Global First: Center for Combating Pandemics

TAU is combining interdisciplinary expertise with Israeli ingenuity to fight COVID-19 and future epidemics.

By Rava Eleasari

Despite tens of millions of cases worldwide and rising, SARS-Cov-2, the new coronavirus also referred to as COVID-19, remains largely misunderstood. The scientific and medical communities still do not know the causes – or long-term effects – of the killer virus’s wide range of symptoms. As more and more countries, including Israel, experience a second wave of COVID-19, with rising death rates and devastating economic consequences, it is more urgent than ever to crack the virus and secure a more certain future for all.

Against this backdrop, Tel Aviv University recently launched the Center for Combating Pandemics, the first of its kind in Israel and possibly the world. Building on TAU’s innovation record, interdisciplinary culture, and strong links with hospitals, industry and government, the Center has three main foci. It will strive to improve frontline containment of infection, bolster biomedical knowledge for developing vaccines and treatments, and strengthen nations’ capacity to ensure social and economic resilience. It will coordinate among the 100 groups researching the coronavirus across campus, as well as provide master’s and doctoral fellowships, upgrade labs and equipment, host visiting professors, run conferences and workshops, and facilitate international collaborations.

Seed funding for the Center has been generously provided by founding donor and TAU Honorary Doctor Frank Lowy, TAU Governors Dr. Kathy Fields-Rayant and Dr. Garry Rayant, the Yuri Milner Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv. The Center was inaugurated in an online ceremony and webinar on October 18.

“In the past 15 years, the world has seen a string of viral pathogens infect large numbers of people, among them SARS, MERS, swine flu and avian flu. Clearly, we are not safe from dangerous emerging diseases,” says Center Head Prof. Itai Benhar of TAU’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research. “We must look ahead.”

Professor Itai Ben Har

Pandemics Center Head Prof. Itai Benhar. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi.

Improving frontline performance

To ensure that Israel – and other countries – are better prepared, the Center will establish a Frontline Response Program. To this end, the Center will assemble groups of experts from fields such as preventive and emergency medicine, epidemiology, disaster management, psychology, social work and the health professions, along with data science, environmental studies and engineering. These teams will fine-tune tools and protocols for halting transmission.

Examples include a recent project, funded by Google, at TAU’s AI and Data Science Center for research employing AI techniques and advanced statistical methods to improve COVID-19 public health measures. Using government data, the researchers are building a model of the spread of the pandemic to assist in planning and testing various methods for stopping infection.

In another project, a team led by Prof. Motti Gerlic and Prof. Ariel Munitz, both of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, has developed a robotic blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus and is working with the Israel Defense Forces to test the method on soldiers.

Developing vaccine and therapies

Along with improving the emergency response to the pandemic, the Center will establish a Biomedical Solutions Task Force aimed both at deepening understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying the virus and at developing up-to-the-minute, precision drugs and technologies to diagnose, treat and prevent it. Dozens of TAU scientists are already making widely reported breakthroughs, often with colleagues at TAU-affiliated hospitals.

One particularly promising direction is the vaccine research of Prof. Jonathan Gershoni of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research. His vaccine candidate, which targets a vulnerability in the coronavirus’s well-known “spike” protein, was awarded a U.S. patent along with major funding from the 3M corporation. Other projects include repurposing a melanoma “nano-vaccine” to fight COVID-19 and the development of an antibody cocktail, which is expected to treat and temporarily prevent the virus.

Must History Repeat Itself?

“It was one of the worst outbreaks, killing 100,000 in just seven months. All public entertainment was banned and victims were forcibly shut into their homes to prevent the spread of disease.”

–Account of the bubonic plague epidemic in London, 1665

Supporting fact-based policymaking

The Center will mobilize scholars from non-biomedical fields including economics, law, public policy, management and education in a Social and Economic Resilience Think Tank aimed at informing national policy. Their goal will be to objectively look at what’s happening today, ask hard questions, and recommend solutions.

Questions could include: How do we as a society provide equitable access to medical services and resources to all those in need? How do we care for our elderly, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups? How do we strike the right balance between individual rights and public welfare?

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that you can’t separate the medical crisis from the socioeconomic crisis,” says Prof. Sigal Alon of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who studies employment. “The Center for Combating Pandemics will boost my ability to incorporate different perspectives in my recommendations to decision-makers to improve the job market in the corona era.”

 

Professor Sigal Alon

Prof. Sigal Alon. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi.

