Tag: Bio-Engineering

While You Were Sleeping

Could we be one step closer to verifying whether a seemingly unconscious person is truly unaware of his or her surroundings?

A new TAU discovery may provide a key to a great scientific enigma: How does the awake brain transform sensory input into a conscious experience? The researchers were surprised to discover that the brain’s response to sound remains powerful during sleep in all parameters but one: the level of alpha-beta waves associated with attention to the auditory input and related expectations. This means that during sleep, the brain analyzes the auditory input but is unable to focus on the sound or identify it, and therefore no conscious awareness ensues.

The study was led by Dr. Hanna Hayat and with major contribution from Dr. Amit Marmelshtein, at the lab of Prof. Yuval Nir from the School of Medicine of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and co-supervised by Prof. Itzhak Fried from the UCLA Medical Center. Other participants included: Dr. Aaron Krom and Dr. Yaniv Sela from Prof. Nir’s group, and Dr. Ido Strauss and Dr. Firas Fahoum from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov). The paper was published in the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience.

A Deep Dive into the Human Brain

Prof. Nir explains that this study is unique in that it builds upon rare data from electrodes implanted deep inside the human brain, enabling high-resolution monitoring, down to the level of individual neurons, of the brain’s electrical activity.

While electrodes cannot be implanted in the brain of living humans just for the sake of scientific research, in this case the researchers were able to utilize a special medical procedure in which electrodes were implanted in the brains of epilepsy patients, monitoring activity in different parts of their brain for purposes of diagnosis and treatment. The patients volunteered to help examine the brain’s response to auditory stimulation in wakefulness versus sleep.

The researchers placed speakers emitting various sounds at the patients’ bedside and compared data from the implanted electrodes – neural activity and electrical waves in different areas of the brain – during wakefulness and during various stages of sleep. Altogether, the team collected data from over 700 neurons (about 50 neurons in each patient) over the course of 8 years.


Dr. Hanna Hayat

Measuring the Strength of Alpha-beta Waves

“After sounds are received in the ear, the signals are relayed from one station to the next within the brain,” explains Dr. Hayat. “Until recently it was believed that during sleep these signals decay rapidly once they reach the cerebral cortex.  But looking at the data from the electrodes, we were surprised to discover that the brain’s response during sleep was much stronger and richer than we had expected. Moreover, this powerful response spread to many regions of the cerebral cortex. The strength of brain response during sleep was similar to the response observed during wakefulness, in all but one specific feature: the level of activity of alpha-beta waves.”

The researchers explain that alpha-beta waves (10-30Hz) are linked to processes of attention and expectation that are controlled by feedback from higher regions in the brain. As signals travel ‘bottom-up’ from the sensory organs to higher regions, a ‘top-down’ motion also occurs: the higher regions, relying on prior information that had accumulated in the brain, act as a guide, sending down signals to instruct the sensory regions as to which input to focus on, which should be ignored, etc. Thus, for example, when a certain sound is received in the ear, the higher regions can tell whether it is new or familiar, and whether it deserves attention or not.

“We hope that our findings will serve as a basis for developing effective new methods for measuring the level of awareness of individuals who are supposedly in various states of unconsciousness.”

This kind of brain activity is manifested in the suppression of alpha-beta waves, and indeed, previous studies have shown a high level of these waves in states of rest and anesthesia. According to the current study, the strength of alpha-beta waves is the main difference between the brain’s response to auditory inputs in states of wakefulness vs. sleep.

Decoding Consciousness

Prof Nir summarizes: “Our findings have wide implications beyond this specific experiment. First, they provide an important key to an ancient, fascinating enigma: What is the secret of consciousness? What is the ‘X-factor’, the brain activity that is unique to consciousness, allowing us to be aware of things happening around us when we are awake, and disappearing when we sleep? In this study we discovered a new lead, and in future research we intend to further explore the mechanisms responsible for this difference. 

