Consuming your own microbiome might help you maintain weight loss

Can Consuming Your Own Poop Help With Weight Loss?

Can consuming your own microbiome from your feces help you maintain weight loss? A new study published in the journal Gastroenterology seems to have proven that it can.

BGU researchers have discovered a solution to the problem that anyone familiar with dieting and losing weight has encountered – regaining lost weight after a diet.

Yet, the answer to this widely experienced phenomenon isn’t one that many people might jump right on, as it requires people to consume frozen microbiome capsules derived from their own feces.

One might ask why someone might chose to do such a disgusting thing?

Prof. Iris Shai

“It is well known that most weight-loss dieters reach their lowest body weight after four to six months, and are then challenged by the plateau or regain phase, despite continued dieting,” explains Prof. Iris Shai, a member of BGU’s School of Public Health.

In light of this, the BGU research team explored whether preserving the optimized personal microbiome from fecal transplants after six months of weight loss helps maintain weight loss by transplanting back the optimized microbiome during the subsequent expected regain phase: a process called autologous FMT (aFMT).

The answer to the solution was theorized and tested in an unprecedented 14-month clinical trial in Israel, in which Prof. Shai, BGU Ph.D. student Dr. Ehud Rinott and Dr. Ilan Youngster from Tel Aviv University collaborated with a group of international experts from American and European research institutes.

During the trial, abdominally obese or high cholesterol participants in Israel were randomly assigned to one of three groups and were told to follow general healthy dietary guidelines, a Mediterranean diet or a green-Mediterranean diet.

After the initial weight-loss phase of six months, a period in which weight begins to plateau or be regained, remaining eligible participants were were provided a fecal sample that was processed into aFMT frozen opaque and odorless capsules.

Both Mediterranean groups consumed 28g a day of walnuts which contain 440 mg of polyphenols, and the green-Mediterranean dieters further consumed three to four cups of green tea in addition to being provided with Mankai, a specific duckweed aquatic strain consumed in a green shake, providing them with 800 mg/day of polyphenols.

After six months, 90 participants remained eligible and were randomly assigned to the groups that received 100 capsules containing their own fecal microbiota or placebo, which they ingested until month 14.

Ultimately, the the green-Mediterranean diet induced the largest significant change in the gut microbiome composition during the weight loss phase.

The study found that participants who lost weight on a healthy diet and were then fed capsules containing fecal material collected during the diet period for months after the six month turning point of maximal weight loss, regained less weight than participants given placebo tablets, by modulating the intestinal microbiota.

A plant-based diet in participants or a Mankai diet (in mice) produced the optimal fecal microbiome for preventing weight regain.

The Mankai duckweed aquatic plant is being grown in Israel and other countries in a closed environment and is highly environmentally sustainable – requiring a fraction of the amount of water to produce each gram of protein compared to soy, kale or spinach.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that aFMT, collected during the weight loss phase and administrated in the regain phase, might preserve weight loss and glycemic control and is associated with specific microbiome signatures.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post >>


BGU Launches Oazis

BGU Launches Oazis

On Sunday, BGU’s Yazamut 360 Entrepreneurship Center launched Oazis, an accelerator aimed at promoting new academic technologies.

Managed by Michel Assayag, Oazis is working in collaboration with BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU. Oazis is empowered by IBM Alpha Zone, an accelerator program based in Israel that give startups access to mentorship, technical training and support, and the IBM infrastructure.

Prof. Carmel Sofer
Chair of Yazamut 360

“The Oazis accelerator enables BGU’s leading researchers to broaden their understanding in business-related aspects and in translating the deep technologies developed at the labs into business initiatives,” says Prof. Carmel Sofer, chair of Yazamut 360, and a member of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management.

“In addition, the accelerator helps the researchers find partners to build their new ventures as startup companies and promotes the conversion of outstanding research into successful startup companies.”

Josh Peleg, CEO, BGN Technologies

“It is noteworthy that since the beginning of the year, we recorded a 30% increase, compared to the corresponding period in 2019, in the number of new invention disclosures based on research from BGU,” says Josh Peleg, chief executive officer of BGN Technologies. “This is a testament to the burst of innovation and entrepreneurship of the ecosystem surrounding the university, of which Oazis is a part, and which will lead to regional growth and transformation of the Negev into a center of knowledge, innovation and technology.”