Center Head Prof. Benhar concludes: “Over the longer term, we envision the Center not only contributing to global efforts to combat and contain the current crisis, but also building the scientific and professional foundations to enable us to successfully cope with the next one.”

Rescue Mission: Pioneering TAU Program Preserves Ethiopian Jewish Heritage

“The students understand that if they don’t do it, it simply won’t happen.”

The Department of Biblical Studies at Tel Aviv University’s Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology is launching a new MA program, the first and only one of its kind in the world: Study and research of the Biblical texts of Ethiopian Jewry.

The Program, named “Orit Guardians” after the Ethiopian Bible, aims to study and safeguard the scriptures and culture of Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community, thus empowering its members and strengthening their status in Israeli society.

Biblical scholar Prof. Dalit Rom-Shiloni, who leads the initiative, explains: “The Scriptures of Beta Israel are accompanied by oral traditions of translation and interpretation, as well as prayers composed by the Kesim [religious leaders] for their communities through the ages. These cultural treasures are in danger of extinction, if an urgent effort is not made to document and preserve them – and this is our main goal. To our great delight, we found enormous enthusiasm among educated and socially aware Israelis of Ethiopian descent, who wish to safeguard their heritage for future generations.”

The students who have just begun their studies in the 2020-2021 academic year are all Ethiopian Israelis with bachelor’s degrees, highly aware of their heritage and eager to take part in the effort to preserve it. Prof. Rom-Shiloni: “The important point is that they are the only ones who can do the job. Unlike researchers who do not belong to Beta Israel, these students speak Amharic, and have access to the elderly Kesim.  This is a novel, pioneering and uniquely inspiring project. The students bring immense motivation and commitment, understanding fully well that if they don’t do it, it simply won’t happen – and this heritage, that is so precious to them, will be lost. We believe that the students’ research projects will contribute to the enhancement of the Jewish identity of Ethiopian Israelis and increase the public’s awareness of their culture, while establishing the heritage of Ethiopian Jews as an academic field of study and research in every aspect – cultural, historical, lingual, religious, spiritual and social – in both Israeli and international academia.”

Support for the Program is provided by the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation of Canada.

Prof. Rom-Shiloni: “The volumes of the Hebrew Bible, found in every Israeli household, are all almost absolutely identical, down to the letter. This text, known as the Masoretic Text, was consolidated in Tiberias between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. We know, however, that Biblical textual traditions existed hundreds of years before that time. Research on texts from the Second Temple period, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls, has revealed that in the last centuries BC Jewish communities held various versions of the sacred texts – which were essentially similar, but definitely not identical.

The Jews who came to Israel from Ethiopia brought their own Scriptures, written in Ge’ez – an ancient Semitic language known only to their spiritual leaders, the Kesim. Through the ages, a rich oral tradition emerged alongside the written text, including prayers in Ge’ez, as well as translations and interpretations created by the Kesim for their communities, in languages that they could understand – Amharic and Tigrinya. But Beta Israel’s way of life changed completely when they came to Israel – detracting from the Kesim‘s status, undermining their age-old training processes, and bringing these cultural treasures to the brink of extinction. The Orit Guardians program is, in a sense, a rescue mission undertaken to academically study this important heritage.”

The new Program’s  lecturers and supervisors will be faculty members at the Department of Biblical Studies as well as Dr. Anbessa Teferra, Head of the Semitic Linguistics Program at the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Linguistics, and Dr. Ran HaCohen of the Department of Literature. The Program is supported by an Academic Committee headed by Dr. Diana Lipton and consisting of TAU faculty members from three departments: Biblical Studies, Semitic Linguistics and Literature. The University envisions that the Orit Guardian Program will be expanded to include BA and PhD studies in the near future.

Featured image:

The ‘Orit Guardians’ Program

TAU’s Cyber Week 2020 Goes Virtual

Global cyber leaders and international researchers will gather on one virtual stage from October 19-21

TAU’s Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, the Israel National Cyber Directorate at the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will hold its annual Cyber Week conference online on October 19-21, 2020. Traditionally, the Cyber Week Conference takes place on the TAU campus and attracts over 10,000 international participants. This year, due to the global pandemic, the Cyber Week Conference will be held online.