“In addition, having identified a specific brain feature that is different between states of consciousness and unconsciousness, we now have a distinct quantitative measure – the first of its kind – for assessing an individual’s awareness of incoming sounds. We hope that in the future, with improved techniques for measuring alpha-beta brain waves, and non-invasive monitoring methods such as EEG, it will be possible to accurately assess a person’s state of consciousness in various situations: verifying that patients remain unconscious throughout a surgical procedure, monitoring the awareness of people with dementia, or determining whether an allegedly comatose individual, unable to communicate, is truly unaware of his/her surroundings. In such cases, low levels of alpha-beta waves in response to sound could suggest that a person considered unconscious may in fact perceive and understand the words being said around him. We hope that our findings will serve as a basis for developing effective new methods for measuring the level of awareness of individuals who are supposedly in various states of unconsciousness. “


Seaweed – A Promising Defense Against Covid-19

Natural substance from marine algae prevents infection.

The lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines results in the deaths of many people and even accelerates the development of new variants. Researchers from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, have found that a substance called ‘ulvan’ extracted from edible marine algae prevents the infection of cells with the coronavirus.

The researchers believe this affordable and natural material may help solve serious problems, such as the spread of the coronavirus in large populations, especially in developing countries with limited access to vaccines. The study is still in its early stages, but the researchers are hopeful that the discovery will be used in the future to develop an accessible and effective drug to prevent coronavirus infection.

Affordable Solutions Needed

Prof. Golberg explains: “It is already clear today that the coronavirus vaccine alone, despite its effectiveness, will not be able to prevent the global spread of the pandemic. As long as the lack of access to vaccines remains unaddressed for billions of people in underprivileged communities, the virus is expected to develop increasingly more variants, which may be resistant to vaccines – and the war against the virus will continue.”

“It is very important to find affordable and accessible solutions to suit even economically weak populations in developing countries. With this aim, our lab tested a substance that could be extracted from a common seaweed. Ulvan is extracted from marine algae called Ulva, an edible ‘sea lettuce’ common in places like Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii,” he adds.

Golberg explains that his lab’s rational for exploring the potential use of ulvan for coronavirus defenses was motivated by previous discoveries of its effectiveness in preventing plant viruses along with some human viruses.

Successful Prevention Against Covid-19

To test their hypothesis, the TAU researchers grew Ulva algae and extracted the ulvan from it before sending samples to the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, which deals with infectious diseases. The US researchers built a lab model to test the activity of the substance produced by Prof. Golberg’s team. The cells were exposed to both the coronavirus and the ulvan. It was found that, in the presence of ulvan, the coronavirus did not infect the cells. As opposed to extracts from other algae tested, the substance demonstrated success in preventing coronavirus infection. 

According to the researchers, “The substance was produced in raw production, meaning it is a mixture of many natural substances, and we must find out which one is responsible for preventing cellular infection. After that, we will have to examine how, if at all, it works in humans.”

The research team consisted of Shai Sheffer, Arthur Rubin and Alexander Chemodanov from Dr. Golberg’s laboratory, Prof. Michael Gozin from the School of Chemistry and the Tel Aviv Universicy Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. They collaborated with researchers from the Hebrew University, the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, and the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, USA. The article was published in the journal PeerJ.

Featured image: Specially designed closed system with photobioreactors for seaweed production at TAU

Tired of The Lies?

TAU researchers are catching ‘liars’ at an unprecedented accuracy of 73% by measuring facial muscles’ movements.

Don’t even think of bending the truth around our campus, or we may be on to you. In a new study, Tel Aviv University researchers were able to detect lies with an accuracy of 73% – based on the contraction of facial muscles of study participants. This is a higher rate of detection than any known method. The study identified two different groups of ‘liars’: those who activate their cheek muscles when they lie, and those who activate their eyebrows. The new technology can serve as a basis for the development of cameras and software able to detect deception in many real-life scenarios, such as security and crime.

How to Spot a Liar?

The study was conducted by a team of experts from Tel Aviv University headed by Prof. Yael Hanein of the Center of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and School of Electrical Engineering, The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, and Prof. Dino Levy from the Coller School of Management. The team included Dr. Anastasia Shuster, Dr. Lilach Inzelberg, Dr. Uri Ossmy and PhD candidate Liz Izakon. The paper was published in the leading journal Brain and Behavior.

The new study was founded upon a groundbreaking innovation from Prof. Hanein’s laboratory: stickers printed on soft surfaces containing electrodes that monitor and measure the activity of muscles and nerves. The technology, already commercialized by X-trodes Ltd., has many applications, such as monitoring sleep at home and early diagnosis of neurological diseases. This time the researchers chose to explore its effectiveness in a different arena – lie detection.

