WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann

 
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann
                                        No. 17 • Spring 2020

The
      International magazine of science and people

       The Brain Issue

Plus: Special section on Weizmann
       coronavirus response
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
SPRING 2020                                                               Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                           From the President
                                                           Dear friends,

                                                           We are in the midst of a global challenge that has
                                                           forced everyone to adjust their lives and work
                                                                                                                               Table of Contents
                                                           routines, and the Weizmann Institute of Science is no
                                                           exception. At the same time, as part of civil society,
                                                           the Institute has a role to play in finding solutions.
                                                           We see it as our duty to summon all of our resources
                                                           and scientific expertise to contribute to the global
                                                           battle against the novel coronavirus, for the benefit of
                                                           humanity.

                                                           Our campus has swiftly become a hub of
                                                           concentrated efforts in three critical directions:
                                                           to help ramp up testing capacity, track outbreaks
                                                           in the making, and advance promising research
                                                           initiatives toward treatments and potential vaccines.
                                                           Many of our scientists, each from his or her own
                                                           unique angle, are stepping up to the plate to urgently
                                                           search for solutions. We have assembled a task
                                                           force comprised of researchers and administrators,
                                                           including myself and the vice presidents, who are
                                                           coordinating all of these efforts and working together
                                                           to do our utmost to summon all possible resources to
                                                           enable the science to move ahead.

                                                           In this issue of Weizmann Magazine, you can
Credits                                                    read about some of our initiatives related to the
                                                                                                                          Briefs                                   Cover Story
                                                           coronavirus. You’ll also read about our major new                                                                                                    Spotlight On
A publication of the Department of Resource Development
                                                           flagship projects in neuroscience and artificial           2 Special section on                     22 A wise future for                         28 Rising Tide’s quest
                                                           intelligence, which remain top priorities: the Institute     coronavirus response                      neuroscience: Weizmann’s                     to advance cancer
Editorial Staff                                            for Brain and Neural Sciences, and the Artificial                                                      new flagship project                         research and care
Prof. Roee Ozeri, Vice President for Resource              Intelligence Enterprise for Scientific Exploration.
Development and Public Affairs ¶ Kelly Avidan,
Director, Department of Resource Development               This is my first greeting to you in the magazine as
¶ Tamar Morad, Head, Donor Communications                  President, and I look forward to many more. Most
¶ Heidi Shulman, Publications and Video Production                                                                       New Scientists                           Special Section                              Beyond the Bench
                                                           importantly, I offer you and your families my best
Coordinator, Yarden Jaron, Visual and Digital Production                                                              18 Finding Earth 2.0: Introducing        32 The 2019 Annual General Meeting           58 Brain-saving technology
                                                           wishes for health and tranquility.
                                                                                                                         Dr. Sagi Ben-Ami                         of the International Board
Writing Staff                                                                                                                                                                                                  Alumni
                                                           Sincerely,                                                 20 Sleuthing for the fingerprint
                                                                                                                                                                  Weizmann World                            60 A healing solution
Sandy Cash ¶ Dinah Elashvili ¶ Tali Galsky ¶ Sharon                                                                      of water: Introducing Yael
Reinheimer ¶ Anne Sperling ¶ Edward Truitt                                                                               Kiro, groundwater detective           50 Stories and updates from our                 after brain surgery
                                                                                                                                                                  worldwide committees
                                                           Prof. Alon Chen                                               Science Features                                                                      Art and Science
Illustration                                               President, Weizmann Institute of Science                                                               Education                                 62 The artistry of math
                                                                                                                      46 Artificial intelligence: the future
Tal Bavli-Ziv                                                                                                                                                  56 Boots on the ground in Ofakim: Israel’s
                                                                                                                         of smart. AI is reshaping our lives
                                                                                                                                                                  first science pre-army prep program          In Memoriam
                                                                                                                         and revolutionizing science
Graphic Design                                                                                                                                                                                              64 Dr. Yael Mutsafi, 1981-2019
Alexey Kletsel, Netgo Ltd.

Photography and renderings
Philipp Böni ¶ Itai Belson, Ohad Herches of the Weizmann                     Visit us:
Institute Photo Lab ¶ Yael Ilan ¶ Hadar Kaminksy                             www.weizmann.ac.il/WeizmannCompass
¶ Ronald Korner ¶ Weizmann Institute Photo Archives
¶ Shutterstock ¶ Paul J. Trummer

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WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                      Coronavirus Response        SPRING 2020                                                                        Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                                                                                Coronavirus Response                                                                                        2–3

                                                                                                                Ș In parallel, an effort by Profs. Eran Elinav and Ido    The Weizmann Coronavirus
                                                                                                                  Amit is underway to develop a new testing method
                                                                                                                  based on a process that involves fewer stages           Response Fund
                                                                                                                  compared to existing tests, vastly expands the          The Institute has established the Weizmann
                                                                                                                  number of samples that can be tested at a time,         Coronavirus Response Fund, which will enable
                                                                                                                  and offers a method that greatly reduces the            Institute leadership to urgently disseminate support
                                                                                                                  biological risk to which the teams that perform         to its scientists working on the front lines to find
                                                                                                                  the tests are exposed. The Weizmann scientists          solutions, and to support unique science education
                                                                                                                  expect to have the capacity to test about               initiatives to address the demand for online
                                                                                                                  20,000 samples per day.                                 distance learning.

                                                                                                                                                                          The Response Fund aims to raise approximately
                                                                                                                                                                          $25 million for the urgent allocation of support. More
                                                                                                                                  Video: It’s a revolution: massive       than 50 projects across campus are underway.
                                                                                                                                  ramp-up in safer testing                A sampling of our other efforts are described in this
                                                                                                                                                                          special section, including:

Special section:                                                                                                                                                          Ș Searches for the perfect drug or vaccine, such as
                                                                                                                                                                            the projects underway by Prof. Sarel Fleishman,

Weizmannn coronavirus response
                                                                                                                                                                            Dr. Ron Diskin, and Dr. Nir London
                                                                                                                A model to sustain                                        Ș An effort spearhead by Profs. Eran Segal

                                                                                                                economic activity                                           and Benjamin Geiger is tracking geographic