 

Six startups make up the first cohort. They are:

NeuroHelp, which is a system for detecting and predicting epileptic seizures based on a unique combination of EEG-based monitoring of brain activity together with proprietary machine-learning algorithms, developed by Prof. Oren Shriki and his team at BGU’s Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Panacea, with technology developed by Prof. Boaz Lerner, of BGU’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, offers pharmaceutical companies a tool for reducing the steep costs and long development time of clinical trials, and even more importantly, increasing the chances for a successful drug-development process.

3D-Green, which is developing raw materials for 3D printers from recycled plastic bottles, thus reducing costs and increasing availability while protecting the environment, designed by Itai Yair, a graduate of BGU’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management.

Flanimus, which is developing a simple, one-minute breath test for diagnosing COVID-19 at only $3.00 per test, based on an invention by Prof. Gabby Sarusi, deputy head for research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Testory, a platform for automated quality assurance (QA) processes that enables software analysis built on story based testing, based on research by Prof. Gera Weiss of BGU’s Department of Computer Science and Dr. Achiya Elyasaf of BGU’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering.

MirageDynamics creates new video ad space, thereby enabling content providers and owners of ad infrastructures to automatically integrate virtual ads and increase sales from advertising, developed by Prof. Jihad El-Sana from BGU’s Department of Computer Science, an expert on image processing, video, augmented reality, and computer vision.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post >>


A tuberculosis vaccine provides protection against COVID-19

TB Vaccine May Lessen COVID-19 Illness

A vaccination against tuberculosis appears to provide some protection against COVID-19 for people under 24 years of age, according to a new BGU study.

Dr. Nadav Rappoport of BGU’s ​​Department of
Software and Information Systems Engineering

The research was led by Dr. Nadav Rappoport of BGU’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering Sciences, with colleagues from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The research team found a correlation between countries’ policies for the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine against tuberculosis and those countries’ COVID-19 outcomes. The study was recently published in the journal Vaccines.

The protection appears to be significant primarily among those who received the vaccination in the last 15 years, especially for ages 24 or younger.

The researchers did not find a similar effect among older adults who received the BCG vaccine longer than 15 years ago.

 

 

 

Their data revealed that BCG vaccination was consistently in the top two effects across 55 countries studied (comprising nearly 63 percent of the world’s population).

Dr. Rappaport and his colleagues normalized the data so that countries were aligned by the first date at which each country reached a death rate of 0.5 deaths per million or higher.

The researchers also controlled for demographic, economic, pandemic-restriction-related and health-related country-based variables. Only countries with a population of at least 3 million were included.

The research also compared how country-wide BCG vaccination compared with vaccinations for other diseases such as measles and rubella. Dr. Rappaport and his team found that other vaccines did not have a significant association with COVID-19 outcomes.

BCG is the world’s most widely received vaccine. It is usually given shortly after birth or during early childhood.

“We propose that BCG immunization coverage, especially among the most recently vaccinated population, contributes to attenuation of the spread and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers conclude. “Our findings suggest that exploring BCG vaccine protocols in the context of the current pandemic could be worthwhile.”

Read more in ISRAEL21c >>


Israel’s First National Autism Database

Israel’s First National Autism Database Launches

The National Autism Research Center of Israel at BGU announced it will launch a national database in collaboration with Israeli scientists and clinicians studying autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The center is composed of scientists from BGU and physicians from Soroka University Medical Center, who study, diagnose and treat autism and other developmental disorders in the Negev.

Prof. Ilan Dinstein, founder and head
of the National Autism Research Center

Established in 2015, the center aims to promote better diagnosis and treatment of autism in Israel by creating a research infrastructure that serves researchers at universities, medical centers and industry.

The center converted its previous regional database that covered communities in Southern Israel into a national one, bringing together all stakeholders to determine which avenues of research are the most important to pursue with the availability of such unique data.

More than 45 leading scientists and clinicians came together following two national autism research conferences at BGU to publish a shared paper describing the national database in the prestigious Journal of Molecular Neuroscience.

Published in July, the paper describes a shared plan to create a national database with standardized data agreed upon by the scientists and clinicians.

 

The database will create shared research infrastructure that will serve the entire autism research community in Israel.