Participants in this year’s event will include Yigal Unna, Director General of the National Cyber Directorate and Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, Head of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at TAU, as well as many prominent international figures from the fields of Cyber and Information Security, business, financial and technological sectors, and leading corporations in relevant areas. Speakers include: Gil Shwed, Udi Mokady, Esti Peshin, Omer Tene, Ofer Schreiber, Partner and Head of Israel Office at YL Ventures, Mikko Hypponen, Cyber Fraud Expert at F-Secure, Mark Russinovich, Microsoft VP and CTO, famous hacker Chris Roberts, Cyber Security guru Bruce Schneier, Jaya Baloo, Head of Information Security at Avast, Cyber expert Theresa Payton and others.

The National Cyber Week Conference is Israel’s chief annual event in the fields of Cyber and Information Security and a leading event globally. It serves as a major meeting ground for prominent cyber experts and researchers from around the world, alongside entrepreneurs, policymakers, international security organizations, diplomats and top business professionals. Its aim is to exchange cyber dialogue that focuses on current issues, trends and technological solutions. Topics to be addressed in this year’s event include: cyber trends as a result of the pandemic, challenges of working from afar, life after the pandemic, cyber and health systems, cutting-edge trends in cyber warfare, information privacy in the diplomatic context of terrorism and cybercrime, innovations in cloud security, law and cyber in Israel and worldwide, and more.

Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Conference and Head of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at TAU: “It is already clear that even if the COVID-19 pandemic is soon eradicated, life afterwards will be different. One aspect of the change will be increased use of online communication – as exemplified by this year’s online Cyber Week. This intensified use will increase our dependence on computer systems and digital communication, generating more opportunities for cyberattacks by malevolent actors.”

The updated program of the event

TAU Researchers Discover Antibody Combo that Fights COVID-19

The cocktail, which could treat and temporarily prevent the coronavirus, is advancing to clinical trials

Researchers at Tel Aviv University identified a combination of COVID-19 antibodies that can serve as both medication for patients and preventive treatment for high-risk populations.  The antibody cocktail will be tested in clinical trials over the next few months. Similarly, TAU has submitted a patent application for the antibodies discovered by the researchers.

The scientific breakthrough was achieved by Dr. Natalia Freund and PhD student Michael Mor at the Laboratory of Human Antibody Research at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. The results of the study are under revision in the PLOS Pathogens journal.

הדוקטורנט מיכאל מור בפעולה

PhD student Michael Mor

Another important find in the study was that asymptomatic COVID-19 sufferers or those who had mild symptoms developed a weaker antibody reaction, and therefore may contract the disease again. By contrast, all severely ill patients analyzed in the study developed neutralizing antibodies that are likely to protect them from reinfection.

Dr. Freund and her team sequenced thousands of antibodies produced in the bodies of Israeli COVID-19 patients. The researchers were able to isolate and characterize six antibodies derived from the blood of two severely ill patients. They then proved that combinations of three antibodies at a time are effective against COVID-19, providing natural immunity. The researchers found that the blood’s capacity for neutralizing the virus comes from several types of antibodies that simultaneously attack the virus, and the mix neutralizes the COVID-19 virus.

“Since the antibodies are natural and remain stable in the blood, one injection can protect against COVID-19 for several weeks, or even several months,” says Freund. “Our vision is that in the future, the cocktail will be used to treat COVID-19 patients – like the experimental cocktail administered to U.S. President Trump, or as a preventive measure for high-risk populations and medical personnel – until the much-awaited vaccine finally arrives. This cocktail was developed naturally by the patients’ immune systems, which means that it is probably safe for use,” say the researchers.

The team

The team

In the second stage of the project, the researchers tried to isolate specific antibodies that stop the virus from binding to the human cell and replicating itself inside the cell. They identified six different antibodies, obtained from two severely ill participants, and proved that these antibodies are effective in both treating and preventing infection in cell cultures.

The research began in April 2020, soon after the pandemic reached Israel. Dr. Freund and her team studied 18 of Israel’s earliest COVID-19 patients. “One question we asked was whether there was any difference between mild and severe cases – with regard to both the quality and quantity of the anti-viral antibodies produced by the immune system. We found a significant statistical difference between the two groups of patients in the ability of their antibodies to neutralize COVID-19: Only a small portion of the mildly ill participants developed neutralizing antibodies, and some developed no antibodies whatsoever. Thus, we may assume that people who were infected but remained asymptomatic or developed very mild symptoms, may possibly contract the disease a second time. The blood of all severely ill patients, on the other hand, contained neutralizing antibodies that will probably protect them from reinfection.”