A
                                                                                                                                                                            clusters in which the coronavirus is prevalent
    s we find ourselves—all of humanity—in the midst of a pandemic                                              Ș As the state of the economy becomes an                    and will likely spread.
                                                                                                                                                                          Ș The Davidson Institute of Science Education at
    caused by the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the Weizmann Institute of                                               increasing source of concern, Prof. Uri Alon
                                                                                                                  and his graduate students Omer Karin and Yael             Weizmann launched a new website called Stuck
    Science is advancing major research efforts and other initiatives to                                          Korem-Kohanim, together with senior engineer              at Home? which offers a suite of digital science
                                                                                                                                                                            activities at a time when students, teachers,
                                                                                                                  Boaz Dudovich of Applied Materials, have
address this challenge: more than 50 projects are now underway.                                                   developed an epidemiological model that shows             and parents are in need of quality distance-
                                                                                                                  how it is possible to enact a nationwide policy           learning content.
The new coronavirus is a global health threat that is      has been transformed into a center for the rapid       to effectively suppress the coronavirus and at
unprecedented in any of our lifetimes. The Weizmann        production of diagnostic tests, in coordination                                                                You can read more about the Weizmann Coronavirus
                                                                                                                  the same time allow sustainable, albeit reduced,
Institute, with its world-renown in immunology,            with Israel’s Ministry of Health. This move has                                                                Response Fund on the Institute website, or via the QR
                                                                                                                  economic activity. The model is based on the
structural biology, computational science and              enabled a multi-fold rise in the number of tests                                                               code below.
                                                                                                                  mathematics of an intermittent lockdown: five
artificial intelligence, cellular sequencing, and drug     produced and Prof. Robert Fluhr is heading this
                                                           effort. The G-INCPM is home to the country’s most      days of lockdown and two days of work every
discovery, is poised to make key breakthroughs at                                                                 week. In this way, the virus replication number—
                                                           comprehensive and advanced infrastructure
this critical time.                                                                                               the number of people infected by each contagious
                                                           for genomic and proteomic analysis, making it a
                                                           vital resource for Israel’s scientific and medical     carrier—drops below 1: the magic number that
In this section, you may read a sampling or our efforts,                                                          would lead to a decline in the epidemic.
                                                           community as they seek to create new coronavirus
focusing in three main directions: ramping up testing
                                                           testing approaches.                                    A four-day work/ten-day lockdown strategy
capacity, tracking outbreaks in the making, and
advancing promising research initiatives toward                                                                   is even better, they suggest, allowing those
treatments and potential vaccines.                                                                                infected at work to cease becoming infectious at
                                                                                                                  home. Prof. Alon suggests that after several such
                                                                          Video: Coronavirus testing center       cycles, the number of infected people will drop                           More on the Weizmann
Ramping up testing                                                        at the Grand Center on campus           dramatically. The epidemic can be contained until
                                                                                                                  sufficient testing, effective treatment, or a vaccine
                                                                                                                                                                                            Coronavirus Response Fund

Ș The Nancy and Stephen Grand Center for                                                                          is developed, which would negate the need for a
  Personalized Medicine (G-INCPM) on campus                                                                       lockdown.

                                                                                           ‫מכון ויצמן למדע‬      ‫מכון ויצמן למדע‬
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                               Coronavirus Response           SPRING 2020                                                                          Weizmann MAGAZINE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         4–5

Mapping corona in stealth mode                                                                                              Towards a drug against COVID-19
Predict Corona fuses data on symptoms, geography to predict                                                                 Co-led by Dr. Nir London, global consortium aims to drastically
outbreaks in the making                                                                                                     accelerate development of drug

W                                                                                                                           A
       eizmann Institute scientists have                               Already, the scientists have detected a                   n international initiative led by the                          initial hits that can potentially serve as
       developed a method for monitoring,                                  significant increase in symptoms reported             Weizmann Institute’s Dr. Nir London                                starting points for a drug. The Oxford
       identifying, and predicting                                           by the public in areas where verified               has brought together a range of                                       University team and the Diamond Light
geographical clusters in which the                                             coronavirus patients are known to            key players in the drug development                                         Source (the UK’s national synchrotron
coronavirus is prevalent and will                                               have been. The mapping may enable           process—from academia in                                                      light source science facility), were
likely spread, by tracking symptoms                                             health authorities to concentrate           four countries, to biotech and                                                able, in turn, to determine crystal
throughout the Israeli public—both                                               anti-contagion efforts on areas in         contract research organizations, to                                           structures showing how these
healthy and sick individuals.                                                    which an outbreak and spread of the        specialized software companies—to                                             compounds bind in the protease’s
The method is at the core of the                                                virus is predicted—while allowing           accelerate the development of a drug                                         active site.
Predict Corona project, spearheaded                                            them to ease measures in areas where         against COVID-19.
by Institute’s Prof. Eran Segal and                                           an outbreak is not expected.                                                                                           So far, they have identified 78 hits
Prof. Benjamin Geiger, together with the                                                                                    Dr. London is collaborating with                                       against the SARS-CoV-2 protease, 37 of
Hebrew University’s Prof. Yuval Dor.                                      The initiative relies on this daily               researchers at Oxford University, Memorial                          which are covalent fragments originating
                                                                          questionnaire, which can be accessed in           Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University                           from the London lab. Now, they must narrow
                                                g Prof. Benny Geiger                                                                                                           Dr. Nir London
                                                                                                                                                                                g
Predict Corona is being rolled out to the                                 five languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English,          of British Columbia, a California biotech                           down the possibilities, which requires the
entire Israeli public in coordination with                                Russian, and Amharic).                            company PostEra, and Enamine, one                                   input of medicinal chemists and chemo-
Israel’s Ministry of Health and the country’s                                                                               of the largest chemical vendors in the                              informatics and design experts.
HMOs, and is being adopted now by over                                      Together with Prof. Ran Balicer of the Clalit   world, to develop small molecules to target a key
10 countries, including the U.S., Italy,                                      Research Institute (affiliated with Clalit    SARS-CoV-2 protein that can halt and counteract the
and Spain.                                                                     Health Services, Israel’s largest HMO)       virus.                                                      Crowdsourcing for science
                                                                                and other researchers, the scientists
“Viral spread occurs in clusters of                                              called on other countries to               The partners have developed the means to                    To that end, the researchers are hosting an online
 infection,” says Prof. Segal. “Therefore,                                       implement the strategy. The interest       characterize the structure of the main protease             crowdsourcing challenge to ask medicinal chemists
 early identification of clusters may                                            was immediate, and countries               of SARS-CoV-2—an essential enzyme that is                   and computer-aided drug design experts around
 facilitate various actions aimed at                                            including the U.S., Italy, Spain, India,    responsible for a key step in the virus life cycle.         the world to design better molecules based on the
 slowing down the spread of the virus.”                                        Luxembourg, Malaysia, Germany, and           The researchers have agreed to share all their              available fragments. Close to 2,000 designs have
                                                                              Britain, are using the tool.                  data openly to avoid bureaucracy and intellectual           been submitted so far, and the challenge is ongoing.
The scientists describe their method in a                                                                                   property considerations. All data is available in real      PostEra’s AI-based computational models are used
fast-tracked publication in Nature Medicine.                                Prof. Segal and researchers from the            time to the entire research community, inspiring a          to prioritize chemical synthesis and drug-binding
                                                                           U.S. are spearheading the formation of an        true open-science global collaboration.                     simulations created by software project called
                                                 g    Prof. Eran Segal
AI in the service
                                                                           international consortium that will share                                                                     Folding@Home would be used to predict binding
                                                                           methods, insights, and summary data to           Their goal: to target this enzyme’s activity effectively,   affinity. Together, these efforts will significantly
of public health                                                           build predictive tools and compare across
                                                                 all countries. Companies such as Intel, as well as
                                                                                                                            which would be a key antiviral approach. By ramping
                                                                                                                            up research production in a coordinated effort
                                                                                                                                                                                        accelerate the compound-design cycle.

