TAU-led team discovers new way black holes are “fed”

These “giant monsters” were observed suddenly devouring gas in their surroundings

Supermassive black holes weigh millions to billions times more than our sun and lie at the center of most galaxies. A supermassive black hole several million times the mass of the sun is situated in the heart of our very own Milky Way.

Despite how commonplace supermassive black holes are, it remains unclear how they grow to such enormous proportions. Some black holes constantly swallow gas in their surroundings, some suddenly swallow whole stars. But neither theory independently explains how supermassive black holes can “switch on” so unexpectedly and keep growing so fast for a long period.

A new Tel Aviv University-led study published today in Nature Astronomy finds that some supermassive black holes are triggered to grow, suddenly devouring a large amount of gas in their surroundings.

Following the light

In February 2017, the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae discovered an event known as AT 2017bgt. This event was initially believed to be a “star swallowing” event, or a “tidal disruption” event, because the radiation emitted around the black hole grew more than 50 times brighter than what had been observed in 2004.

However, after extensive observations using a multitude of telescopes, a team of researchers led by Dr. Benny Trakhtenbrot and Dr. Iair Arcavi, both of TAU’s Raymond & Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, concluded that AT 2017bgt represented a new way of “feeding” black holes.

“The sudden brightening of AT 2017bgt was reminiscent of a tidal disruption event,” says Dr. Trakhtenbrot. “But we quickly realized that this time there was something unusual. The first clue was an additional component of light, which had never been seen in tidal disruption events.”

Dr. Arcavi, who led the data collection, adds, “We followed this event for more than a year with telescopes on Earth and in space, and what we saw did not match anything we had seen before.”

The observations matched the theoretical predictions of another member of the research team, Prof. Hagai Netzer, also of Tel Aviv University.

“We had predicted back in the 1980s that a black hole swallowing gas from its surroundings could produce the elements of light seen here,” says Prof. Netzer. “This new result is the first time the process was seen in practice.”

Mysterious re-activation 

Astronomers from the U.S., Chile, Poland and the U.K. took part in the observations and analysis effort, which used three different space telescopes, including the new NICER telescope installed on board the International Space Station.

One of the ultraviolet images obtained during the data acquisition frenzy turned out to be the millionth image taken by the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory — an event celebrated by NASA, which operates this space mission.

The research team identified two additional recently reported events of black holes “switched on,” which share the same emission properties as AT 2017bgt. These three events form a new and tantalizing class of black hole re-activation.

“We are not yet sure about the cause of this dramatic and sudden enhancement in the black holes’ feeding rate,” concludes Dr. Trakhtenbrot. “There are many known ways to speed up the growth of giant black holes, but they typically happen during much longer timescales.”

“We hope to detect many more such events, and to follow them with several telescopes working in tandem,” says Dr. Arcavi. “This is the only way to complete our picture of black hole growth, to understand what speeds it up, and perhaps finally solve the mystery of how these giant monsters form.”

Discovery of a binary star orbited by three planets

Discovery by a team of researchers, including Prof. Tsevi Mazeh from the School of Physics and Astronomy

Astronomers have discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 system, turning the system’s to be one of the most interesting known binary stars.

Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, a team of researchers, including Prof. Tsevi Mazeh from TAU, detected a new Neptune-to-Saturn-size planet orbiting between two previously known planets. The system is now known to include two suns in a very close orbit, circled by three planets. This is the only known double star with more than one circumbinary planet known.

Further information >

Image credit: NASA

From VR to the migrant crisis at TAU’s international film festival

International students, filmmakers and glitterati attend to 21st edition of the TAU student film festival, held throughout the city of Tel Aviv

The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival — one of the largest and most influential student film festivals in the world, according to CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools — celebrated its 21st edition on June 16-22 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

 

“This year we stressed the tension between traditional forms of filmmaking and the inventive storytelling of the digital age we are in,” says Mya Kaplan, co-director of this year’s festival with Talia Wigoder. “While most of the films screened were ‘traditional’ in the sense that an audience is watching artwork on a screen, many student filmmakers employed cutting-edge technology that afforded audience members the opportunity to truly experience the stories as they unfolded. This technology might be a 360-degree camera that twirls the spectator around or 3D animation, or virtual reality. We are a new generation of filmmakers who fall right in between traditional and future modes of storytelling.”