Many experts took part in the project: participating patients were recruited with the help of Dr. David Hagin, Director of Allergy and Immunology at the Tel Aviv Sourasky (Ichilov) Medical Center and Dr. Oren Zimhony, Head of Infectious Diseases at the Kaplan Medical Center. Genetic sequencing of immune cells was conducted in collaboration with the Israeli startup immunai and sequence analysis was done with the help of Dr. Gur Yaari of Bar-Ilan University. The antibodies were characterized in collaboration with Prof. Jonathan Gershoni and Dr. Oren Kobiler of Tel Aviv University. Pseudo-viral neutralization assays were run with the assistance of Dr. Meital Gal-Tanamy and Dr. Moshe Dessau of Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. Neutralization tests for the cocktail of antibodies against the live virus were run in collaboration with Dr. Ben Croker of the University of California, San Diego.

Seeing the World in New Colors

A New Technology Allows to See and Capture on Camera Colors Unseen by the Human Eye

A new development of Tel Aviv University will allow us to identify on a “standard” camera, colors that the human eye and even ordinary cameras are unable to pick up. Among other things, the new technology will make it possible to image gases such as hydrogen, carbon and sodium, each of which has a unique color in the infrared or different biological substances that are found in nature but are “invisible” in the visible. The new technology has groundbreaking applications in a variety of fields – from everyday life, gaming and photography, through security, medicine and ending with remote sensing satellites in space.

Beyond what the eye sees

The groundbreaking research was conducted by Dr. Michael Mrejen, Yoni Erlich, Dr. Assaf Levanon and Prof. Haim Suchowski from the Department of Physics of Condensed Material at Tel Aviv University. The results of the study were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal “Laser & Photonics Reviews”.

“The human eye picks up photons at wavelengths between 400 nanometers – the blue color, and 700 nanometers – the red color,” explains Dr. Mrejen. “But it is only a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and more. Below 400 nanometers there is ultraviolet radiation, or UV, and above 700 nanometers there is the infrared radiation, which itself is divided into near, mid and far infrared. “In each of these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum there is a great deal of information on materials encoded as “colors” that has until now been hidden from view.” The researchers explain that the color in these parts of the spectrum is of great importance, since many materials have a unique signature, expressed as color, in the mid infrared range. Thus, for example, cancer cells could be easily detected as they have a higher concentration of molecules of a certain type. Existing infrared detection technologies are expensive and mostly unable to render those “colors”. In medical imaging, experiments have been performed in which infrared images are converted into visible light to identify the cancer cells by the molecules. To date, this conversion has been done color by olor and this required very sophisticated and expensive cameras, which were not necessarily accessible in the civil sector . In the study, the researchers were able to develop cheap and efficient technology that could mount on a standard camera and in fact allows for the first time to convert the photons of light from the entire mid infrared region to the visible region, at frequencies that the human (and standard camera) can pick up.

New colors. The technology that will change the way we see the world

The fingerprint of a color

“In the mid infrared, there is a one-to-one relationship between materials and their mid-infrared “colors”, especially organic molecules,” explains Prof. Suchowski. “Meaning, different materials have a different ‘fingerprint’ color. We humans see between red and blue. If we could see in the infrared realm, we would see that elements like hydrogen, carbon and sodium have a unique color. An environmental monitoring  satellite that would take a picture in this region would see a pollutant being now emitted from a plant, or a spy satellite would see where explosives or uranium are being hidden. In addition, since every object emits heat in the infrared, all this information can be seen even at night.”

After registering a patent for their invention, researchers from Tel Aviv University are currently developing the technology through a grant from the Innovation Authority’s KAMIN project, and they have already met with a number of companies – Israeli and Globao. “In the future we will be able to offer a device based on our unique crystal at a cost of a few hundred dollars, which could also be mounted on an iPhone – then everyone will be able to see at night, in colors not seen so far, providing an unimaginable wealth of information on our surroundings” concludes Prof. Suchowski.  

Immunity Memory Cells Stay Stable Over Time After Recovery From COVID-19

Joint research between TAU and Hasharon Hospital (Rabin Medical Center) proposes the new possibility

Researchers of Tel Aviv University examined blood samples from 60 patients at Hasharon Hospital who had recovered from Corona, and found that memory B cells specific to the virus remain stable over time, but concurrently the antibodies in the blood decrease within just a few months. This finding prompted the researchers to raise the possibility that in the event of re-infection with the virus, symptomatic illness will be insignificant. The research was conducted by Dr. Yariv Wine of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, and led by post-doctoral fellow Anna Vaisman-Mentesh, together with Dr. Dror Dicker, Director of the Department of Internal Medicine “D” at Hasharon Hospital, and department’s team.

