Hebrew University News
Israel growing on Ghanaian agricultural student
Kwansimah Quansah completed her M.Sc. at the Division of External Studies at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture Food and Environment, and her tuition was generously supported by the Pears Foundation .
Read about her in the Jerusalem Post:
Israel growing on Ghanaian agricultural student
African native plans to improve farming standards in her homeland.
08 April, 2010
Hebrew University, US scientists discover genetic key to dramatically raise yields and improve taste of hybrid tomato plants
Dr. Uri Krieger with the hybrid tomato plants (Photo: Dr. Zach Lippman)
Spectacularly increased yields and improved taste have been achieved with hybrid tomato plants by researchers at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), New York.
The researchers have discovered the yield-boosting power of a single gene, which controls when plants make flowers and that works in different varieties of tomato and, crucially, across a range of environmental conditions. The discovery was patented by Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University, which is seeking potential partners for further development and commercialization.
"This discovery has tremendous potential to transform both the billion-dollar tomato industry, as well as agricultural practices designed to get the most yield from other flowering crops," says CSHL’s Dr. Zach Lippman, one of the three authors of the study, which appears in the magazine Nature Genetics online. The study is co-authored by Dr. Uri Krieger and Prof. Dani Zamir of the Hebrew University.
The team made the discovery while hunting for genes that boost hybrid vigor, a revolutionary breeding principle that spurred the production of outstanding hybrid crops like corn and rice a century ago. Hybrid vigor, also known as heterosis, is the phenomenon by which intercrossing two varieties of plants produces more vigorous hybrid offspring with higher yields.
First observed by Charles Darwin in 1876, heterosis was rediscovered by CSHL corn geneticist George Shull 30 years later, but how heterosis works has remained a mystery.
Plants carry two copies of each gene, and Shull’s studies suggested that harmful, vigor-killing mutations that accumulate naturally in every generation are exposed by inbreeding, but hidden by crossbreeding. But there is still no consensus as to what causes heterosis. A theory for heterosis, supported by this new Hebrew University-Cold Spring discovery, postulates that improved vigor stems from only a single gene – an effect called “superdominance” or “overdominance.”
To find such overdominant genes, the US-Israeli team developed a novel approach by turning to a vast tomato “mutant library” – a collection of 5000 plants, each of which has a single mutation in a single gene that causes defects in various aspects of tomato growth, such as fruit size, leaf shape, etc. Selecting 33 mutant plants, most of which produced low yield, the team crossed each mutant with its normal counterpart and searched for hybrids with improved yield. Among several cases, the most dramatic example increased yield by a whopping 60%.
This hybrid, the team found, produced greater yields because there was one normal copy and one mutated copy of only a single gene that produces a protein called florigen. This protein, touted as the breakthrough discovery of the year in 2004 in Science magazine, instructs plants when to stop making leaves and start making flowers, which in turn produce fruit.
In plants such as tomatoes, flowering (and therefore yield) is controlled by a delicate balance between the florigen protein, which promotes flowering, and another related protein that delays flowering. A mutation in only one copy of the florigen gene causes the hybrid to produce more flowers in less time – the key to improved yield. What the researchers found is that to maximize yield, there can’t be too much or too little florigen. A mutation in one copy of the gene results in the exact dose of florigen required to cause heterosis.
The scientists have observed the gene’s heterosis effect in different varieties of tomatoes and in plants grown in different climate and soil conditions, both in Israel and in New York at CSHL and the Cornell Horticultural Experiment Station at Riverhead, N.Y.
In addition to superior yield, the hybrids also display another, perhaps equally important quality – taste. Tomato plants only produce a finite amount of sugar, which they distribute equally among their fruits. So higher yields usually result in each fruit having a lower sugar content. But, remarkably, the florigen gene also boosted sugar content and sweetness of the individual fruits.
This study marks the first example of a single gene that consistently causes heterosis. The scientists are now looking to team up with agricultural companies to develop the hybrids for commercial use. The concept that mutations in one copy of a single gene can improve yield has broad implications for breeders. Mutant plants are usually thrown away because of the notion that mutations would have negative effects on growth, but this study suggests that hybrid mutations might lead the next revolution of improved crops.