The database currently contains information from more than 961 children and their parents after three years in operation. About 1,800 kids are diagnosed with ASD annually in Israel.

The goal is to be able to follow 70% of them to create a wide picture of autism diagnosis and development in Israel.

The database includes a variety of measurements including behavioral assessments, audio and video recordings, interviews and questionnaires, birth and medical records, MRI scans, genetic evaluations, and biological samples (to begin later this year).

“The necessity for such in-depth data means the database will grow slowly, but we believe it will prove invaluable to national research, because it allows researchers to connect findings from multiple disciplines. For example, we can now relate problems evident in the birth records with MRI scans from older ages,” says Prof. Ilan Dinstein, head of the Autism Center and a member of BGU’s Department of Psychology.

“We expect that this work will reveal critical information about how to improve autism diagnosis and treatment services in Israel. The goal is to have an immediate influence on healthcare and education services within the next three to five years,” he says.

Read more on NoCamels >>


Meet BGU's President Prof. Danny Chamovitz

Meet BGU’s President

How does a young boy who grows up as the only Jewish kid in a blue-collar mill town become BGU’s seventh president?

BGU President Prof. Danny Chamovitz’s life journey is filled with interesting twists and turns. He tells of his grandfather, who arrived in the U.S. from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century, and sold clothes from a cart. A generation later, Danny’s father, a physician, founded Aliquippa’s first hospital.

BGU President Prof. Danny Chamovitz

“I grew up as a classic schizophrenic American Jew,” says Prof. Chamovitz. “During the week I was the all-American boy. On weekends, I went to synagogue and was a Young Judaea Zionist Youth Movement activist.”

In his search for normalcy and identity, Prof. Chamovitz applied to be a biology major at Columbia University.

The fact that he was accepted because of geographic distribution has made him especially sensitive to giving people from underserved communities the chance to go to college.

However, before college, Prof. Chamovitz did a gap year in Israel with the Machon Youth Leadership Training program. It was while working on a tractor in a Negev alfalfa field on Kibbutz Ketura that he had his eureka moment.

“I saw that when we cut the alfalfa, it grows back, but when we cut wheat it doesn’t,” explains Prof. Chamovitz. “I thought if we could figure this out, we would be able to feed the entire world.”

He made aliyah in 1984 and received his Ph.D. in genetics from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and completed his postdoctoral research at Yale University.

Despite a scientific career that has been characterized by novel and field-defining research – he was the first to clone a gene involved in the biosynthesis of beta-carotene – Prof. Chamovitz is personable, accessible and modest.

His book, “What a Plant Knows,” has been published in 18 languages, was voted top 10 in Amazon, and is often referred to in discussions on plant senses and intelligence.

In January 2019, Prof. Chamovitz assumed the presidency of BGU, the only current American-born president of an Israeli university.

He is inspired by Ben-Gurion’s dream to make the Negev bloom and feels that BGU is the most important university for the future of Israel.

“BGU and Soroka University Medical Center are the foundations for Beer-Sheva’s growth as a vibrant metropolis,” he says. “There is an innovation ecosystem here that combines academia, medicine and a high-tech innovation hub. Together, we are doing transformative research and developing technologies that are changing the world.”

Coming full circle since his acceptance to college, Prof. Chamovitz is committed to making higher education accessible for young people from underserved communities.

At the same time, scholarship recipients are encouraged to give back, and volunteer with children, youth and seniors in Beer-Sheva’s most underprivileged neighborhoods.

“Not accepting the way things are is in my DNA,” he says. “I’ve always been excited by the unknown and this has led to some unexpected discoveries.”

This is the spirit that Prof. Chamovitz hopes to nurture in Israel’s next generation.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post >>


The corona-virus lock down may be erasing gender norms associated with stress

Smut, Sauce and Sweets on the Rise

If pandemic stress has you downing another six-pack of Schlitz while watching “Saving Ryan’s Privates” as your husband finishes off his third pint of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream, you’re not alone.

A BGU researcher says the coronavirus lock down may be erasing gender norms associated with stress, finding that both men and women are enjoying more porn, alcohol and chocolate in roughly equal numbers.