Predict Corona is a brief, one-minute voluntary                  academic researchers and members of the Israeli            with contract research organizations (CROs) they            Once such promising candidate drugs are identified,
survey that asks Israelis to share their geographical            military, have reached out to offer their assistance       are hoping the effort will lead to an effective anti-       Enamine and CROs will be on called to synthesize
location (including street and neighborhood), and                and are already contributing to this effort.               COVID-19 drug candidate in a matter of months.              and test every compound’s safety.
any symptoms associated with COVID-19 —while
protecting patient privacy—to assess infection                                                                              Dr. London and his team in the Department of
patterns for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes                                                                              Organic Chemistry are experts on drugs that rely on
                                                                                     A framework for identifying            the formation of covalent bonds, and their innovative
COVID-19. The questionnaire tracks the development
                                                                                     regional outbreak and spread                                                                                        Video: Dr. Nir London: The race for
of virus-induced symptoms, and the analysis relies                                                                          electrophile-fragment screening platform has been
                                                                                     of COVID-19 from one-minute                                                                                         a cure
on Big Data algorithms and artificial intelligence.                                  population-wide surveys                used against various proteins. In the past two weeks,
                                                                                                                            they have applied it to the viral protein (produced and
                                                                                                                            shipped from the UK) and have identified promising
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                         Coronavirus Response         SPRING 2020                                                                       Weizmann MAGAZINE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                               6–7

Learning from other lethal viruses                                                                                  Designing the perfect antibody
Insights on Ebola, arenaviruses pave way                                                                            Prof. Sarel Fleishman is applying computer modeling tools to create
for Dr. Ron Diskin’s next target: the coronavirus                                                                   a coronavirus-blocking solution

I                                                                                                                   P
  n an effort to find solutions for the novel                                                                           rof. Sarel Fleishman and his team in the             provoke a protective immune response that short-
  coronavirus, structural biologist Dr. Ron Diskin is                                                                   Department of Biomolecular Sciences are using        circuited infection by the malaria parasite, they
  expediting two parallel investigations to counter                                                                     a unique platform developed in their lab to          were also cost-effective to produce, and remained
the disease based on his previous research on similar                                                               address the coronavirus problem by designing and         stable at extremely high temperatures—a significant
animal-borne contagions, and on the vaccine for                                                                     testing millions of “nanobodies”—small synthetic         advantage for impoverished populations living in
Ebola, a virus that, like SARS CoV-2, is also believed                                                              antibodies that could potentially slip through the       tropical climates. Successfully tested in laboratory
to have originated in bats.                                                                                         coronavirus’s formidable defenses. Once they home        studies by Prof. Fleishman’s colleagues in the UK,
                                                                                                                    in on the most effective nanobodies, it may become       the new proteins are being scaled up for release as a
In the last six months, Dr. Diskin, of the Weizmann                                                                 possible to design a treatment capable of stopping       commercial vaccine.
Institute’s Department of Structural Biology, has                                                                   the deadly virus.
made a series of crucial discoveries related to viruses                                                                                                                      Antibodies that are
that cross over from animals to humans. In fact,                                                                    A structural biologist and technology innovator,         perfectly primed to
papers published by Dr. Diskin just weeks before                                                                    Prof. Fleishman has developed computer modeling          block coronavirus
the coronavirus outbreak, and another one in more                                                                   tools that support the rapid and inexpensive design      will not be easy to
recent weeks, may point to new ways to find a cure                                                                  of customized proteins. Much of his work focuses on      design, however. That’s
not only for the coronavirus—but a wide range of                                                                    antibodies—proteins that defend the body against         because the spike
highly infectious and lethal viruses that cross over                                                                disease-causing invaders, like viruses and bacteria.     protein structures that
from animals (particularly rodents) to humans.                                                                      Now, he is focused on a particular structural element    drive infection are
                                                                                                                    in the coronavirus—the “spike protein” recently          shielded by particularly
In January in Nature Communications, he described a                                                                 characterized by scientists at the University of Texas   complex structures
molecular decoy he and his lab members engineered                                                                   in Austin, which plays a key role in the infection       known as glycans.
that leads a group of animal-borne viruses, called                                                                  process. His goal is to design a robust antibody that    To get past this glycan      Prof. Sarel Fleishman’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                        g method
arenaviruses, to avert cell membranes—and thereby                                                                   would bind to vulnerable points on the spike protein     shield, Prof. Fleishman              has been proven in the
prevents infection. The lab is applying the same                                                                                                                                                            development of a potential
                                                                                                                    and stop infection in its tracks.                        will massively expand a        malaria vacccine.
approach used to create this new molecule, which                                                                                                                             computational protocol
they call “Arenacept,” to the coronavirus.
                                                                                                                    Lessons from malaria
                                                                                                                                                                             already validated on a
                                                                                                                                                                             small scale in his lab.
Dr. Diskin also recently published two other
important studies, in Nature Medicine and Cell Host &                                                               The potential impact of this design approach is          His team, comprising doctoral student Lucas Krauss,
Microbe, respectively, showing just how the vaccine         g Dr. Ron Diskin                                        illustrated by a recent breakthrough achieved in         and Drs. Ravit Netzer and Adi Goldenzweig, are
against the Ebola virus activates the immune system                                                                 the Fleishman lab against another infectious killer:     leveraging their suite of protein design tools to
to fight off the virus. In collaboration with partners in                                                           the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which causes         generate computer models of millions of designed
                                                            mechanisms of lethal viruses, he plans to investigate
Cologne, Germany, the Diskin lab mapped out how                                                                     malaria. The lab invented a methodology to design        antibodies in search of those most likely to bind
                                                            the novel coronavirus—with his eyes set on a cure
the antibodies bind to the virus and destroy them—                                                                  computer-based models of proteins, including             successfully to one or more of the coronavirus’s
                                                            or vaccine. In the first avenue, he is conducting a
and discovered that smaller doses than what are                                                                     antibodies, that do not exist in nature, and which       vulnerable sites, and winnow down the set using
                                                            comprehensive screening for identifying a decoy
currently administered are just as effective. The latter                                                            have superior properties. The tools—available online     experimental high-throughput screening technology,
                                                            molecule that will have all the desired properties
study identified the precise molecular target of                                                                    and used by labs around the world—encode how             thereby identifying the top antibody candidates.
                                                            needed to construct an immunotherapeutic
these specific antibodies acquired by all vaccinated                                                                proteins fold and function and predict how specific
                                                            molecule (immunoadhesin). In the second avenue,
individuals and Ebola patients who had recovered                                                                    mutations would impact protein characteristics on
                                                            Dr. Diskin is collaborating with several groups to
from the disease, and described the mechanism by                                                                    the atomic level.
                                                            isolate antibodies from recovered coronavirus
which a common immunological response against                                                                                                                                                  Video: Prof. Sarel Fleishman:
                                                            patients. They intend to elucidate three-dimensional    Two years ago, an algorithm created by Dr. Adi                             Designing a coronavirus
Ebola is elicited.
                                                            structures to reveal how these antibodies bind to the   Goldenzweig—then a PhD student in the Fleishman                            vaccine
These discoveries are incredibly timely, and taken          SARS-CoV-2 virus, which could lead to a potential       lab—resulted in the design of an anti-malarial
together with Dr. Diskin’s other insights on the            vaccine or antibody treatment for coronavirus.          vaccine. Not only did these synthetic proteins
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                           Coronavirus Response        SPRING 2020                                                                         Weizmann MAGAZINE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  8–9

Prof. Ruth Arnon:                                                                                                    So, notes Prof. Arnon, it isn’t
                                                                                                                     enough to generate a vaccine—it
                                                                                                                                                             Coronavirus by
Lessons from influenza                                                                                               has to be delivered to everyone at
                                                                                                                     risk in order to be truly effective.    the numbers
                                                                                                                     For COVID-19, that’s the whole
What the quest for a universal flu vaccine can teach us                                                              world. By the time that happens,        A measured approach to understanding—and
                                                                                                                     the current outbreak may have run       defeating—the COVID-19 pandemic