Hebrew University researchers developing 'breakfast of champions'
An organic approach to pest control – releasing super-sexed
(but sterile) male insects to mate with their lady friends
Jerusalem, March 2010 – An improved method for sustainable pest control using “super-sexed” but sterile male insects to copulate with female ones is being developed by agricultural researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The scientists thus hope to offer yet another efficient and promising avenue for supplying produce to the market by eliminating pests without damage to the environment.
An assortment of chemicals, such as DDT, have been employed since early in the last century to control crop pests or carriers of diseases. However, this approach has led to the evolution of resistance to pesticides and has severely negative impact on human health and the environment.
As an alternative to the use of chemicals, Prof. Boaz Yuval at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is working on upgrading a veteran approach, known as the sterile insect technique. This method is currently employed against several dozen insect species. The principle is to rear millions of individuals of the species one seeks to control, separate the sexes, sterilize the males and release them into the field. It is expected that the sterile males will copulate with wild females, who will then be unable to lay fertile eggs, thus reducing the pest populations.
However, says Prof. Yuval, the process of rearing millions of male insects, sterilizing them and transporting them to the release site can severely affect their sexual competitiveness. The research in Yuval’s laboratory at the Department of Entomology focuses on improving this technique, as applied to fruit flies and mosquitoes.
Prof. Yuval has studied the behavioral and physiological elements that define the factors that contribute to male sexiness, and subsequently has devised ways to confer these characteristics on sterile males.
One of these factors is nutritional status. Yuval found that feeding males on high protein diets significantly improves their sexual performance. Recently (in collaboration with Hebrew University colleague Prof. Edouard Jurkevitch and graduate students Adi Behar, Miki Ben-Yosef, Sagi Gavriel and Eyal Ben Ami) Yuval also found that the bacteria residing in fruit flies are important, and that the factory reared flies lacked the bacteria found in wild insects.
With this information in hand, Yuval and his colleagues are formulating a high-protein, bacteria enhanced "breakfast of champions" which will be provided to males before their release, and significantly improve their sexual performance when released in the field. Their work is described in the ISME (International Society for Microbial Ecology) Journal.
Yuval believes that successful application of this approach can be applied to a variety of plant and animal pests, as well as to organisms that transmit human disease, thus making an important, organic and environmentally friendly approach to pest control.
Advances in Symbiosis Research - Training School
A training school for young researchers in the field of symbiosis,
entitled "Advances in Symbiosis Research", will take place in the
Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the
Hebrew University on March 14-19, 2010.
The activity is sponsored by the
EU COST Action FA0701 (Arthropod Symbiosis),
and organized by
Boaz Yuval (HU),
Einat Zchori-Fein (ARO),
Yuval Gottlieb (HU)
Edouard Jurkevitch (HU).
The 21 Participants in the activity are Ph.D.
students and postdocs from countries in Europe that participate in the COST
action. There will be 4 students from Italy, France,and Israel, and 1 from
Russia, Croatia, Hungary, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland and
Austria respectively. Eleven of the students are female and ten are male.
The teaching in the course will be done by Israeli lecturers,
drawn from the HU, ARO,TAU, Technion, the Weizmann Institute and Industry
In addition, three invited foreign lecturers
(from Japan, Italy and Greece) will participate.
Students and visiting lecturers will be housed in the Riesfeld guest
house on campus. The lectures will take place in the Faculty Club, and
workshops in the computer labs. A full day excursion (to the
Bio-Fly factories in Sde Eliyahu) is planned.
President Peres praises Hebrew University’s research to feed
world during visit to Robert H. Smith Agriculture Faculty
Professor Avner Adin, Head of Water Treatment Technology Laboratory,
presents a novel electrical-wetland hybrid system to President Peres
February 22, 2010 – Details about some of Israel’s most recent and innovative achievements in agriculture were presented to Israeli President Shimon Peres during his visit at the end of last week to the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In the course of his visit to the faculty’s Rehovot campus, the president heard a review from the faculty dean, Prof. Aharon Friedman, of research aimed at solving the problem of world hunger. In particular he heard from Prof. Yehoshua Saranga about his research regarding the potential of crop adaptation to better feed the world, and Prof. Shahal Abbo on his research on the benefits of hummous as a nutritious food for a hungry world.