 

“We embarked on two new events at the festival this year that showcase how the digital age allows artists to tell their stories in new, bright and interesting ways,” Wigoder adds. “The International Digital Media Exhibition and Competition allows visitors to physically enter a film through virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence. Technology allows spectators to sit up from their seats and immerse themselves in the creative process. The Experimental Film Competition showcases films that question the position of contemporary art, of fundamental cultural concepts, without providing any answers.”

 

The only school where filmmakers own their work

The festival was founded in 1986 by students from Tel Aviv University’s Steve Tisch School of Film and Television and is now an annual event supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council and TAU. The Tisch School is the only film school in the world where student filmmakers own the rights to their student films. The School’s admission policy is equally unique. All qualified applicants — high school graduates with appropriate college entrance exam scores, etc. — are admitted to the first-year BFA program. Sixty-five students are invited to continue to the second year, after faculty and lecturers have had the opportunity to gauge the quality and artistic merit of their work.

 

Still from Adi Mishnayot’s film “Image of Victory”

 

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Head of the Tisch School Prof. Raz Yosef and others paid homage to festival participants and organizers in a video screened during the opening ceremony at Jaffa’s HaPisga Garden.

 

“The increasing global impact of the Tisch School is demonstrated not only by the wide pull of the Festival, but also by our outstanding showing on the international stage,” Prof. Porat says.

 

“Last year, Tisch students presented their films at 312 screenings in over 30 countries and received 68 awards from major venues such as Locarno and Jerusalem,” Prof. Porat adds. “This year the Tisch School launched an English-language International MFA Program in Documentary Cinema, a particular strength in Israel that we can now export and leverage for additional partnerships with top institutions abroad.”

 

Over 100 student films 

Prize-winning films included Andreas Muggli’s Hamama and Caluna (The International Competition); Adi Mishnayot’s Image of Victory (The Israeli Competition); Lee Gilat’s Committed (The Short Independent Competition); Yair Bartal and Nofar Laor’s Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost (The Digital Media Competition); and Or Arieli’s Billboard (The Experimental Film & Video Competition).

 

Still from Lee Gilat’s film “Committed”

 

This year’s festival showcased more than 100 short films from 28 countries and drew more than 100 film students, filmmakers and directors from around the world for special screenings, master classes and cultural pop-up events across the city. The festival’s unique Film Bus, a traveling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, made its eighth nationwide circuit.

 

In addition, the festival, in cooperation with Israeli fashion house Renuar, emphasized the special connection between cinema and fashion. A variety of fashion-centric lectures by designers and international stylists and screenings of fashion films were held across the city. Master classes held by members of the Israel Screenwriting Guild and the Makor Hebrew Foundation on how to make films outside the film school framework were among the best-attended festival events.

Featured image: A still from Andreas Muggli’s winning film “Hamama and Caluna”

 

Protein Mapping Pinpoints Why Most Metastatic Melanoma Patients Do Not Respond to Immunotherapy

Lipid metabolism found to affect cancer cells’ visibility to the immune system, say TAU, Sheba Medical Center researchers

Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Center researchers say they have discovered why more than half of patients with metastatic melanoma do not respond to immunotherapy cancer treatments.

Wielding proteomics, an innovative “protein mapping” approach, a team of researchers led by Prof. Tami Geiger, Prof. Gal Markel, and Dr. Michal Harel of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and Sheba’s Ella Lemelbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology have answered the burning question: Why do immunotherapy treatments greatly help some patients with melanoma but not affect 60 percent of metastatic melanoma patients?

The researchers, whose findings were published on September 5 in Cell, compared the responses of 116 melanoma patients to immunotherapy — one group in which immunotherapy was successful and a second in which immunotherapy was not successful. Harnessing proteomics, a powerful protein mapping technology, they discovered differences in the metabolism, or energy production process, of the cancer cells of the two groups.

“In recent years, a variety of cancer immunotherapy therapies have been used, therapies that strengthen the anti-cancer activity of the immune system,” explains Prof. Markel, a senior oncologist and scientific director of the Ella Lemelbaum Institute. “These treatments have been shown to be highly effective for some patients and have revolutionized oncology. However, many patients do not respond to immunotherapy, and it is critical to understand why.

“Can we predict who will respond? Can we alter treatment in order to increase responses? In our research, we focused on metastatic melanoma, a devastating disease that until recently had no efficient treatments. It was clear to us that pre-treatment samples from responders and non-responders would be key.”

To better understand treatment resistance mechanisms, the scientists examined tumors taken from 116 patients using proteomics.