They don’t forget so quickly

Since the SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, there is as yet no data on immune memory over time among those recovered from the virus. In the current research, Dr. Wine and team checked the level of antibodies, as well as the B cell count in their group of subjects. As has been shown in other previous studies, the antibodies acting on the viral protein responsible for attaching itself to target cells in the host body, develop very quickly – but decay following recovery. In contrast, B cells, that remember the viral proteins and can efficiently reactivate upon reinfection, do not decline in recovered subjects over a period of six months.

“Corona is a serious illness and includes long-lasting side effects,” Dr. Wine explains. “For that reason, rehabilitation centers have been established for those recovering from Corona, such as the one at Hasharon Hospital, and it also enables us to continue examining blood samples even many months after recovery. From among the group of recovered patients who have volunteered to be part of the research, we collected blood samples at predetermined time intervals – 3 months after onset of disease, and again 3 months later. From the data thus gathered, we can say that over at least a 6 month time period, the subjects maintained a stable level of memory B cells specific to the viral protein. The significance of this is that if these subjects become re-infected, their immune system can quickly respond: B cells will create a secondary reaction which may prevent illness. On the other hand, due to the decay of the antibodies, those who have recovered can still be carriers of the virus, and perhaps also be able to infect others.”

Since the antibodies in the blood of those recovered from Corona decay with time, and in some cases even fall below detection threshold just 3 months after recovery, Dr. Wine and his team fear that serological surveys may be providing an inaccurate picture to decision-makers regarding spread of infection.

Concern over problem in reliability results in serological surveys

“Health organizations and the media talk a lot about serological surveys that check the level of antibodies in the blood, as a way of inferring the spread of disease in the population,” Dr. Wine says. “These surveys are very important, but in the light of the data on the decay of antibodies among recovered subjects, we might get a negative result when testing those who were infected in the past. If the antibodies are not maintained over time, and those who have recovered can still carry the virus and infect others, it is challenging to extrapolate from these surveys the breadth of infection spread in the population.”

Dr. Dicker adds that we are in a process of ongoing learning about Corona virus clinical illness when some recovered subjects still carry the virus. These findings add to our understanding of chronic illness from Corona and may shed light on future capabilities of the immune system of these recovered subjects.

A 6,500-year old copper workshop uncovered in Beer Sheva

Study by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority reveals One of the oldest Workshop in the world

A new study by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority has been published, indicating that a workshop for smelting copper ore once operated in the Neveh Noy neighborhood of Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev Desert. The study, which was conducted over several years, began in 2017 in Beer Sheva when the workshop was first uncovered during an Israel Antiquities Authority emergency archeological excavation to safeguard threatened antiquities.

A Surprise at emergency archeological excavation

The new study also shows that the site may have made the first use in the world of a revolutionary apparatus: the furnace. The study was conducted by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, Dana Ackerfeld and Omri Yagel of the Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at Tel Aviv University, in conjunction with Dr. Yael Abadi-Reiss, Talia Abulafia, and Dmitry Yegorov of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Yehudit Harlavan of the Geological Survey of Israel. The results of the groundbreaking study were published in the prestigious Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

According to Talia Abulafia, Director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The excavation revealed evidence for domestic production from the Chalcolithic period, about 6,500 years ago. The surprising finds include a small workshop for smelting copper with shards of a furnace – a small installation made of tin in which copper ore was smelted – as well as a lot of copper slag.”

The Chalcolithic period (the word “chalcolithic” is made up of the Greek words for “copper” and “stone”) is called thus because although metalworking was already in evidence, the tools used were still made of stone. An analysis of the isotopes of ore remnants in the furnace shards show that the raw ore was brought to Neveh Noy neighborhood from Wadi Faynan, located in present-day Jordan, a distance of more than 100 kilometers from Beer Sheva.

During the Chalcolithic period, when copper was first refined, the process was made far from the mines, unlike the prevalent historical model by which furnaces were built near the mines for both practical and economic reasons. The scientists hypothesize that the reason was the preservation of the technological secret.

Regional Technology Experts

“It’s important to understand that the refining of copper was the high-tech of that period. There was no technology more sophisticated than that in the whole of the ancient world,” Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef says. “Tossing lumps of ore into a fire will get you nowhere. You need certain knowledge for building special furnaces that can reach very high temperatures while maintaining low levels of oxygen.”

