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Israel Science and Technology - March

Could GPS prevent accidents? 

Telescope image
Hyperion telescope that discovered Hebrewu. Inset— Dr. David H. and Wendee Levy, co-discoverers of Hebrewu.

Could GPS prevent accidents?~(BGU)

Data culled from geosocial networks, like the GPS traffic app Waze, can help prevent traffic incidents with better deployment of police resources at the most accident-prone areas. BGU Ph.D. student Michael Fire explained, "Studies of this kind, which monitor events such as traffic accidents over time, can help the police identify dangerous sections of roads in real time." 

Using Waze data and Google Earth, the BGU researchers determined that 75% of the locations in Israel with the highest number of accidents were intersections. "There were numerous instances where the police were manning quieter intersections, while busier intersections went unmonitored," Fire reports. 

Robot ABCs ~(BGU)

The Helmsley Charitable Trust Fund is providing more than $6.2 million to BGU to establish the ABC Robotics Center at the University. The acronym stands for agricultural, biological and cognitive robotics. Research and development will focus on medical, service, industrial, and agricultural robotics. Prof. Dan Blumberg, deputy VP and dean for research and development at BGU, explains that the Center will perform "research seeking understanding of cognitive processes in humans and animals in order to create autonomous robots that can interact intuitively with humans and in human environments," Blumberg says.

An Asteroid Named "Hebrewu" ~(Hebrew U)

Hebrew U has joined the ranks of people and places whose names appear on minor planets, as the International Astronomical Union has named an asteroid "Hebrewu" in its honor. Asteroid 271,763 was co-discovered by Dr. David H. and Wendee Levy from Arizona. Dr. Levy is a Canadian astronomer known for his co-discovery of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with Jupiter in 1994, as well as more than 20 other comets and 150 asteroids.

Dr. Levy wanted to name an asteroid after The Hebrew University since completing a PhD at its English Department in June, 2010; his dissertation was on the relationship between the night sky and the works of Shakespeare and others in English literature. Other asteroids are named for Jerusalem and for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, but fewer than 20 universities worldwide have asteroids named after them.

Potential Fertility Breakthrough ~(Technion)

Researchers at the Technion say cells from the amniotic membrane part of the placenta, normally discarded after birth, could one day be a source for human eggs. Technion researchers found that amniotic membrane cells have the ability to differentiate into ones that express the properties of the germ cells that produce ova. (Germ cells are biological cells that give rise to the cells that fuse with another during conception.)

Prof. Eliezer Shalev, head of the Technion Faculty of Medicine, worked on the discovery with doctoral student Ayelet Evron and Dr. Shulamit Goldman. Their goal will be to produce human eggs by adding proteins or hormones to the differentiated amniotic cells. Prof. Shalev said, "When it is done successfully, women who do not produce healthy ova-or any at all-could use them to become pregnant." 

New Colors in Your Salad ~Ora Coren (Ha'aretz)

Black tomatoes, banana-yellow eggplant and purple beans were some of the agricultural innovations on display at the Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition near Moshav Hatzeva. There are also personal-size watermelons and seedless bell peppers. The purpose of these new varieties, with their unusual appearance and higher nutritional value, is to enable Israeli farmers to better compete in the world market as the global health trend grows stronger.
"To compete in the world market, you have to innovate in color and nutritional value," says Alon Gadiel, research manager for Central and Northern Arava Research and Development, the exhibition's host. "The new produce is richer in anti-oxidants and vitamins than the existing produce. It tastes better and looks unique, so its cost and agricultural profit are higher." 

Sleep Apnea vs. Heart Attacks? ~Kevin Hattori (Technion)

People who suffer from breathing disorders such as sleep apnea are usually at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Sleep-disordered breathing occurs in about 5 to 10 percent of the general adult population, but is extremely common in patients with cardiovascular diseases- somewhere between 40-60 percent. But a Technion study suggests that some heart attack patients with these conditions may actually benefit from mild to moderate sleep-disordered breathing.

In a study run by Dr. Lena Lavie, blood samples drawn from recent heart-attack patients revealed that the sleep-disordered breathing patients had markedly higher levels of endothelial progenitor cells, which give rise to new blood vessels and repair the injured heart, than the healthy sleepers. They also had higher levels of other growth-promoting proteins and immune cells that stimulate blood vessel production. 

The researchers were able to trigger a similar increase in vessel-building activity in vascular cells taken from a second set of twelve healthy men and women, by withholding oxygen from the cells for short periods. "Indeed, our results point at the possibility that inducing mild-moderate intermittent hypoxia may have beneficial effects," Dr. Lavie said. The findings could help predict which patients are at a greater health risk after a heart attack, and may even suggest ways to rebuild damaged heart tissue.

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