“In the proteomic lab, we use an instrument called a mass-spectrometer, which enables global mapping of thousands of proteins,” explains Prof. Geiger, head of TAU’s Proteomics Lab. “We then followed up with extensive computational analysis to identify the proteins that differentiated between the response groups.”

The proteomic comparison identified major differences between responders and non-responders to immunotherapy. “In the responders, we found higher levels of proteins associated with lipid metabolism, which led to better recognition by the immune system,” says Prof. Geiger.

In collaboration with the Salk Institute in San Diego and Yale School of Medicine, researchers then examined their findings in melanoma tissue cultures and a mouse model of metastatic melanoma.

Using genetic engineering, they were able to silence the mechanism responsible for fatty acid metabolism.

“We found that upon silencing this metabolic pathway, the cancer cells manage to ‘hide’ from T-cells that are supposed to detect and destroy them,” says Prof. Geiger. “As a result, cancer in these mice developed at a faster rate compared to the control group.

“In our study, we identified a significant difference between melanoma patients who live for years thanks to immunotherapy, and patients who are not at all affected by the treatment.”

“These findings can also be relevant to many other malignancies,” adds Prof. Markel. “Now, in subsequent studies, we are looking for ways to improve the response to immunotherapy and expand the circle of patients who benefit from it. In addition, we are looking for a method that will allow clinicians to anticipate which patients will respond to treatments.”

Study shows Europeans migrated to the Levant 40,000 years ago

Discovery of teeth in Manot Cave sheds light on a population known for its cultural contributions, TAU researchers say
Who exactly were the Aurignacians, who lived in the Levant 40,000 years ago? Researchers from Tel Aviv University, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Ben-Gurion University now report that these culturally sophisticated yet mysterious humans migrated from Europe to the Levant some 40,000 years ago, shedding light on a significant era in the region’s history. The Aurignacian culture first appeared in Europe some 43,000 years ago and is known for having produced bone tools, artifacts, jewelry, musical instruments, and cave paintings. For years, researchers believed that modern man’s entry into Europe led to the rapid decline of the Neanderthals, either through violent confrontation or wresting control of food sources. But recent genetic studies have shown that Neanderthals did not vanish. Instead, they assimilated into modern human immigrant populations. The new study adds further evidence to substantiate this theory. Through cutting-edge dental research on six human teeth discovered at Manot Cave in the Western Galilee, Dr. Rachel Sarig of TAU’s Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research and Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute in collaboration with Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority and colleagues in Austria and the United States, have demonstrated that Aurignacians arrived in modern-day Israel from Europe some 40,000 years ago — and that these Aurignacians comprised Neanderthals and Homo sapiens alike.

Teeth stand the test of time

“Unlike bones, teeth are preserved well because they’re made of enamel, the substance in the human body most resistant to the effects of time,” Dr. Sarig explains. “The structure, shape, and topography or surface bumps of the teeth provided important genetic information. We were able to use the external and internal shape of the teeth found in the cave to associate them with typical hominin groups: Neanderthal and Homo sapiens.” The researchers performed in-depth lab tests using micro-CT scans and 3D analyses on four of the teeth. The results surprised the researchers: Two teeth showed a typical morphology for Homo sapiens; one tooth showed features characteristic of Neanderthals; the last tooth showed a combination of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens features. This combination of Neanderthal and modern human features has, to date, been found only in European populations from the early Paleolithic period, suggesting their common origin.

A first-of-its-kind discovery

“Following the migration of European populations into this region, a new culture existed in the Levant for a short time, approximately 2,000-3,000 years. It then disappeared for no apparent reason,” adds Dr. Sarig. “Now we know something about their makeup.” “Until now, we hadn’t found any human remains with valid dating from this period in Israel,” adds Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, head of the Dan David Center, “so the group remains a mystery. This groundbreaking study contributes to the story of the population responsible for some of the world’s most important cultural contributions.”

TAU’s new center will combine medicine and food security

A new center for plant sciences, in partnership with Adama, will train the next generation of experts in delivery and formulation, key aspects of modern agriculture

Tel Aviv University and Adama, one of the leading companies in plant protection, have launched a unique research and teaching program in the field of delivery (the stage of transporting and linking the active substance to its target site in weeds or agents harmful to plants) and formulation, which is a growth and innovation engine in the field of food, agriculture and plant protection. The innovative curriculum will be taught at the “Adama Center for Advanced Transportation Systems for Plant Protection Materials”, at the School of Chemistry, in collaboration with the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. As part of the program, researchers and students will be acquiring advanced degrees in Israel and abroad.