Prof. Levy explains: “Many studies have shown that it’s almost impossible for us to tell when someone is lying to us. Even experts, such as police interrogators, do only a little better than the rest of us. Existing lie detectors are so unreliable that their results are not admissible as evidence in courts of law – because just about anyone can learn how to control their pulse and deceive the machine. Consequently, there is a great need for a more accurate deception-identifying technology. Our study is based on the assumption that facial muscles contort when we lie, and that so far no electrodes have been sensitive enough to measure these contortions.”

Unprecedented Success Rate

The researchers attached the novel stickers with their special electrodes to two groups of facial muscles: the cheek muscles close to the lips, and the muscles over the eyebrows. Participants were asked to sit in pairs facing one another, with one wearing headphones through which the words ‘line’ or ‘tree’ were transmitted. When the wearer heard ‘line’ but said ‘tree’ or vice versa he was obviously lying, and his partner’s task was to try and detect the lie. Then the two subjects switched roles.

As expected, participants were unable to detect their partners’ lies with any statistical significance. However, the electrical signals delivered by the electrodes attached to their face identified the lies at an unprecedented success rate of 73%.

Are You a Brow Liar or a Cheek Liar?

Prof. Levy: “Since this was an initial study, the lie itself was very simple. Usually when we lie in real life, we tell a longer tale which includes both deceptive and truthful components. In our study we had the advantage of knowing what the participants heard through the headsets, and therefore also knowing when they were lying. Thus, using advanced machine learning techniques, we trained our program to identify lies based on EMG (electromyography) signals coming from the electrodes. Applying this method, we achieved an accuracy of 73% – not perfect, but much better than any existing technology. Another interesting discovery was that people lie through different facial muscles: some lie with their cheek muscles and others with their eyebrows.”

The results can have dramatic implications in many spheres of our lives. In the future, the electrodes may become redundant, with video software trained to identify lies based on the actual movements of facial muscles.

Prof. Levy predicts: “In the bank, in police interrogations, at the airport, or in online job interviews, high-resolution cameras trained to identify movements of facial muscles will be able to tell truthful statements from lies. Right now, our team’s task is to complete the experimental stage, train our algorithms and do away with the electrodes. Once the technology has been perfected, we expect it to have numerous, highly diverse applications.”

New nanotech from TAU produces “healthy” electric current from the human body itself

Approach allows for the charging of cardiac pacemakers using only the heartbeat, eliminating the need for batteries

A new nanotechnology development from an international research team led by Tel Aviv University researchers will make it possible to generate electric currents and voltage within the human body itself through the activation of various organs using mechanical force. The development involves a new and very strong biological material, similar to collagen, which is non-toxic and causes no harm to the body’s tissues.

The researchers believe that this new nanotechnology has many potential applications in medicine, including harvesting clean energy to operate pacemakers and other devices implanted in the body through the body’s natural movements, eliminating the need for batteries and the surgery required to replace them.

The study was led by Professor Ehud Gazit of TAU’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, along with his lab team, Dr. Santu Bera and Dr. Wei Ji.

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute and a number of research institutes in Ireland, China and Australia also took part in the study, which was published in Nature Communications.

“Collagen is the most prevalent protein in the human body, constituting about 30% of all of the proteins in our body,” Professor Gazit, who is also Founding Director of TAU’s Blavatnik Center for Drug Discovery, explains. “It is a biological material with a helical structure and a variety of important physical properties, such as mechanical strength and flexibility, which are useful in many applications. However, because the collagen molecule itself is large and complex, researchers have long been looking for a minimalistic, short and simple molecule that is based on collagen and exhibits similar properties.

“About a year and a half ago our group published a study in which we used nanotechnological means to engineer a new biological material that meets these requirements,” Professor Gazit continues. “It is a tripeptide — a very short molecule called Hyp-Phe-Phe consisting of only three amino acids — capable of a simple process of self-assembly of forming a collagen-like helical structure that is flexible and boasts a strength similar to that of the metal titanium.