Work on the dig in Beer Sheva. Photograph : Anat Rasiuk, Israel Antiquities Authority

Prof. Ben-Yosef notes that the archeology of the land of Israel shows evidence of the Ghassulian culture, thus named for the archeological site in Jordan, Tulaylât al-Ghassûl, where the culture was first recognized. This culture, which spanned the region from the Beer Sheva Valley to present-day southern Lebanon, was unusual for its artistic achievements and ritual objects, as evidenced by the wondrous copper objects discovered at Nahal Mishmar and now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

According to Prof. Ben-Yosef, the people who lived in the area of the copper mines traded with members of the Ghassulian culture from Beer Sheva and sold them the ore, but they were themselves incapable of reproducing the magic. Even among the Ghassulian settlements along Wadi Beer Sheva, copper was refined by experts in special workshops. A chemical analysis of remnants indicates that every workshop had its own special “recipe,” which it did not share with its competitors. It would seem that, in that period, Wadi Beer Sheva was filled with water year-round, making the location convenient for smelting copper where the furnaces and other apparatus were made of clay.

The Quarter of Metal Producers

Prof. Ben-Yosef further notes that, even within Chalcolithic settlements, i.e. in the settlements that had both stone and copper implements, the secret of the gleaming metal was held by the very few, members of an elite. “At the beginning of the metallurgical revolution, the secret of metalworking was kept by guilds of experts. All over the world, we see metalworkers’ quarters within Chalcolithic settlements, like the neighborhood we found in Beer Sheva.”

The study discusses the question of the extent to which this society was hierarchical or socially stratified, as society was not yet urbanized. The scientists feel that the findings from Neveh Noy strengthen the hypothesis of social stratification. Society seems to have consisted of a clearly defined elite possessing expertise and professional secrets, which preserved its power by being the exclusive source for the shiny copper. The copper objects were not made to be used, but rather served some ritual purpose and thus possessed symbolic value. The copper axe, for example, wasn’t used as axe. It was an artistic and/or cultic object modeled along the lines of a stone axe. The copper objects were probably used in rituals while the everyday objects in use continued to be of stone.

The furnace may have been invented in the Land of Israel

“At the first stage of humankind’s copper production, crucibles rather than furnaces were used,” says Prof. Ben-Yosef. “This small pottery vessel, which looks like a flower pot, is made of clay. It was a type of charcoal-based mobile furnace. Here, at the Neveh Noy workshop that the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, we show that the technology was based on real furnaces. This provides very early evidence for the use of furnaces in metallurgy and it raises the possibility that the furnace was invented in this region. It’s also possible the furnace was invented elsewhere, directly from crucible-based metallurgy, because some scientists view early furnaces as no more than large crucibles buried in the ground. The debate will only be settled by future discoveries, but there is no doubt that ancient Beer Sheva played an important role in advancing the global metal revolution and that in the fifth millennium BCE the city was a technological powerhouse for this whole region.”

Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef

Prince of Monaco to TAU: Together, We Can Fix Environment

Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution but one example of productive ties between TAU and Monaco, says Albert II, during webinar

Tel Aviv University held an online meeting on September 24 with the Prince of Monaco, Albert II, together with entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Aaron G. Frenkel, Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and Head of the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution, and Mr. Nico Rosberg, a sustainability entrepreneur and Formula One World Champion. The meeting, which addressed environmental issues and sustainability development, was also attended by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat and Prof. Francois Heilbronn, President of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University, who acted as moderator.

Years of collaboration

The Prince has actively promoted environmental causes for many years, leading quite a number of environmental initiatives, both local and international. In 2006, he established the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation which advances environmental protection and sustainable development, supporting studies and research on environmental issues, technological innovation and social awareness practices. TAU and Monaco have been collaborating for several years. In December 2017, a delegation from TAU participated in a gala event focusing on the environment, smart cities and ecology, in collaboration with the Foundation. In June 2018, Prince Albert II received an Honorary Doctorate from TAU, in recognition of his deep commitment to preserving the environment for future generations, while promoting collaborations for finding solutions to problems of climate, water and ecosystem diversity. Last September in Monaco TAU launched the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution, supported by Aaron Frenkel. This initiative is a continuation of the joint agreement for combating pollution signed during Albert II’s visit to TAU in June 2018. “Many organizations in Monaco are now connected with scientists from Tel Aviv university, working on different projects for combating pollution,” Frenkel says. “I hope others will join me, and we could create a momentum of projects bettering our places and the world as such.” The joint initiative will support applied research at the Department of Environmental Studies and the Department of Geography and Human Environment at TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. Research will focus on solutions for problems of air pollution, while also supporting Monaco’s activities in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energy. “In the Porter School of Environment, we are trying for the last six years to promote innovative startup companies in the field of smart abilities. We just recruited a new round of startups last week thanks to the generous support of Mr. Frenkel and the collaborations with Monaco,” says Prof. Price. Featured image: Top left clockwise: Prince of Monaco, Albert II, Aaron G. Frenkel, Prof. Colin Price and Mr. Nico Rosberg