Adama offers farmers effective solutions and services for dealing with weeds, pests and lesions and improving their crops. About a year ago, the company inaugurated an innovative research and development center in Neot Hovav, which houses more than 100 researchers. Dozens of collaborations are being conducted at the center with researchers and academics specializing in chemistry, agronomy, agriculture and other fields. Dr. Elad Shabtai, VP of Innovation, Research, Development and Licensing at Adama, explains that until now, delivery and formulation expertise was usually acquired only through working in the industry, and one couldn’t study the field or gain experience through any academic setting in the world. This has created a growing shortage of experts in the field.

The unique curriculum developed by Tel Aviv University and the Adama research and development team will integrate the world of industry and academia, expose students to the field of delivery and formulation, and train the next generation of experts. In addition, Adama will invest in a world-class research lab, set up at the School of Chemistry, where studies and experiments will be conducted. Adama will provide scholarships to approximately 25 students from a variety of fields such as chemistry, materials engineering, plant sciences and more. Students will gain access to advanced soil labs to conduct experiments and undergo practical training by researchers from the company.

Significant connection between academia and industry

At the signing ceremony, held at the company’s research and development center in Neot Hovav, Dr. Chen Lichtenstein, president and CEO of Adama said: “Adama understands that its success in the global, competitive market rests on research and development capabilities as a vehicle for strategic growth. The international center for delivery and formulation that we’re launching at Tel Aviv University will enable us to train the best researchers in the field, and prepare them for entry into the agrochemical industry, so they can develop products that meet the world’s agricultural challenges. “

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University, said at the ceremony: “Tel Aviv University attaches great importance to the development of applied research, along with baseline research. To this end, it collaborates with various industries, in various fields. The cooperation with Adama, which we are very pleased about, will contribute much to the advancement of research and teaching in the fields of chemistry, food, agriculture and plant protection, and will benefit the State of Israel.”

Dr. Elad Shabtai, VP of Innovation, Research, Development and Licensing, emphasized: “The connection and ties between academia and industry are significant and central in the context of research and development. We must work to train and strengthen researchers and scientists in the field, starting with the academic stage, to provide a basis for inventions and development.”

Prof. Roey Amir, from the School of Chemistry and head of the Adama Center for Advanced Delivery Systems for Plant Protection Materials at Tel Aviv University, said: “In recent years there has been a demand for smart agriculture development, which will minimize the amount of plant protection materials while improving their operation through advanced delivery systems, similarly to what’s happening in biomedical research. Opening the center will allow us to work together with Adama to train the future generation of scientists who will lead the field in Israel and around the world.”

TAU Embraces Australia after Bushfires

The University jointly organized a solidarity event for the restoration of nature and wildlife Down Under

As a way of giving back to Australia at its time of need, Tel Aviv University co-sponsored a fundraising concert attended by 1,000 guests. The Australian Bushfire Relief evening, held jointly with the Zionist Federation of Australia, Jewish National Fund Australia (KKL) and the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, took place on February 3 at Hangar 11, a gig venue at the Tel Aviv Port, a popular outdoor pedestrian area by the sea.

Income from the gathering was donated to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), a global NGO focusing on wilderness preservation.

Keynote speaker Prof. Tamar Dayan of TAU’s School of Zoology, who also chairs the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, described the environmental ramifications of the wildfires.

“Only now are we starting to understand the magnitude of this disaster and how it will affect us all,” said Prof. Dayan. “The physical scale of the damage is unprecedented; it is six times bigger than the outcome caused by the big wildfires in California in 2018. It is estimated that one billion animals were killed and others are at a real risk of extinction, meaning all the wildlife preservation efforts to date were reversed all at once.”

According to Dayan, no government can prepare for a natural disaster of this scope, specifically the fires’ duration and reach.

“There are many factors affecting the restoration of nature and wildlife, including the quantities of rain in the coming months and whether or not the drought lasts. The Australians are trying to assess the process of rehabilitating the damaged areas but only time will tell,” she said.

Prof. Tamar Dayan (left) and Meir Buber. Photo: Jorge Novominsky, KKL-JNF photo archive

Prof. Dayan is one of a couple dozen researchers at TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences whose expertise in biodiversity, ecology, plant sciences, climate change and other fields are relevant for Australia’s rehabilitation.​

“TAU enjoys a warm and longstanding friendship with Australia, its people and the Australian Jewish community,” said Meir Buber, TAU Senior Executive for Resource Development for Australia, who co-organized the event on behalf of the University.  Australian organizations and individuals have supported the University generously over the years, especially for environmental causes, he stressed, and added: “Through this event we want to say thank you to the Australians for their deep rooted support for TAU.”