W
       ith infections, as with football, a best offense is                                                           its course.
       often a good defense. But while that strategy
                                                                                                                     It’s also not clear whether, if a       The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a harsh reminder that, whether the virus is
       works for many infectious diseases, it doesn’t
                                                                                                                                                             spreading within a single human host or in a wave of infection spanning
work with influenza; thanks to its readiness to mutate,                                                              vaccine is developed for COVID-19,
                                                                                                                                                             continents, many of the most critical answers we seek about this unprecedented
the influenza virus effectively “shifts the goalposts”                                                               coronaviruses will have a seasonal
                                                                                                                                                             crisis are expressed in numbers. Quantitative questions include: How long does
each year, requiring a new vaccination.                                                                              fluctuation and die out like
                                                                                                                                                             it take a single infected person to infect a million others? How long does the
                                                                                                                     influenza, which is what happens to     coronavirus survive on surfaces? How effective is social distancing, and how
Renowned Weizmann Institute immunologist                                                                             the flu, thanks to the herd immunity
Prof. Ruth Arnon is spearheading a new defense—a                                                                                                             many lives can this policy potentially save?
                                                                                                                     caused by the seasonal flu vaccine,
universal influenza vaccine that is currently in Phase
                                                                                                                     as well as the arrival of warmer        More than a decade ago, during his postdoc at Harvard Medical School,
III of the clinical trial process—that focuses on the
                                                                                                                     temperatures to which the virus is      Prof. Ron Milo created an online, shareable resource for “bio-numbers”—values
parts of the flu virus that stay the same from year to
                                                                                                                     ill suited.                             culled from the scientific literature that relate to biological processes as they
year, gluing the goalposts to the ground once and
                                                                                                                                                             occur on all scales, from the levels of atoms and molecules, to the levels of
for all.
                                                                                                                     Coronaviruses are a common              organisms and ecosystems. Over the years, Prof. Milo’s initiative grew into a
Prof. Arnon, who emphasized that she is not an                                                                       type of virus, and they come in a       massive database called BioNumbers that allows scientists around the world
expert on coronavirus, says she thinks a similar                                                                     variety of strains. Most of these       to search bio-based data to find answers to their questions, and to identify
strategy might also be useful for countering                                                                         strains produce the mildest of          interesting questions that had never occurred to them before.
coronaviruses, including the current SARS-                                                                           cold symptoms in the infected
                                                                                                                                                             Now, he and his colleagues are applying the same approach to the fight against
CoV2 strain (which causes the COVID-19 disease).                                                                     individual. From time to time—and
                                                             g   Prof. Arnon is the past president of the Israel                                             the coronavirus. Those colleagues include Yinon Bar-On, a PhD student in the
                                                                 Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and co-         with frustrating unpredictability—a
That is, a possible pharmaceutical approach to                                                                                                               Milo lab in the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Plant and Environmental
                                                                 developer of the blockbuster multiple sclerosis     virulent variety appears, such as       Sciences, Prof. Rob Phillips from the California Institute of Technology, and
creating a vaccine against COVID-19 involves                     drug Copaxone. Her universal flu vaccine is         the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV)         Dr. Avi Flamholz of the University of California at Berkeley.
targeting a particular viral protein, called SPIKE,              in Phase III clinical trials.
                                                                                                                     strain of 2003, MERS-CoV in
which is an important offensive player in the
                                                                                                                     2012 (both of which petered out         In a recent publication in eLife, the researchers used existing peer-reviewed
virus’s infection game. Another approach would
                                                                                                                     by summer) and most recently,           literature to create something that could well be called “Corona-by-the-
be targeting a protein, or segments of the virus
                                                             in humans, which means preclinical trials will likely   SARS-CoV-2. If this latest one sticks   numbers”—a comprehensive collection of the key biological properties
proteins, that are common across the most virulent
                                                             have to be carried out. Moreover, a vaccine must        around, or if it decides to keep        currently known about the coronavirus that can be measured in numerical terms.
types of coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2, and
                                                             be tested in people for safety—a process that can                                               They will be curating these numbers, and updating them as new data emerge
MERS-CoV.                                                                                                            reappearing like influenza, having a
                                                             take weeks to months. And then, once a vaccine is                                               from laboratories, clinical centers, and public health authorities worldwide.
                                                                                                                     vaccine will be crucial.
                                                             identified, it must be produced in sufficient mass
“If I were working in the coronavirus field,” says
                                                             quantities—and administered far and wide—in                                                     A range of scientific insights could potentially emerge from the use of this
 Prof. Arnon, “this non-changing protein approach is                                                                 While a universal coronavirus
                                                             order for herd immunity to take effect. Herd immunity                                           data. For example, the carefully curated values may spark new ideas about
 where I would focus my efforts.”                                                                                    vaccine may not help us win the
                                                             is a form of indirect protection that occurs when                                               how the immune system could be stimulated to fight the virus. They may
                                                             a large percentage of a population has become           current outbreak, says Prof. Arnon,
It’s going to take time and patience. Even if a                                                                                                              reveal how the coronavirus is similar to, or different from, other viruses against
                                                             immune to an infection, thereby providing a             it would help us mount the best
universal coronavirus vaccine were identified today,                                                                                                         which preventative strategies already exist. Measurements of viral particle
                                                             measure of protection to individuals who are not        defense for the future.                 concentration could aid in the design of diagnostic kits for asymptomatic
it is unlikely to be of use this year.
                                                             vaccinated. In effect, the virus runs out of hosts.                                             patients. And by offering measurements of factors that influence the speed at
                                                                                                                                                             which the disease spreads, the data Prof. Milo and his colleagues compile may
Time and patience                                            Furthermore, vaccine trials tend to take longer
                                                             than trials for, say, cancer drugs; the vaccines are
                                                                                                                                                             lead to new strategies for protecting populations worldwide.
                                                                                                                                       Video: What is
Part of the challenge is one that is common to all           administered to healthy people, and efficacy can only                                           “Knowledge of the numbers related to the coronavirus can give us a ‘sixth sense’
                                                                                                                                       a vaccine?
vaccine production processes. Vaccines must be               be determined through a painstaking “wait and see”                                               that allows us recognize what we can’t see or feel—thereby serving as a basis
tested in animals, but there are no good animal              approach, to find out whether the vaccines indeed                                                for thoughtful, quantitative insights that may lead to important discoveries,”
models of how the COVID-19 infection cycle works             fend off infection.                                                                              Prof. Milo says.
WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                           Coronavirus Response        SPRING 2020                                                                        Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                                                                                     Science Briefs                                                                                          10–11

Homeschooling in
the time of corona
The Davidson Institute offers distance-learning solutions
                                                                                                                     Science vs. neurodegeneration
S
    chools everywhere have closed due to the                 users—about 250,000. Before the crisis, the site