The president then visited the laboratory of Prof. Avner Adin, where he heard of what is being done in water treatment and recycling and the hothouse of Dr. Menachem Moshelion, who researches water-saving and high-yield plants that are suitable for growing in dry regions. At the end of his visit, Peres was the guest at a luncheon with heads of departments and doctoral students.
The president said at the end of his visit, “I am proud of Israeli developments and technology in the area of agriculture and can say wholeheartedly that you, at the Hebrew University, are the best ambassadors of the State of Israel. No diplomatic explanations can serve as an alternative to your enormous contribution to agricultural development and the eradication of world hunger.”
The president was presented with a gift consisting of agricultural products produced at the faculty, including olives, wine, honey and exotic fruits.
Also participating from the Hebrew University in the presidential visit were the chairman of the Hebrew University Board of Governors, Mickey Federmann, and Vice-President for External Affairs Carmi Gillon.
Hebrew University researcher wins Krill Prize for excellence
Jerusalem, Feb. 17, 2010 – Dr. Masha Niv, a senior lecturer in the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been awarded a Krill Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research for 2010. The prize is worth $10,000.
Dr. Niv joined the university in 2007 after having led a team of researchers at Keryx Biopharmaceuticals and spending several years as a post-doctoral research fellow and Instructor at the Weill Medical College of Medicine at Cornell University.
Dr. Niv has established the first computational biology and structural bioinformatics laboratory at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Her research group is focused on application and development of simulation methods for the study of structure, interactions and dynamics of key signaling proteins. Recent accomplishments include rational design of anti-diabetic peptides and on computer-aided studies of the molecular basis for bitter taste perception.
Initiated in 2005 by the Krill family, the Krill Prizes are awarded annually in the fields of exact sciences, life sciences, medicine, agriculture and engineering. Prizes are awarded to young faculty members at Israeli universities who hold untenured positions. Recipients are selected by the Wolf Foundation Scholarships Committee.
Hebrew U. mourns passing of dedicated leader, philanthropist Robert H. Smith
Jerusalem, December 31, 2009 – One of the Hebrew University's most dedicated supporters, Robert H. Smith, passed away on December 29, 2009, at the age of 81.
Mr. Smith was a generous philanthropist, business leader and advocate for the Jewish people. A highly successful real estate developer, his professional achievements were matched by his dedication to humanitarian and Jewish communal causes. He fostered the strength of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and the American Jewish community in many ways.
"Bob Smith was a dedicated family man who also embodied the value of community leadership and responsibility," said Hebrew University President, Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson today. "His impact will long be felt by generations to come – whether young students being educated at the schools, universities, and cultural institutions he championed, or people in developing countries living healthier lives thanks to technologies made possible by his support. The Hebrew University community in Israel and abroad deeply mourns his passing – he shall be missed by us all."
Robert H. Smith served as Chairman of the University's Board of Governors from 1981-1985 and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University in 1984. He served as president of the Washington D.C. chapter of the American Friends of the Hebrew University, and along with his beloved wife Clarice and his children and grandchildren, frequently visited Israel and the university.
He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Robert H. Smith Institute for Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture at the Hebrew University’s Rehovot campus. This vanguard interdisciplinary research facility became the model for a broader expansion that is reshaping the future of sustainable agriculture in Israel and worldwide. Recently, the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture was officially rededicated as the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment in his honor.
Robert Hilton Smith was born July 21, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York. His family moved to Washington in 1942, and he graduated from Anacostia High School in 1946, the same year his father formed the Charles E. Smith Construction Co. He joined the firm after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1950.
He took over his father's businesses in 1967 and ran them for many years with his brother-in-law. Together they transformed the construction firm into a multifaceted real estate corporation, eventually becoming Washington's largest commercial real estate landlords.
In recent years, Mr. Smith devoted his attention to philanthropy - donating hundreds of millions of dollars to universities, museums and historic landmarks.
He is quoted as saying once that, "The person who is afraid to take risks and make mistakes will never achieve everything of which he or she is capable. One of the five greatest mistakes you can make in life is to be continually afraid you will make one."