T​AU co-organizer Gillian Rosner, Australia Liaison, added: “At the University we’ve had excellent relations with Australian business delegations, with the Australian Embassy, with Ambassador Chris Cannan and with his predecessors for years. For example, Cannan attended the Balfour Declaration centenary we hosted in 2017 at TAU. Now we’re seeing an outpouring of sympathy by Israelis for Australia.”

Vibrant and cheerful atmosphere

Donated for the evening by its owner, Melbourne-born Zev Eizik, the Hangar 11 venue hosted performances by Israeli social singing initiative Koolulam, reality show songstress Hagit Yaso, Israeli trumpet player Arik Davidov and Israeli-Australian musician Savannah Zwi. Comedian Jeremie Bracka, who is actually an Australian-Israeli human rights lawyer, performed stand-up.

Among attendees at the lively event were Ambassador Cannan, many former Aussies who immigrated to Israel, and residents of Israeli towns near Gaza who for years have received Australian support after rocket attacks. The crowd also included the Roim Rahok (“Seeing Far Ahead”) organization and its trainees, youngsters on the autistic spectrum who are prepared for integration into military service.

The book “Frank Lowy: Pushing the Limits” by Jill Margo telling the story of the Australian-born TAU benefactor was sold at the event in benefit of the WWF.

Australian Ambassador Cannan tweeted his appreciation after the fundraiser: “Thank you Israel for showing, in a big way, your support for Australia’s bushfire recovery. An amazing night of comedy, singing and fundraising for the one thousand Israelis there to support their mates from down under at a tough time.”

The crowd singing at the Australian Bushfire Relief event. Photo: Jorge Novominsky, KKL-JNF photo archive

 

Donated Equipment Aids in Urgent Coronavirus Research

Shmunis family gift ramps up the scientific capabilities of the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology.

With COVID-19 coronavirus infections surging in Israel and worldwide, TAU biomedical specialists have dropped everything to push forward the fight against the virus. Eleven teams at the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology are working to expand the arsenal of vaccines, drugs, testing methods and public health insights aimed at saving lives. Now, a significant and timely gift from philanthropists Sana and Vlad Shmunis of the San Francisco Bay Area is providing the School with much needed core equipment for the research push. “We needed emergency scientific funding and, when we turned to the Shmunises, both TAU Governors, they responded immediately and generously,” said TAU Vice President Amos Elad. “It’s heartwarming to see the concern of our TAU friends take such concrete form and so quickly.” The funding has gone toward the purchase of a new ultracentrifuge and a new high capacity autoclave. “This vital equipment will bolster the ability of our research teams to conduct molecular virology and immunology research much faster than before and with the highest quality,” said Prof. Tal Pupko, Head of the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. Among the School’s urgent research goals are:
  • Aiding the authorities focus quarantine efforts, understand if there are “super-spreading” infected individuals, and predict how quickly the disease spreads or wanes.
  • Screening Israeli COVID-19 survivors for antibodies as a basis for therapies and a vaccine.
  • Developing novel inhibitors for viral entry and viral activity.
  • Finding candidate compounds to kick in the body’s natural immunity to COVID-19 and ability to overcome infection.
  • Understanding lung immune responses to viral infection.
  • Introducing a robotic system for much faster detection of coronavirus presence in tests.
  • Repurposing known and FDA-approved drugs for prevention and treatment.
Among local and international collaborators in the research are the Israeli Ministry of Health, Israel Biological Institute, IDF, major TAU-affiliated hospitals, and universities in Israel and abroad including Stanford University and University of Washington, Seattle.  

Boosting national coronavirus testing

In addition to the research, the School joined forces with TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine to convert an existing lab into a coronavirus testing facility. The newly renovated lab will expand public testing and assist Israel’s overburdened hospitals. Professors, students, engineers and a construction crew worked 24/7 for three days straight to build the lab and bring it up to the highest safety and research standards. School members are also volunteering to operate it once the test samples come in. The lab project followed a move by several researchers at the School to help enlist medical students and biomed graduate students as volunteers for collecting and processing samples in hospital laboratories. The nationwide initiative recruited over 2,000 medical and graduate students as volunteers in the national public health operation.