                                                                                                                     T
    spread of the novel coronavirus, and teachers            received about 20,000 visits per day. While most             wo Weizmann Institute labs have taken the lead       molecules that bind to Spt5 and block the expression
    are turning to remote learning to keep their             surfers are accessing the site from Israel, several          in the battle against neurodegeneration, with        of the mutated protein. However, in cases where the
students on track. If the online world wasn’t already        thousand are from other countries as well, primarily         discoveries that may eventually contribute           huntingtin gene appears in its normal, non-mutated
a central fixture of our lives, now the Internet has         the US. While Stuck at Home? is in Hebrew, Arabic,      to treatments—or even cures—for two separate              form, these molecules allow protein expression
become a primary portal to the outside world for             and English, and efforts are underway to translate it   conditions: Huntington’s disease (HD) and                 to occur. These findings represent an important
parents and kids cooped up at home—and in Israel,            into Spanish.                                           Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as        step forward in the eventual development of a drug
school lessons and assignments have shifted almost                                                                   Lou Gehrig’s disease.                                     capable of “short circuiting” a molecular dynamic that
                                                                                                                                                                               drives Huntington’s disease.
exclusively to the online space.
                                                             Science on demand                                       Huntington’s disease is a fatal genetic disorder
                                                                                                                     caused by mutations in the huntingtin gene, leading       In a separate advance, Prof. Eran Hornstein of
The Davidson Institute of Science Education at
                                                             The site offers a diverse range of science-related      to the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the        the Department of Molecular Genetics recently
the Weizmann Institute, which operates dozens of
                                                             topics and it is also a portal to other Davidson        brain. Often striking in the prime of life and causing    discovered a molecule involved in the onset of
curricular and extracurricular programs, is on the
                                                             content, such as its free and popular Science VOD       deterioration of both physical and cognitive abilities,   ALS. Prof. Hornstein and his colleagues led a
front lines of this effort with its robust Davidson          page, which includes an extensive library of videos     HD currently has no cure.                                 large international collaboration that identified a
website. It launched a new site called Stuck at Home?,       on demand. Davidson also launched a page with a                                                                   microRNA gene that plays a crucial role in motor
which offers a suite of digital science activities for the   suite of articles on the COVID-19 outbreak, as well     Now, Prof. Rivka Dikstein of the Department of            neurons. This microRNA gene is expressed at
entire family.                                               as posts related to virology and epidemiology in        Biomolecular Sciences has identified two molecules        lower levels in ALS patients as compared to healthy
                                                             general. The staff is also maintaining a daily report   that can block the activity of Spt5, a gene involved      individuals—something that makes it a powerful
Stuck at Home? includes videos, articles, puzzles,           tracking the spread of the virus.                       in HD onset. A regulator of gene transcription—an         biomarker for early ALS diagnosis. The team also
science experiments that can be conducted at                                                                         early stage in the process that leads to protein          identified rare mutations in the gene that codes for
home, and other innovative science and math                                                                          production—Spt5 is specifically required for              this ALS-associated microRNA.
activities. The Davidson Institute has shared the                                                                    transcribing the mutant huntingtin gene associated
link to this content via social networks, groups                                                                     with HD progression.                                      Prof. Hornstein’s research could lead the way toward
                                                                               Visit the 'Stuck at Home?'
within the Ministry of Education and WhatsApp                                                                                                                                  new strategies in which the microRNA he and his
                                                                               website.
groups. The response has been overwhelming:                                                                          A team led by Dr. Anat Bahat, a staff scientist           colleagues discovered would be used to mediate
On the first day after schools in Israel were closed,                                                                in the Dikstein lab, screened a library of about          ALS symptoms, thereby transforming ALS from a
the Davidson Institute website was flooded with                                                                      100,000 small molecules, and discovered two               death sentence into a chronic, manageable illness.

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                                                                                                                      “Our uncle Mort Zuckerman would be kvelling over the impressive group
                                                                                                                       here today, especially by the overwhelming number of women in the
                                                                                                                       program,” says Eric Gertler.                                        12–13

                                                                                                                      Zuckerman Symposium:
                                                                                                                      Women in STEM
                                                                                                                      T
                                                                                                                           he third annual Zuckerman US-Israel Symposium,           industry and government. The speakers included
                                                                                                                           focused on the advancement of women in                   Dina Ben-Yehuda, Dean of the Hadassah – Hebrew
                                                                                                                           STEM subjects, took place in November on                 University School of Medicine; Dr. Irit Idan, Executive
g Tipping the gender balance: women physicists at an international workshop on campus in November                     the Weizmann Institute campus. The symposium                  Vice President of Research Development at Rafael
                                                                                                                      was part of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman STEM                    Advanced Defense Systems; and Marissa Gross Yarm,

Where are the female physicists?
                                                                                                                      Leadership Program, which awards financial grants             Head of International Student Affairs at the Israeli
                                                                                                                      to American postdoctoral fellows doing research in            Council for Higher Education. Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen

It’s not a theoretical question
                                                                                                                      Israel, provides vital resources to Israeli universities,     from the Science Mission Directorate of NASA also
                                                                                                                      facilitates the return of Israeli scholars to Israeli         took part.
                                                                                                                      institutions, and helps support Israeli postdocs
                                                                                                                      doing research in the US.                                      From the Weizmann Institute, participants included

P
     hysics has historically been a male-dominated        “The challenges are many, starting at the high
                                                                                                                                                                                     Prof. Ada Yonath, who won the Nobel Prize for
    field, but a new initiative in the Weizmann            school level when girls first encounter physics,           The Zuckerman STEM Program, established in 2016,               Chemistry in 2009, and a former postdoctoral
    Institute’s Faculty of Physics is trying to            and the roadblocks continue until the point of
                                                                                                                      has funded 125 scholars at 63 American universities            researcher in her lab, Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami of
understand why—and take proactive steps to                 career choice,” says Dr. Eran-Jona. One of the
                                                                                                                      and seven Israeli universities to date. In the                 the Department of Structural Biology, a Zuckerman
shifting the gender balance.                               biggest “forks in the road,” she says, is when
                                                                                                                      2019-2020 year, three out of its four faculty scholars         Scholar, who described her research on visualizing
                                                           women consider pursuing postdoctoral positions
In November, the faculty held a workshop that                                                                         are women, and women comprise 54% of this                      protein function.
                                                           abroad—the unwritten prerequisite to attaining a
attracted physicists and gender diversity experts                                                                     year’s grantees.
                                                           position in Israeli academia. It’s a decision that often
from around the world to analyze the problem and
                                                           requires uprooting a spouse and young children
discuss success stories from other institutions and                                                                   “Our uncle Mort Zuckerman would
                                                           and surviving on a typically low postdoc salary in
countries. The conference was co-led by Prof. Yossi                                                                    be kvelling over the impressive
                                                           expensive international cities. This is a crossroads
Nir of the Department of Particle Physics and                                                                          group here today, especially by the
                                                           for women across the sciences, but is particularly
Astrophysics; Dr. Meytal Eran-Jona, a sociologist                                                                      overwhelming number of women
                                                           acute in physics, “a male-dominated field where,
who recently became the Institute’s first Director                                                                     in the program,” says Eric Gertler, a
of Diversity at the Feinberg Graduate School; and          unfortunately, women do not always feel at home,”
                                                                                                                       trustee of the Zuckerman Institute.
Prof. Marika Taylor, a professor of theoretical physics    says Prof. Nir.
                                                                                                                      “We consider the Zuckerman STEM
at of the University of Southampton in the UK. It was                                                                  Leadership Program to be a ripple
                                                          Since the November workshop, several initiatives
sponsored by the Schwartz/Reisman Institute for                                                                        of hope and a center of energy,
                                                          have taken root, include: launching postdoctoral
Theoretical Physics.
                                                          grants for people with childcare responsibilities;           and we’re confident that this great
With a grant from Israel’s Ministry of Science and        embracing an anti-harassment legal policy for                collaboration will have a lasting
Technology, Prof. Nir and Dr. Eran-Jona investigated      prevention and enforcement of proper workplace               impact on the world.”
the gender imbalance in the field of physics              behavior; and enhancing female visibility as
nationwide. They found that while 38 percent of           speakers in conferences and seminars.                       James Gertler, another trustee of
high school students who study advanced physics                                                                       the Zuckerman Institute, says, “We
are girls, that percentage continues to decline           Dr. Eran-Jona has also been working with FGS                look forward to more and more
throughout the stages of higher education and career      and the Faculty of Physics to adjust the student            successes for the women in our STEM
choice. Only 16 percent of undergraduate physics          recruitment process. Additional gains include               program and the United States-Israel
majors are female, and only six percent of physicists     the Faculty’s exposure to and active participation          academic exchange.”
in tenured or tenure-track positions are women. Just      in gender diversity efforts in physics worldwide,
16 women hold tenure or tenure-track or positions in      including a new affiliation with a European                 The event included talks and panels         g Prof. Ada Yonath, the keynote speaker at the Zuckerman Symposium
physics in Israel.                                        organization dedicated to this subject.                     including women from academia,