Researchers Identified the Genetic Causes of Inherited Hearing Loss in the Jewish Population of Israel

A New Gene for Human Deafness Found in a Family in Israel

In the Jewish population of Israel, until now, seven genes were known to be involved in hearing loss. Now, thanks to a new study led by Zippora Brownstein, PhD, and Prof. Karen Avraham from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the number of genes known to be responsible for inherited hearing loss in Israeli Jewish families is 32.

These results have immediate implications for genetic counseling for families with hearing loss and for care of children with hearing loss. The research was in cooperation with scientists from multiple Israeli universities and hospitals, and from the University of Washington in Seattle, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethlehem University, the University of Iceland, and the University of Maryland. The researchers also identified a mutation in a gene not previously recognized to cause hearing loss in humans. This breakthrough research was published recently in the journal Clinical Genetics.

The 25th gene

More than 150 genes are known to science to be involved in hearing loss. Genetic diagnoses for inherited hearing loss have previously been difficult, both world wide and in Jewish communities, because any one of so many different genes, and any of many mutations in each gene, could be the cause. Until now, mutations in only seven of the 150 genes had been detected among persons with hearing loss in the Jewish population of Israel. In the current study, which included 88 Israeli families with hearing loss, the researchers identified mutations in 25 additional genes.

Although 24 of the 25 genes are known to cause hearing loss in families worldwide, most of the specific mutations in Israeli Jewish families are newly observed and thus far known only the Jewish community. The 25th gene, called ATOH1, was found for the first time to cause hearing loss in humans.

Organ of Corti of the inner ear labelled with antibodies to show sensory hair cells responsible for hearing. Photo Credit: Shahar Taiber & Prof. Karen Avraham

“We know that ATOH1 has an important role in the ear,” explains Prof. Avraham, “without it, hair cells of the inner ear – the cells responsible for our hearing – cannot develop properly. Until now, a mutation in this gene was identified only in mice, and the mice had a hearing loss. We found a similar mutation in relatives with hearing loss in a large family in Israel – the first people in the world known to have a mutation in this gene. I believe we will find more families, both in Israel and abroad, with mutations in this gene that cause hearing loss. The goal is that with this information, new treatment possibilities for people with hearing loss will be developed – including gene therapy.”

Prof. Avraham adds: “We surveyed Jewish families throughout Israel with all types of hearing loss: from congenital to older age at onset, and from moderate to profound. Our survey exploited advanced gene sequencing technology, including a custom gene panel that we created, called HEar-Seq. This custom gene panel allowed us to simultaneously sequence all 150 genes known to be involved in hearing loss, and many “candidate genes” as well. HEar-Seq revealed the distribution of genes and their mutations responsible for hearing loss in all the Jewish communities that make up modern Israel. It led us to ATOH1.

Our discoveries have immediate implications for genetic counseling, which can enable families to prevent additional cases of hearing loss through pre-gestational genetic diagnosis and in-vitro fertilization. Also, for many families, treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss can be tailored to the family’s specific mutation. The findings of this study allow doctors and audiologists in Israel to provide personally tailored treatment to patients with inherited hearing loss.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Israel Precision Medicine Program of the Israel Science Foundation, the Ernest and Bonnie Beutler Research Program of Excellence in Genomic Medicine, the Hedrich Charitable Trust, and travel grants from the University of Washington Virginia Bloedel Hearing Research Institute.