Dr. Enav Friedmann

Dr. Enav Friedmann, head of the Marketing Lab in the Department of Business Administration at BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, says that in general women are more likely to consume chocolate, while men are bigger consumers of alcohol and pornography.

But stick them in a stressful situation, like a global pandemic and nationwide lock downs, and apparently they’ll both reach for all three.

 

 

 

“Even after years of research which stressed the biological differences between the sexes, we were surprised to discover that the default choice among both sexes was to act similarly. The stress allows us, in effect, to see the automatic behavior stripped of its gendered expectations,” says Dr. Friedmann. “The stress causes people to be flooded with emotions that neutralize ‘gendered consumer behavior’.”

Dr. Friedmann calls this taboo-breaking impulse a “disruption of inhibition,” and claims that it is caused by people lacking the cognitive energy to apply stereotypical gendered norms to their behavior during times of stress.

Friedmann conducted the survey among 115 people from the United Kingdom (46 men and 69 women) and an additional experiment in Israel on 41 people that utilized facial recognition technology to determine the levels of stress the coronavirus pandemic caused people.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Yeshiva University’s Dr. Gil Peleg, along with Gal Gutman, a Ph.D. student of Dr. Friedmann’s.

Read more in The Times of Israel >>


Could COVID-19 in Wastewater Be Infectious?

Could COVID-19 in Wastewater Be Infectious?

Wastewater containing coronaviruses may be a serious threat, according to a new, global study led by researchers from BGU's Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

The new paper, published in Nature Sust​ainability​, an international collaboration of 35 researchers, evaluates recent studies on coronaviruses in wastewater and previous airborne infectious diseases, including SARS and MERS. The goal is to evaluate potential threats, avenues of research and possible solutions, as well as garner beneficial perspectives for the future.

"There is ample reason to be concerned about how long coronaviruses survive in wastewater and how it impacts natural water sources," says lead author Dr. E​do Bar-Zeev (pictured above) of the Zuckerberg Institute. "Can wastewater contain enough coronaviruses to infect people? The simple truth is that we do not know enough and that needs to be rectified as soon as possible."

Bar-Zeev, and his postdoc student, Anne Bogler, together with other renowned researchers, indicate that sewage leaking into natural watercourses might lead to infection via airborne spray. Similarly, treated wastewater used to fill recreational water facilities, like lakes and rivers, could also become sources of contagion. Lastly, fruits and vegetables irrigated with wastewater that were not properly disinfected could also be an indirect infection route.

The research team recommends immediate, new research to determine the level of potential infection, if any, and how long coronaviruses last in various bodies of water and spray.

"Wastewater treatment plants need to upgrade their treatment protocols and in the near future also advance toward tertiary treatment through micro- and ultra-filtration membranes, which successfully remove viruses," Bar-Zeev and his colleagues say.

At the same time, wastewater can serve as a canary in a coal mine because it can be monitored to track COVID-19 outbreaks. Coronaviruses start showing up in feces before other symptoms like fevers and coughs show up in otherwise asymptomatic people. Regular monitoring, therefore, can give authorities advance warning of hot spots. BGU researchers recently completed a pilot study in Ashkelon, Israel using new methodology to detect and trace the presence of the virus and calculate its concentration to pinpoint emerging COVID-19 hotspots. Other BGU researchers are working on developing water nanofiltration technologies.

BGU researchers who participated in this study include: Prof. Amit Gross, Prof. Noam Weisbrod, Dr. Oded Nir, Prof. Osnat Gillor, Prof. Shai Arnon, Dr. Yakir Berchenko, Prof. Zeev Ronen, Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, Prof. Avner Ronen, and Prof. Jacob Moran-Gilad.

Additional researchers from the U.S. were from Yale University, Northwestern University, Drexel University, Temple University, Rice University, and the University of Notre Dame, Illinois. Other participants include researchers from University Limoges, France; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany; University of Girona, Spain; University of Venice, Italy; ETH Zurich, Switzerland; University College Cork, Ireland; and Tianjin Polytechnic University, China.


Israel Uses BGU Algorithm for Quick COVID-19 Testing

Israel Uses BGU Algorithm for Quick COVID-19 Testing

A BGU research team has pioneered a new coronavirus testing procedure, which is faster and more efficient than any now in use, testing samples in pools of as many as 48 people at once.