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WeizmannNo. 17 Spring 2020 - The Brain Issue - Plus: Special section on Weizmann
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                       Science Briefs            SPRING 2020                                                                              Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                                                                               “Recognizing and supporting promising scientists early in their
                                                                                                                careers is essential to ensure that they maximize the impact
                                                                                                                of their future research,” says Len Blavatnik.                                                                14–15

                                                                                                               Weizmann scientists win all
                                                                                                               three Blavatnik Awards
                                                                                                               Honors highlight research in cryptography, genetics,
                                                                                                               and protein assembly

                                                                                                               T
                                                                                                                    he annual Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists             “Recognizing and supporting promising scientists
                                                                                                                    in Israel have gone to three Weizmann                      early in their careers is essential to ensure that
                                                                                                                    scientists—the first time that all three awards will       they maximize the impact of their future research,”
                                                                                                               be bestowed exclusively on Weizmann researchers.                says Len Blavatnik, Head of the Blavatnik Family
                                                                                                               Dr. Igor Ulitsky, a biologist who is studying how               Foundation that awards the prizes. “For the past
                                                                                                               a type of genetic material—long noncoding                       several decades, Israel has been a powerhouse
                                                                                                               RNA—works to influence health and disease,                      of scientific breakthroughs and technological
                                                                                                               received the award in the Life Sciences category.               innovation. The three young scientists recognized
                                                                                                               Dr. Emmanuel Levy, a biochemist investigating how               by these awards are outstanding examples of the
                                                                                                               proteins assemble and interact, won the Chemistry               enormous potential of Israeli scientific talent.”
                                                                                                               award. And computer scientist Prof. Guy Rothblum,
                                                                                                                               who is advancing the study of                   The Blavatnik Foundation, which offers a series of
                                                                                                                                 cryptography, received                         prizes for outstanding scientists, launched     its
                                                                                                                                   the Physical Sciences &                       Israel awards in 2017 in collaboration
                                                                                                                                    Engineering award.                           with the Israel Academy of
                                                                                                                                                                                 Sciences and the Humanities.
g Profs. Ido Amit and Eran Elinav flanking Joao Monteiro and Ursula Weiss of Nature.

Next Gen Immunology
Conference 2020
H
     undreds of world-leading researchers in               like in vivo imaging, single-cell sequencing, and
     immunology convened February 2-5 at the Next          new genomics approaches that will advance the
     Gen Immunology Conference at the Weizmann             understanding of the microbiome, the nervous
Institute—a gathering that has now become the “go-         system, cancer, metabolism, and beyond.
to” conference in in the field for scientists, postdocs,   The conference included some 85 poster sessions.
and students. The conference is held every two years                                                                       g Dr. Igor Ulitsky                              g Prof. Guy Rothblum           g Dr. Emmanuel Levy
in partnership with the prestigious journal Nature.        The event was sponsored by the Moross Integrated
                                                           Cancer Center, the Azrieli Institute for Systems
Led by Profs. Eran Elinav and Ido Amit of the              Biology, the Nancy and Stephen Grand Israel
Department of Immunology, the conference                   National Center for Personalized Medicine,
highlighted discussions between scientists,                and industry partners including Merck and
clinicians, and the pharma industry; and new tools         Teva Pharmaceuticals.

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Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                         Science Briefs          SPRING 2020                                                                       Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                                                                               “Our purpose was to generate enthusiasm for science among
Sweet news: AI advances                                                                                         the young patients, and to allow them to step away from
                                                                                                                the difficulty of their illnesses and the hospital routine for a
diagnosis of gestational diabetes                                                                               moment,” says Prof. Schuldiner.                                                                        16–17

A
    new algorithm developed by Weizmann Institute scientists can predict which pregnant

                                                                                                               Bringing the lab to the hospital
    women are at a high risk of gestational diabetes, a common condition in which
    women without diabetes develop high blood sugar levels. The study was
authored by Prof. Eran Segal and reported in Nature Medicine.

Analyzing data on nearly 600,000 pregnancies available from Israel’s largest                                   Prof. Maya Schuldiner's group makes a visit to Kaplan
health organization, Clalit Health Services, the study determined that,                                        Medical Center
based on the predictions offered by the algorithm on these data, it may
be possible to predict and prevent gestational diabetes.