Prof. Karen Avraham

Zippora Brownstein, PhD

Finding Humor in Imperfection

The “TAU Review” held a Zoom interview with well-known Israeli comedian, writer and TV and radio host, Einav Galili, who earned her BA in psychology and arts from TAU in 2001.
By Melanie Takefman “Holocaust jokes are a wonderful thing,” says TAU alumna Einav Galili. “When you laugh at something, it doesn’t dishonor it; it’s another way of dealing with something that’s impossible to deal with…the Holocaust intrigues me and in that way it is totally mine to laugh about.” By contrast, if a German told a Holocaust joke, “I would shoot him,” she says jokingly, maintaining her trademark poker face. “Comedy is a way to expose our dark side without anyone dying.” For decades, Galili has brought a sharp, intellectual and hilariously wry voice to Israeli media.  Yet, with her influence comes responsibility: Galili believes that she has a role to play in shaping public discourse. “It’s part of my job to extract topics from their conventional molds and clichés and forge something more complex,” she says. In Israel, “you must be radical to have a presence…People want short, extreme and click-baity. I often try to give a fuller picture….I try very hard not to be predictable.” The same is true about the range of subjects she broaches on the morning radio show she co-hosts: from politics to the connection between Koala and human diseases. For Galili, comedic and serious content need not be separated. “The most interesting people are those whose humor is laced with pain and whose pain is laced with humor. In the end, it’s all different layers of the same thing.” Yet, sometimes being funny comes at a cost. As a main panelist on one of the country’s longest-running TV satires, State of the Nation (later renamed Back of the Nation), Galili is no stranger to controversy. “What we say makes people uncomfortable…..It’s a program that’s a big headache to support and maintain. You have to withstand pressure and you receive angry phone calls.” Still, she has never been censored. With governments around the world cracking down on journalists and limiting freedom of speech, she doesn’t take that for granted and considers herself “spoiled” in this respect.  At the same time, she says that viewers themselves often quash serious programming. “You come home in the evening. Life is tough…it’s hard to make a living…there are a million things to deal with. You don’t have the energy for another burdensome investigation about violence against women. You want Netflix!” she says. “I can understand them.” Exposing national neuroses That being said, satire is “like the vital signs of a human body. If we don’t have it, it’s like declaring death.” ​​​Humor is especially important during crises such as the Corona pandemic. “Sometimes humor can be divisive; one groups laughs at another. But when people laugh about a common experience such as Corona, it brings people together.” She adds, Humor exposes the neuroses that characterize Israeli society….there is a very interesting dance with humor around taboos. It helps determine what’s legitimate and what’s not.”   Photo: Adi Orni In addition to her radio show and Back of the Nation, she hosts the Israeli version of the BBC TV program Room 101, in which she interviews Israeli personalities about their biggest fears or pet peeves. She also lectures about humor and writes newspaper columns. She recently produced a documentary about the anti-aging industry. Galili is one of several well-known female comedians in Israel, but women are still the minority in the field. An avowed feminist, she says that she insists on having at least one female writer on the Back of the Nation team. What separates her from her male counterparts, she says, are the jokes she doesn’t make. She will never make a joke about a woman being old or ugly or fat, she says. ”It’s not in my agenda.”
She will, however, soliloquize about her children’s hamsters, riffing on their proclivity for reproduction and what happened when she had to eulogize one of two identical pets (she didn’t know which one died.)

​Her various endeavors have given her insights into the human psyche. ”We live in a society preoccupied with perfection: We strive to look perfect, to make a good impression, to portray ourselves as more than what we are, more beautiful, younger, more confident, more successful in our careers, taller, skinnier.”

To her, perfect is boring. It is exactly in imperfection“the defects and the cracks”that she finds her most engaging and inclusive material.

Drawing on academic training Analyses like these exemplify how psychology permeates Galili’s many professional roles. Her TAU studies left an imprint on her in other ways too. Studying at the University taught her discipline and the value of hard work. In academia, and particularly in psychology, a very competitive program, everything is systematic, she says. If you put in the effort, you see results. Her studies also armed her with critical thinking skills—how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable information—an important ability in the era of social media and fake news. Galili recalls her time at TAU as a very enjoyable and enriching experience. She was completely immersed in her studies, alongside “amazing” classmates and inspiring professors. She remembers Prof. Ina Weiner, a “fascinating” professor who taught her honors psychology, and art historian Dr. Henry Unger, who “taught me elementary terms about the arts world. It was precisely enough to know what to look for.” As an alumna, Galili is one of 85,000 members of the TAU Alumni Organization, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, under the direction of Sigalit Ben Hayoun. The Organization’s goal is to leverage the influence of TAU alumni as a positive force in Israeli society and serve alumni through shared knowledge, networking and opportunities. Upon receiving her BA, Galili completed the coursework for a master’s degree in psychology, but never submitted a thesis. Even though she is very happy with where her career has taken her, she has never stopped dreaming of returning to TAU to complete her MA. We hope she realizes that dream. Featured image: Einav Galili. Photo: Shay Bachar.

Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University

1/459 Toorak Road, Toorak VIC 3142
Phone:  +61 433614222
Email: office@aftau.asn.au