“In the present study, we sought to examine whether the new material we developed bears piezoelectricity, another feature that characterizes collagen. Piezoelectricity is the ability of a material to generate electric currents and voltage as a result of the application of mechanical force, or vice versa, to create a mechanical force as the result of exposure to an electric field.”

The researchers created nanometric structures of the engineered material, and with the help of advanced nanotechnology tools applied mechanical pressure on them. The experiment revealed that the material does indeed produce electric currents and voltage as a result of the pressure.

Moreover, tiny structures of mere hundreds of nanometers demonstrated one of the highest levels of piezoelectric ability ever discovered, comparable or superior to that of the piezoelectric materials commonly found in today’s market, most of which contain lead and are unsuitable for medical applications.

According to the researchers, the discovery of piezoelectricity of this magnitude in a nanometric material is of great significance, as it demonstrates the ability of the engineered material to serve as a kind of tiny motor for very small devices. Next, the researchers plan to apply crystallography and computational quantum mechanical methods (density functional theory) in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the material’s piezoelectric behavior and thereby enable the accurate engineering of crystals for the building of biomedical devices.

“Most of the piezoelectric materials that we know of today are toxic lead-based materials, or polymers, meaning they are not environmentally and human body-friendly,” Professor Gazit says. “Our new material, however, is completely biological and suitable for uses within the body.

“For example, a device made from this material may replace a battery that supplies energy to implants like pacemakers, though it should be replaced from time to time. Body movements like heartbeats, jaw movements, bowel movements, or any other movement that occurs in the body on a regular basis will charge the device with electricity, which will continuously activate the implant.”

His current focus is on the development of medical devices, but Professor Gazit emphasizes that “environmentally friendly piezoelectric materials, such as the one we have developed, have tremendous potential in a wide range of areas because they produce green energy using mechanical force that is being used anyway. For example, a car driving down the street can turn on the streetlights. These materials may also replace lead-containing piezoelectric materials that are currently in widespread use, but that raise concerns about the leakage of toxic metal into the environment.”

Ready for Launch!

TAU’s first nanosatellite ready to be launched into space.

Watch it Launch

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is now only days away: TAU’s first nanosatellite, TAU SAT1 is about to be launched into space. This exciting journey has been followed closely by many on the university’s social media, and we are happy to share that the launch itself can be watched live on Facebook on February 20 at 7:36 PM. 


The development of TAU-SAT1 has been followed by many on the university’s social media


Small Satellite – a Big Step

“This is a nanosatellite, or miniature satellite, of the ‘CubeSat’ variety,” explains Dr. Ofer Amrani, head of Tel Aviv University’s miniature satellite lab. “The satellite’s dimensions are 10 by 10 by 30 cm, the size of a shoebox. It weighs less than 2.5 kg. TAU-SAT1 is the first nanosatellite designed, built and tested independently in academia in Israel.”


The nanosatellite was devised, developed, assembled, and tested at the new Nanosatellite Center, an interdisciplinary endeavor of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering,  Raymond & Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The entire process has taken two years – an achievement that would not have been possible without the involvement of many people: the university administration, who supported the project and the setting up of the infrastructure on campus, Prof. Yossi Rosenwaks, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering; Professors Sivan Toledo and Haim Suchowski from the Raymond & Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences; Prof. Colin Price, researcher and lecturer in Athmospheric Sciences in the School of Geosciences and Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and, most importantly, the project team that dealt with R&D around the clock: Elad Sagi, Dolev Bashi, Tomer Nahum, Idan Finkelstein, Dr. Diana Laufer, Eitan Shlisel, Eran Levin, David Greenberg, Sharon Mishal, and Orly Blumberg.


Space Weather

TAU-SAT1 is a research satellite and will be conducting several experiments while in orbit. Among other things, it will measure cosmic radiation in space. “We know that that there are high-energy particles moving through space that originate from cosmic radiation,” says Dr. Meir Ariel, director of the university’s Nanosatellite Center. “Our scientific task is to monitor this radiation, and to measure the flux of these particles and their products. Space is a hostile environment, not only for humans but also for electronic systems. When these particles hit astronauts or electronic equipment in space, they can cause significant damage. The scientific information collected by our satellite will make it possible to design means of protection for astronauts and space systems. To this end, we incorporated several experiments into the satellite, which were developed by the Space Environment Department at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.”