                                                                                                               S
                                                                                                                    cientists from the
“Our ultimate goal is to help the health system take measures
                                                                                                                    Department of
 to prevent diabetes from occurring in pregnancy,” says senior
                                                                                                                    Molecular Genetics
 author Prof. Segal, who has dual appointments in the Department
                                                                                                               visited patients in the
 Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and the Department
                                                                                                               pediatrics unit at Kaplan
 of Molecular Cell Biology. The study was done in collaboration with
                                                                                                               Medical Center in Rehovot
 researchers at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikvah and Clalit.
                                                                                                               to teach a bit of science
                                                                                                               and conduct a few simple
Gestational diabetes is fraught with health risks for both mother
                                                                                                               experiments. The visit
and baby. Typically, the condition is diagnosed in the second
                                                                                                               was initiated by Michal
trimester, by way of a glucose tolerance test in which the woman
                                                                                                               Eisenberg, a PhD student
drinks a glucose solution and then undergoes a blood test to see
                                                                                                               in Prof. Maya Schuldiner’s
how quickly the glucose is cleared from her blood.
                                                                                                               lab.
Prof. Segal and his colleagues processed a dataset of more                                                     “Our purpose was to
than 2,000 parameters for each pregnancy, including each                                                       generate enthusiasm
woman’s blood test results and medical history, and ran                                                        for science among the
the data through an algorithm built to “connect the dots”                                                      young patients, and to
between the medical data and the diagnosis. It revealed that                                                   allow them to step away
nine of the parameters were sufficient to accurately identify                                                  from the difficulty of their
the women who were at a high risk of developing gestational                                                    illnesses and the hospital
diabetes. The nine parameters include the woman’s age, body                                                    routine for a moment,”
mass index, family history of diabetes, and results of her glucose tests                                       says Prof. Schuldiner.
during any previous pregnancies.                                                                               “We witness the kids’
                                                                                                               involvement and
These findings suggest that by having a woman answer just                                                      curiosity around science
nine questions, it should be possible to tell in advance whether                                               and it always moves
she is at a high risk of developing gestational diabetes. And                                                  us.” She hopes the
if this information is available early on—in the early stages of                                               partnership with Kaplan
pregnancy or even before the woman has conceived—it might be                                                   will continue.
possible to reduce her risk of acquiring the condition by making
lifestyle modifications such as exercise and diet.                                                             Prof. Amnon Zung, Head of
                                                                                                               Pediatrics at Kaplan, says       Prof. Maya Schuldiner’ (at right) and her colleagues with pediatric patients
Meanwhile, women identified by the questionnaire as being at                                                   that the partnership with
                                                                                                                                              g at Kapalan Medical Center.
a low risk for gestational diabetes may be spared the cost and                                                 Weizmann is welcome,
inconvenience of the glucose testing.                                                                          and the experiments with
                                                                                                               Weizmann scientists            a partnership with the Weizmann Institute, and no doubt that the geographic
The study is another step forward in advancing artificial intelligence                                         offer a meaningful and         proximity between our two institutions, focused on health and science in
techniques for health—demonstrating the usefulness of large                                                    stimulating experience         Rehovot, can lead to additional partnerships in the future.”
human-based datasets, specifically electronic health records, for                                              for the patients. “We
deriving personalized disease predictions that can lead to prevention                                          are happy to be the first      In a particularly special moment, Prof. Zung met his daughter, MSc student
and intervention.                                                                                              hospital to have such          Naama Zung, who was part of the Weizmann group, for a big hug and kiss.

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Weizmann MAGAZINE                        New Scientists         SPRING 2020                                                                          Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                             New Scientists                                                                                             18–19

                                                             A first clue may be that life as we know it requires       of the origin of life—and may have been a key energy
                                                             oxygen to survive. Indeed, the existence of molecular      source in Earth’s infancy. Until now, scientists have
                                                             oxygen, O2, is one of the strongest indicators of          had limited tools for detecting the UV habitable zone,
                                                             planetary life, and its detection would be a key step      the area around a star that is optimal for the evolution
                                                             in finding a life-supporting biosphere similar that of     of life based on its UV radiation.
                                                             the Earth. And though a new generation of extremely
                                                             large telescopes (ELTs) will become a reality in the       Dr. Ben-Ami will be a part of the latest revolutionary
                                                             coming decade and greatly increase scientists’             project in space exploration: the Israel-U.S. space-
                                                             ability to find and characterize terrestrial planets,      borne ULTRASAT mission, spearheaded by the
                                                             none of them will be able to detect oxygen.                Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Eli Waxman. ULTRASAT
                                                                                                                        represents a revolutionary step forward for the
                                                             So Dr. Ben-Ami set out to develop a spectrograph—          astrophysics community, because it is capable of
                                                             an instrument used to measure properties of                detecting and measuring the UV emissions from
                                                             light—but whose ability to capture extremely high          transient explosions minutes after they occur—not

Introducing                                                  spectral resolutions will enable the detection of
                                                             O2 as well. Initially, this instrument will be used
                                                                                                                        the days or weeks captured by current telescopic
                                                                                                                        systems. ULTRASAT is expected to generate a

Dr. Sagi Ben-Ami
                                                             alongside today’s telescopes, which, though not            “discovery rate”—the rate at which celestial events
                                                               equipped to detect molecular oxygen, can help in         are identified—that is 300 times greater than today’s
                                                               the study of large-sized planet atmospheres. Later,      technologies, revolutionizing our understanding of
                                                               when ELTs become available to the wider scientific       a wide range of explosive transient events, like the
                                                             community, his spectrograph archetype can be               explosions of stars and the disruption of stars by
                                                             used in conjunction with one of these ground-based         massive black holes.

D
                                                             telescopes to detect O2.
     r. Sagi Ben-Ami, an experimental                                                                                   A native of Tel Aviv, Dr. Sagi Ben-Ami earned his
                                                                                                                        BA (2005) and MSc (2008) in physics from the
     astrophysicist, is developing                           Here comes the sun                                         Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and his
     advanced instruments and                                Another major factor in a planet’s capacity for
                                                                                                                        PhD (2014) in physics from the Weizmann Institute
                                                                                                                        of Science.
methods that will help detect                                bioactivity is the ultraviolet (UV) radiation field from
                                                             its host star. Most of us think of UV radiation as         In 2014, he was awarded a NASA Einstein Fellowship
“bio-signatures”—substances that                             something we need to shield ourselves from with            and conducted his postdoctoral research at the
                                                             sunscreen and hats. And while high levels of UV            Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He
provide scientific evidence of past or                       radiation can destroy emerging biomolecules, we            returned to Israel with his wife, whom he met while
present life—on planets outside of our                       wouldn’t be here on Earth without it: UV radiation is      at Harvard, and rejoined the Weizmann family in
                                                             an important factor in the development of prebiotic        January 2020 in the Department of Particle Physics
solar system.                                                molecules—chemical or environmental precursors             and Astrophysics.

FINDING                                    ‫מכון ויצמן למדע‬
                                                             EARTH 2.0
                                                             ‫מכון ויצמן למדע‬
Weizmann MAGAZINE                                                                             New Scientists              SPRING 2020                                                                               Weizmann MAGAZINE

                                                                                                                       About half of the world population lives in coastal regions and relies, in part,

Sleuthing for the                                                                                                      on groundwater from coastal aquifers. The interface between land and sea,
                                                                                                                       and the interaction between groundwater and seawater, present a complex

fingerprint of water
                                                                                                                       and interconnected system.                                                 20–21

Introducing Dr. Yael Kiro, groundwater detective

G
                                                                                                                       of declining rainfall. Israel has few reservoirs, and is        University. Analyzing these samples will give a
    roundwater, seawater, ice, micro-droplets trapped in sediments,                                                    now desalinating seawater for human consumption                 detailed picture of the area’s paleoclimate over tens
                                                                                                                       and agricultural use.                                           of thousands of years.
    and evaporated minerals like Dead Sea salts can carry a chemical
                                                                                                                       At the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Kiro has expanded her            She also worked with a team in Norway, looking for
    signature that can be unlocked and read with the sophisticated                                                     research to study the circulation of seawater and               identifiable signatures to enable radium isotope
analytical tools being developed by scientists like Dr. Yael Kiro in the                                               groundwater in aquifers beneath the coastline of                fingerprinting of water unlocked by melting
                                                                                                                                                                                       permafrost. Permafrost in circumpolar regions has
                                                                                                                       Israel and the Mediterranean and is comparing that
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.                                                                            to other coasts around the world. One collaborative             recently undergone massive thawing, with severe
                                                                                                                       field project underway examines the coastal                     environmental consequences, including the release
Dr. Kiro is a geochemist who uses radioactive
isotopes and chemical clues to read the
                                                            Reading rocks like a book                                  sediments and aquifers of the Delaware coast in
                                                                                                                       the eastern United States, which present a very
                                                                                                                                                                                       of greenhouse

environmental record preserved in groundwater,              Geologists and geochemists like Dr. Kiro can read          different profile than Israel’s.
   lake sediments, ice cores, and coastal aquifers.         layers of sedimentary rock like a book that reveals
           As a PhD student at the Hebrew University        hundreds of thousands of years of history. Using
                  of Jerusalem, Dr. Kiro focused her        1,500 feet of core samples from the bottom of the
                           research on hydrology in         Dead Sea, Dr. Kiro co-led an international study
                                           the Dead         that showed evidence of two “mega” droughts from
                                                            this geological record: one that began
                                                            approximately 120,000 years