He is survived by his wife Clarice, their children David Bruce Smith and Michelle Smith, his sister Arlene R. Kogod, and their grandchildren Michael Smith Liss, Stacey Smith Liss, Alexandra Smith and Max Smith.
01 December, 2008
Hebrew U. to present first-ever Einstein Award to Bill Gates at gala dinner in New York
Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will receive the first-ever Einstein Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Tuesday, Dec 2, at a gala dinner being hosted by the American Friends of the Hebrew University.
The award will be presented to him in New York in recognition of his unique impact on the world through philanthropy, global
leadership and technological vision. Proceeds from the event will benefit
pioneering research at The Hebrew University's
Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment,
developing innovative solutions to feeding the world through sustainable
Hebrew U. Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Environment named for Robert H. Smith of Washington
On Thursday, June 12, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of
Agriculture, Food and Environment in
Rehovot celebrated the naming
of the Faculty for Washington, D.C., philanthropist Robert H. Smith
In addition to Robert H. Smith, his wife Clarice, children David Smith
and Michelle Smith, and grandchildren Stacey and Michael Smith Liss, participants at
the ceremony included Hebrew University President Prof. Menachem Magidor, Israeli
Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simhon, Rehovot Mayor Shuki Forer and Faculty
researchers and students.
Minister Simhon called the Faculty "one of the best in the world in
its field… known for its vast contributions towards Israel’s becoming an agricultural
force, one of the most efficient, sophisticated, and advanced in the
Simhon emphasized that the generosity of the Smith
Family "will allow the Faculty to institute the necessary changes and adjustments in
teaching and research, in order to meet the challenges of modern agriculture and the
agricultural high-tech revolution of the 21st century."
The newly named Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and
Environment at the Hebrew University has committed itself to a new
vision, whose goal is to address the challenge of supplying sufficient healthy food to
the world's expanding population.
Faculty Dean Prof. Eli Feinerman said, “Our faculty
is striving to cope with the challenge of safeguarding our common future
by finding ways to produce nutritious, quality food at low cost and without causing
harm to the environment.”
Realizing this vision has required reorganization within the Faculty,
for example establishing a new Institute for Environmental Sciences and Natural
Resources in Agriculture, creating a special complex for veterinary medicine and animal
sciences, building teaching laboratories, increasing computerization, establishing four
interdisciplinary research centers, and attracting young scientists.
Smith family members (from left) David, Clarice, Michelle, Robert, Stacey and Michael
at the dedication on the newly named Smith Faculty
Thanks to the generosity of Robert H. Smith, the Faculty will be able
to go forward in striving to discover new and daring solutions for feeding humanity and
preserving the environment. Indeed, his generous gift has inspired the University’s
Friends associations around the world to commit themselves to raising funds for this
More about the new vision at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of
Agriculture, Food and Environment: http://hunews.huji.ac.il/upload/9424scopus08feb25FINAL.pdf
'New vision' at Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture
Jerusalem, Nov. 8, 2007
A "new vision" has been adopted by the Faculty of Agriculture, Food
and Environment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that will enable it
to cope with the challenges of providing food to the world's population in the 21st century.
According to Prof. Eli Feinerman, dean of the faculty, "The new vision aims at development
and implementation of innovative, daring and achievable solutions to provide healthy food for
the developing world, while preserving environmental quality. The rapid rate of population
growth and irresponsible human activity causing ecological damage are real threats facing the
earth. The faculty is working towards coping with the challenge of preserving our shared
future and believes that only interdisciplinary research will achieve our goals."
The Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences will hold a reception on
Saturday night, Nov. 10, honoring Robert H. Smith of Washington, D.C. for his key
contribution towards realizing the "new vision." Among those invited to participate are
prominent public figures and business leaders. Smith is a former chairman and today honorary
chairman of the Hebrew University's Board of Governors and the holder of an honorary doctor
of philosophy degree from the university.
"The Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences is one of the top
faculties of agriculture in the world," said Prof. Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew
University. The challenge is to find ways in which to provide high-quality food at lower
cost, while at the same time not harming the environment. Implementation of this vision
requires changes in the structure of the faculty, both in the physical and educational
spheres," said President Magidor.