Study finds ancient Canaanites genetically linked to modern populations

Today’s Jews and Arabs in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon get half their ancestry from Bronze Age Levantines

Most of today’s Jewish and Arabic-speaking populations share a strong genetic link to the ancient Canaanites, according to a new study conducted by an international team of archaeologists and geneticists, including TAU’s Prof. Israel Finkelstein from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. The study concludes that modern-day groups in Lebanon, Israel and Jordan share a large part of their ancestry, in most cases more than half, with the people who lived in the Levant during the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago. The researchers also determined that the Canaanites – who frequently appear in ancient sources, including the Bible – descended from a mixture of an earlier Levantine population and migrants coming from the Caucasus region or modern-day Iran. Tale of bones The researchers analyzed genetic material from dozens of skeletons found at Canaanite sites across Israel and neighbouring countries, and compared it to the genomes of other ancient populations as well as to modern-day groups. “This study suggests there is a deep genetic connection of many Jewish groups today across the Diaspora and many Arab groups to this part of the world thousands of years ago,” said Prof. Reich, a Harvard University geneticist and one of the world’s top experts in the study of ancient DNA, speaking to Haaretz. Invasion or migration? Experts know the ancient Canaanites were divided into independent city states, such as Megiddo, Hazor, and Acre. Most of the texts about them come from outsiders or later sources, so did the “Canaanite people” really exist as a coherent entity? The new study shows that genetically at least, the Canaanites did have a lot in common with each other. Most of the recovered genomes could be modelled as having a roughly 50/50 contribution of ancestry from local Neolithic inhabitants and from a group that hailed from the Caucasus or the Northwestern Zagros mountains, in today’s Iran. For the ancestry of the Canaanites to be split halfway between locals and newcomers there would have had to be an influx of a significant number of people; and a question that begs to be asked is whether this inflow was an invasion or a peaceful migration. “I don’t think we are dealing with an invasion,” Prof. Finkelstein said. “We have no archaeological evidence of destruction or a major disruption in the Early Bronze Age.” The next step for researchers will be to continue modelling the ancient populations of the Levant, especially after the time of the Canaanites. According to Prof. Finkelstein: “It will be interesting to see what happened afterwards, what was the genetic profile of the people of biblical Israel and Judah, how do they connect to us and to their predecessors, and what were the other contributions to the genetic pool along the way.”

Dan David Prize to Focus on Medicine, Public Health in 2021

In wake of COVID-19, laureates will be chosen in fields relating to pandemic and beyond

The 2021 Dan David Prize will focus on three fields with special resonance in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the efforts to combat the disease. The international prize, headquartered at Tel Aviv University, awards three $1 million prizes for outstanding achievements and extraordinary discoveries in fields representing the past, present and future, with different fields selected each year. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected nearly all aspects of life in recent months, is reflected in this year’s selection, as the prize seeks to reward major contributions in the fields of History of Health and Medicine, Public Health and Molecular Medicine. “Considering fields for the 2021 Dan David Prize in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging task,” said Prof. Ariel Porat, the president of Tel Aviv University and chairperson of the Dan David Prize Board. “We were seeking topics that would relate to the pandemic but not be limited to the quest for a vaccine or cure. We believe the fields we have chosen are newly resonant in light of our experiences these past months.” The prize in the “Past” category will be awarded to an outstanding individual or organization making an ongoing, groundbreaking contribution to the field of History of Health and Medicine. The “Present” category will focus on an individual or organization making pioneering and prominent advances in the field of Public Health – a sphere often overlooked in the world of prizes. The “Future” award will honor an individual or organization making an outstanding and ongoing contribution to the rapidly evolving field of Molecular Medicine, which, by deciphering the molecular mechanisms of disease, can accelerate the development of new preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic tools. The pandemic also impacted last year’s Prize, which was awarded in the fields of Cultural Preservation and Revival, Gender Equality and Artificial Intelligence. For the first time since the Prize was launched in 2001 by the late businessman and philanthropist Dan David, the traditional award ceremony was cancelled as the laureates, hailing from around the globe, were unable to travel to Tel Aviv to receive their prizes in person. Previous laureates of the prize include authors Margaret Atwood and Amos Oz, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cellist Yoyo Ma, maestro Zubin Mehta, economist and subsequent Noble Prize winner Esther Duflo, geneticist Mary-Claire King and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. Anyone can nominate candidates for the prize via the website  before the November 30 deadline. More details of this year’s fields and the nomination can be found there too. Alternatively, contact the Dan David Prize office on ddprize@tauex.tau.ac.il or +972-3-640-6614/5.

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