                                                                                                                        About half of the world population
                                                                                                                       lives in coastal regions and relies,
                                                                                                                       in part, on groundwater from                                                          gases
                                                                                                                       coastal aquifers. The interface                                                        and the possible amplification
                                                                                                     ago, when         between land and sea, and                                                               of global warming.
                                                                                            average global             the interaction between                                                                  The research team found
                                                                                     temperatures rose about four      groundwater and seawater,                                                                 an identifiable permafrost
                                                                               degrees Fahrenheit, and another         present a complex and                                                                     radioisotope fingerprint,
                                                                       about 10,000 years ago, following the last      interconnected system.                                                                    and showed that it could be
                                                            ice age.                                                   Understanding its                                                                         used to track the thawing of
Sea, and went on to develop a new concept for                                                                          dynamics is important for                                                                these long-trapped bodies
using radioactive isotopes to estimate the age of           In a recent study, Dr. Kiro helped compare the trace       practical purposes such as                                                              of water.
groundwater systems and to track the circulation of         chemicals in the tiny pockets of saline fluids found in    water management, with many
water in aquifers deep underground.                         core samples drilled in the deepest floor of the Dead      as-yet-unexplored questions                                                            Dr. Kiro received a long string
                                                            Sea. This gives scientists new insights into the Dead                                                                                          of awards and recognitions as
                                                                                                                       for a geochemist.
Water is a precious commodity in the arid Middle            Sea during the last interglacial and glacial periods                                                                                        a student and in her postdoctoral
East, and groundwater aquifers are a big part of            and some clues about changes in rainfall patterns at       The geologic record can also reveal                                           years,  including a three-month
Israel’s water equation. Dr. Kiro provides some of the      that time which might be relevant for the changes in       past climate changes and provide                                        internship with the U.S. Geological Survey
tools needed to learn how much water is present in          store to Israel in the near geological future.             information for environmental and climate           Dr. Yael Kiro funded by the United States–Israel Binational
                                                                                                                                                                            g
an aquifer, its salinity, and what kinds of minerals and                                                               models that are essential for future                                Science Foundation (BSF) in 2009. She did
pollutants are present. Being able to age and track         The alarming rate of the Dead Sea’s shrinkage—             predictions.                                                        her postdoctoral fellowship at the Lamont-
samples of groundwater can provide data on how              about a meter per year—is a well-known and                                                                                     Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia
long an aquifer takes to circulate and recharge. This       lamented phenomenon that is the result of water            Dr. Kiro spent much of the summer of 2019 along the           University, and spent time there as an associate
is vital information for politicians and planners as well   diversion projects, and industry pumping out the           Chilean coast in South America taking core samples            research scientist before joining the faculty of the
as earth scientists.                                        salty, profitable water for potash. It’s also the result   from the ocean sediments with a team from Rutgers             Weizmann    Institute in 2019.

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Weizmann MAGAZINE                                    Cover Story            SPRING 2020                                                                        Weizmann MAGAZINE

A wise future                                                            Cover Story                                                                                              22–23

for neuroscience                                                         neuroscience to be too high bear, and the success
                                                                         rate of neurological medicines too low. Achieving
                                                                         the scientific momentum necessary to address the
                                                                         urgent need for solutions demands collaborative,
                                                                                                                                   neuroscience research to a new level, the Weizmann
                                                                                                                                   Institute of Science is launching a $200 million
                                                                                                                                   flagship project, the Institute for Brain and Neural

Weizmann’s flagship initiative will make us smarter
                                                                                                                                   Sciences. It will take shape through the construction
                                                                         multidisciplinary partnerships that combine               of a state-of-the-art building that will serve as a
than ever about the human brain                                                          excellence in neurobiology with
                                                                                              insights from chemistry, physics,
                                                                                                                                   hub for more than 40 internationally renowned
                                                                                                                                   groups actively investigating topics of relevance
                                                                                                  linguistics, computer science,

N
                                                                                                                                   to brain research and neuroscience—including
     euroscience is at a critical juncture, with                                                      and engineering, among
                                                                                                         other fields.
                                                                                                                                   from physicists and computer scientists working
                                                                                                                                   beyond the archetypical borders of the life sciences.
     breakthroughs coming at a rapid pace. In the                                                                                  The building will also house a range of innovative
                                                                                                            To take advantage      technologies that will allow scientists to explore the
     last decade alone, new imaging techniques                                                                of recent            brain in entirely new ways.
                                                                                                                 developments
and tools that allow scientists to see, stimulate,                                                                 and             The Institute for Brain and Neural Sciences will
and record brain activity have opened the                                                                            catapult      comprise eight integrated research centers
                                                                                                                                   and an additional center for new technology
door to previously unfeasible studies. An                                                                                          development.
explosion of knowledge in genomics has                                                                                             It is expected to generate a synergy that leverages
spurred explorations of psychiatric and                                                                                            the Weizmann Institute’s permeable boundaries
                                                                                                                                   between departments, and its small size and informal
other brain disorders. Links between                                                                                               culture that enable free-flowing interactions and
                                                                                                                                   collaborations. And, of course, its great science.
the brain and the immune system
have led to new ways to think about
                                                                                                                                   Snapshot of success
diseases like Alzheimer’s, and the
                                                                                                                                   The results speak for themselves. The December
brain has been shown to be far                                                                                                     2019 issue of Nature Neuroscience—the highest-
                                                                                                                                    impact journal in the field—featured a record
more malleable than we ever                                                                                                          three articles from one institution, and that
thought possible.                                                                                                                     institution was the Weizmann Institute. In that
                                                                                                                                        issue, Prof. Alon Chen identified four distinct
Yet many fundamental mysteries remain                                                                                                    temperaments among mice—comparable to
unsolved. How do consciousness and                                                                                                        personality characteristics in humans—and
cognition emerge from the brain’s complex                                                                                                  linked them to specific genetic profiles,
neural networks? How does the brain respond                                                                                                 a major step towards enabling scientists
to everyday experience, and to emotional                                                                                                     to more deeply study mental health and
stress and physical trauma? Why does brain                                                                                                   illness in people. Prof. Rony Paz revealed
function decline with age, and what are the                                                                                                  how emotional learning and memory are
circumstances underlying mental illness or                                                                                                   represented in the brain by showing that
neurodegeneration?                                                                                                                            temporal sequences across neurons in the
                                                                                                                                              amygdala serve as a coding mechanism.
Paradoxically, these technological advances                                                                                                   Prof. Ofer Yizhar used cutting-edge
and bold questions come on the fleeing                                                                                                        optogenetics to track the dynamics of how
heels of big pharmaceutical companies,                                                                                                        the brain encodes social sensory cues, with
who have found the risk/reward ratio in                                                                                                       relevance to autism spectrum disorder.

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