the Future

      From discovering new ways to treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s to feeding the world’s hungry — scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are pioneering research that will bring life-saving innovations and sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. American Friends of the Hebrew University supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.

      Because knowledge moves us…to be better, to know more, and to discover.

      Explore what science for the global good looks like.


      Future Meat Technologies: The future of clean meat production is local

      While it might be a while before steaks grown in bioreactors (instead of on the farm) become standard fare at your local steakhouse, ‘locally produced’ cultured meat could quickly gain traction in nuggets, burgers, meatballs, and hot dogs if the price is right, predicts Israeli biomedical engineer Professor Yaakov Nahmias.


      Read the source article at


      Professor Ronnie Friedman

      Israeli agriculture has always been defined by doing a lot with a little.  The country is only about the size of New Jersey and 80% of its land non-arable.  Yet remarkably, Israel produces about 95% of the food requirements for its 8 million residents. It’s a testament to both Israeli scientists who have pioneered innovative farming techniques such as drip irrigation and to the Israeli people who for decades have heeded the call of their first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”  Now new threats from global warming and increasing population are putting a strain on Israel’s already over-taxed resources. Professor Ronnie Friedman, the former Dean of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, talks about these issues and more.


      Dr. Nadav Kashtan

      Improving sustainable and less toxic agriculture for the world

      Dr. Nadav Kashtan sees his work at the Smith Faculty as having “major importance for the futures of our children and subsequent generations.” His goal is to develop forms of sustainable agriculture that will have less toxic effects on the environment and to help ensure adequate food sources for the world’s rapidly growing population. In his new lab, Dr. Kashtan and his multidisciplinary team are studying the microbial communities that live on plants.

      He is employing systems biology approaches that combine mathematical models and computer simulations with lab experiments and field sample analyses, while optimizing the latest research technologies such as single-cell genomics and advanced microscopy. Dr. Kashtan joined the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology after holding a postdoctoral position at MIT.


      Advancing Science that Fuels the Future

      From discovering new ways to treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s to feeding a growing global population — scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) are pioneering research that will bring life-saving innovations and sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.

      Since its founding in 1918, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been dedicated to advancing research and knowledge for the benefit of mankind. Support for AFHU drives the important, life-saving innovations, discoveries, and breakthroughs that come out of HU. We encourage you to sign up to learn more about Hebrew University.

      Knowledge moves us…to discover, to grow, and to advance humanity.

      Explore what science for the global good looks like.


      Int’l team including Hebrew U scientists restore flavor to tomatoes

      Remember the good old days when tomatoes used to taste like… tomatoes, with a lot of flavor? In pursuit of longer shelf life, enhanced firmness and disease resistance, modern commercial tomatoes have gradually lost it.

      After a decade of research, Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers, as part of an international team that included US, Chinese and Spanish scientists, have identified the chemical compounds and the functional genes that give a tomato – Israelis’ favorite salad component – its great taste.

      The study, published in the journal Science, has made it possible to produce tomatoes with their good old flavor, alongside other traits that make them attractive to consumers and longer-lasting for shipment around the world.

      To launch the research, HU’s agriculture faculty contributed 398 tomato varieties from the laboratory of Prof. Dani Zamir at the Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture. “The varieties, including modern, heirloom and wild relatives of the cultivated tomatoes, were chosen from a collection of some 8,000 tomato that we keep in a seed bank at the lab,” said doctoral student Itay Zemach from Zamir’s lab.

      Tomato fruit samples the HU team grew in Israel were sent to all participating research groups, each identifying different components. Doctoral student Josef Fisher of the Israeli team measured and analyzed the sugar content, the weight and other morphological characteristics of the tomatoes, such as size and color; in Spain, researchers checked for volatile compounds responsible for tomato aroma; in the US, researchers conducted a taste test to rate the tomato varieties according to their flavor and other traits; and in China researchers sequenced and analyzed the genomes of the various varieties.

      Through analysis of the chemistry of the tomatoes, researchers identified 13 compounds associated with good flavor. They realized that modern tomatoes lack sufficient sugars and volatile chemicals critical to better flavor. Those factors have been lost during the past 50 years because breeders preferred to put their focus on other traits, most of which negatively correlated to flavor, researchers said.

      “The research showed a positive correlation between sugar level and taste in the tomato varieties we’ve examined,” Zemach said. “Tasters ranked varieties with high sugar levels as more delicious, and the gene screening showed that the main gene that differs in flavor-enhanced tomatoes is the one that increase the sugar level.”

      To study how to enhance the flavor in modern tomatoes, they studied “alleles” – the versions of DNA that give a tomato gene its specific traits. Through a genome-wide association study, researchers identified the locations of the good alleles that allow the production of compounds that contribute to tastier tomatoes. After mapping genes that control synthesis of all the important chemicals, they used genetic analysis to replace bad alleles in modern tomato varieties with the good alleles.

      “We identified the important factors that have been lost and showed how to move them back into the modern types of tomatoes,” said Prof. Harry Klee from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who led the international study. This technique involves classical genetics, not genetic modification, he stressed, adding: “We’re just fixing what has been damaged over the last half-century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise. We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better.”

      Some of these research results were already implemented in the breeding programs of Zamir’s lab. “After testing the varieties at Zamir’s lab, it appears possible to breed for tastier tomatoes with other excellent quality characteristics,” Zemach said.

      Read the source article at Jpost

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