Like the weather on Earth, there is also weather in Space. This weather is linked to storms that occur on the surface of our Sun, and impact the environment around the Earth. Prof. Colin Price researches and lectures in Atmospheric Sciences and explains that “When there are storms on the Sun, highly energetic particles are fired at the Earth at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second, and when these energetic particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere, they can cause lots of damage to satellites, spacecraft and even astronauts.” TAUSAT1 will be studying these storms and their impact on the atmosphere at the height of 400km above the Earth, testing the damage produced by the tiny particles. This will help understand the hostile environment satellite face due to space weather.


WATCH: TAU’s Nanosatellite Project


Satellite Station on Roof of Faculty Building

At an altitude of 400 km above sea level, the nanosatellite will orbit the earth at a dizzying speed of 27,600 km per hour, or 7.6 km per second. At this speed, the satellite will complete an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes. “In order to collect data, we built a satellite station on the roof of the engineering building,” says Dr. Amrani. “Our station, which also serves as an amateur radio station, includes a number of antennas and an automated control system. When TAU-SAT1 passes ‘over’ the State of Israel, that is, within a few thousand kilometer radius from the ground station’s receiving range, the antennas will track the satellite’s orbit and a process of data transmission will occur between the satellite and the station. Such transmissions will take place about four times a day, with each one lasting less than 10 minutes. In addition to its scientific mission, the satellite will also serve as a space relay station for amateur radio communities around the world. In total, the satellite is expected to be active for several months, after which it will burn up in the atmosphere and return to the Earth as stardust.


TAU Joins ‘New Space’ Revolution

Launching the TAU-SAT1 nanosatellite marks TAU’s first step of joining the ‘new space’ revolution, aiming to open space up to civilians as well. The idea is that any researcher or student, from any faculty at Tel Aviv University, or outside of it, will be able to plan and launch experiments into space in the future – even without being an expert in the field.


Over the last few years, TAU has been working on establishing a Nanosatellite Center to build small “shoebox” size satellites for launch into space. “We are seeing a revolution in the field of civilian space”, explains Prof. Colin Price, one of the academic heads of the new center. “We call this ‘new space’, as opposed to the ‘old space’, where only giant companies with huge budgets and large teams of engineers could build satellites. 


After undergoing pre-flight testing at the Japanese space agency JAXA, TAU-SAT1 was sent to the United States, where it “hitched a ride” on a NASA and Northrop Grumman resupply spacecraft destined for the International Space Station. At the station, this upcoming Saturday evening, a robotic arm will release TAU-SAT1 into a low-earth orbit (LEO) around the Earth, approximately 400km above the Earth.

Last inspections in the clean room. TAU SAT1

Human body parts ‘on-a-chip’ could revolutionize drug testing

A new system will drastically shorten the time it takes to develop safe and effective medication

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves only 13.8% of all tested drugs, and these numbers are even lower in “orphan” diseases that affect relatively few people. Part of the problem lies in the imperfect nature of preclinical drug testing that aims to exclude toxic effects and predetermine concentrations and administration routes before drug candidates can be tested on people. How new drugs move within the human body and are affected by it, and how drugs affect the body itself, cannot be predicted accurately enough in animal and standard in vitro studies. “To solve this massive preclinical bottleneck problem, we need to become much more effective at setting the stage for drugs that are truly promising and rule out others that for various reasons are likely to fail in people,” explains Prof. Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, co-author of two new studies on the subject published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Co-led by Dr. Ben Maoz of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience and over 50 colleagues, a team of scientists at TAU and Harvard have now devised a functioning comprehensive multi-Organ-on-a-Chip (Organ Chip) platform that enables effective in-vitro-to-in-vivo translation (IVIVT) of human drug pharmacology.

Testing on humans, without humans

“We hope that this platform will enable us to bridge the gap on current limitations in drug development by providing a practical, reliable, relevant system for testing drugs for human use,” says Dr. Maoz, co-first author of both studies and former Technology Development Fellow at the Wyss Institute on the teams of Prof. Ingber and Prof. Kevin Kit Parker, Ph.D., the latter of whom is also a leading author of both studies. In the first of two studies, the scientists developed the “Interrogator,” a robotic liquid transfer device to link individual “Organ Chips” in a way that mimics the flow of blood between organs in the human body. Organ Chips are microfluidic devices composed of a clear flexible polymer the size of a computer memory stick that contains two parallel running hollow channels separated by a porous membrane and independently perfused with cell type-specific media. While one of the channels, the parenchymal channel, is lined with cells from a specific human organ or functional organ structure, the other one is lined with vascular endothelial cells presenting a blood vessel. The membrane allows the two compartments to communicate with each other and to exchange molecules like cytokines and growth factors, as well as drugs and drug products generated by organ-specific metabolic activities. The team then applied their Interrogator automated linking platform and a new computational model they developed to three linked organs to test two drugs: nicotine and cisplatin.

Liver on a chip

“The modularity of our approach and availability of multiple validated Organ Chips for a variety of tissues for other human Body-on-Chip approaches now allows us to develop strategies to make realistic predictions about the pharmacology of drugs much more broadly,” says Prof. Ingber. “Its future use could greatly increase the success rates of Phase I clinical trials.” The researchers accurately modeled the oral uptake of nicotine and intravenous uptake of cisplatin, a common chemotherapy medication, and their first passage through relevant organs with highly quantitative predictions of human pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic parameters. “The resulting calculated maximum nicotine concentrations, the time needed for nicotine to reach the different tissue compartments, and the clearance rates in the Liver Chips in our in vitro-based in silico model mirrored closely what had been measured in patients,” concludes Dr. Maoz. The multidisciplinary research project is the culmination of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project at the Wyss Institute. Several authors on both studies, including Prof. Ingber, are employees and hold equity in Emulate, Inc., a company that was spun out of the Wyss Institute to commercially develop Organ Chip technology.

MIT expert helps promote synthetic biology at TAU

Prof. Christopher Voigt of MIT visits TAU to talk to researchers and set up new collaborations for grad students

Living organisms are amazing feats of engineering: By following instructions encoded entirely in DNA, living systems can sense and respond to their environment, build intricate structures and materials, and churn out complex chemicals. How these abilities are encoded is undeniably complicated, but figuring out how to embrace this complexity is at the heart of synthetic-biology.

Dr. Johann Elbaz, an Assistant Professor at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, organized the first professional visit to Israel of  Prof. Christopher Voigt, MIT biological engineer and co-director of MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Voigt lab is taking on the enormous task of designing, fabricating, and testing large sequences of DNA—20,000 bases long and more-at never-before-seen scales. It’s created software that automates the design of DNA circuits for living cells.  The aim is to help people who are not skilled biologists to quickly design working biological systems.


Chris Voigt (Forth person from left) and Johann Elbaz (Fifth person from left) with the iGEM team at TAU at Tel Aviv University

Prof. Voigt gave an impressive talk at Tel Aviv University as a special seminar at the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, attended by researchers and students from different parts of the TAU campus as well as other universities. Prof. Voigt was a special guest of Dr. Elbaz, who came to help accelerate the development of synthetic biology in Israel, both academic and industrial.

During the visit, a collaboration was initiated between the Elbaz lab, a synthetic biology lab that specializes in applications within living nanomaterials and living sensors, and the center at MIT. This collaboration envisions the acceleration of graduate student exchange between MIT and at TAU, while further developing the field of synthetic biology in Israel.

The “equipped kitchen” approach to biology

“The grand vision of the Synthetic Biology is to tie everything together: the design, the building, and the testing,” Elbaz says. “Rather than refining a recipe over many years by preparing one dish at a time, a better approach is to equip a kitchen capable of making thousands of different recipes simultaneously, each with slightly different ingredients, cooking times, or other alterations. This allows for the study of the entire set together, to find common aspects between the best and worst results as a means of arriving at the perfect recipe. Such capability will accelerate the development of unique applications such as molecules and materials, extending what we can do through pure chemistry to smart agriculture and medicine that sense their environments and proceed accordingly to repair damage.”

All of these sound like far reaching applications. Could we really use synthetic biology to engineer living organisms? “Ultimately, we want to be able to design living systems at a complexity and a level of sophistication that we know is possible but we just don’t have the capability to do yet,” Elbaz concludes.

Featured image: Johann Elbaz (left) and Chris Voigt (right) in Jerusalem


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