The Israeli government plans to roll out the new method in 12 labs across the country by October, anticipating that another wave of coronavirus infections could coincide with influenza season with potentially calamitous results.

 

Prof. Tomer Hertz

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, Prof. Tomer Hertz from BGU’s Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, Prof. Angel Porgador, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN), and their team report that their algorithmic method — called P-BEST, for Pooling-Based Efficient SARS-CoV-2 Testing — successfully detected positives in pools of as many as 48 samples. The method accurately screened 1,115 health care workers with just 144 tests.

The new COVID-19 pooling test method, which was formally approved for clinical use by the Israeli health ministry on Tuesday, could allow schools, college campuses, businesses, and airlines to clear whole groups of people far faster than has been possible until now.

The pooled method is designed to only require one round of testing — a crucial savings in time, laboratory work flow and supplies, enabling larger populations in Israel and ultimately other countries to be tested accurately for COVID-19 at a lower cost, using fewer tests.

Read more in The New York Times >>


Israel’s Solar Future

Israel’s Solar Future

By Prof. Emeritus David Faiman, of BGU’s Alexandre Yersin Department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics, and the first director of Israel’s Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center

The Jerusalem Post — On a large plot of barren desert adjacent to Moshav Ashalim, a remarkable, long-term experiment is unfolding.

Prof. Emeritus David Faiman at Israel’s National Solar Energy Center on BGU’s Sde Boker campus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three independent consortia, each employing a different kind of solar technology, are learning how to operate their giant power plants as effectively as possible under the constantly changing weather conditions.

Contrary to the negative economic image that some people have rushed to give the Ashalim solar project, it is an experiment that, like our country’s attempt to land on the moon, should be hailed as a major Israeli achievement and contribution to humankind.

When I give tours as professor emeritus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, I usually explain to nonexperts the advantages and shortcomings of each, and the unique importance of having all three solar technologies operating at the same place in the Negev.

Because no single conventional power-generating technology is capable of providing power 24 hours everyday, while doing so as economically as possible, the Israel Electric Corporation uses a combination of coal-burning, gas-burning and oil-burning plants.

Each technology on its own has very different economics in terms of plant cost, maintenance costs and fuel costs.

The reason they do not use only coal is because to do so would involve the company having to generate huge amounts of power during times when there are no customers to use it, because coal plants respond very slowly to changing needs.

The most cost-effective strategy is accordingly to use the company’s different power plant types, fired up and ramped down according to a computer algorithm that constantly measures customer needs, taking into account varying fuel costs, and the age and maintenance costs of all plants.

With these constraints in mind, here’s what solar power could do for Israel in the future, not the least of which is that the goal of pollution-free power-production is worth reaching.

Seemingly, the “cheapest” solar technology is an array of photovoltaic panels.

Such a power plant is certainly the simplest to build and panel prices have dropped drastically in the last few years owing to competition among manufacturers for the enormous markets this versatile technology has created (e.g. wrist watches, parking meters, bus-stop schedules, roof-top arrays, and all the way up to multi-megawatt power plants).

But photovoltaic power plants have panels that produce power instantaneously, in quantities that follow the momentary variations in solar illumination.

This means that their output cannot, as yet, be controlled.

By contrast, solar-thermal technology has the important advantage that instead of generating electricity directly, it generates thermal energy (i.e., heat) as an intermediate step.

Unlike electricity, thermal energy is easy to store. This enables the electricity to be generated at a more desirable time of day according to needs.

Consequently, the data that will emerge when all three systems that feed the power grid will enable future electricity planners to develop an appropriate algorithm for operating the three, under all weather conditions, in much the same way that coal, gas and oil plants are shuttled on and off today.

With appropriate storage, approximately 90% of Israel’s future electricity needs could be provided by photovoltaic panels, with the remaining ten percent being provided by gas backup – mainly for sequences of cloudy days in winter.

When the results of the Ashalim experiment are digested, it is not inconceivable that solar-thermal plants, together with some wind turbines might someday complement photovoltaic plants and render Israel’s electricity generation 100% independent of fossil fuels.

So, it is not inconceivable that one day, gigawatt-size solar power plants, each covering some 16 sq.km. and dotting the vast Sinai and Jordanian deserts, could provide copious electrical power for all three nations, and also for the Palestinians.

The West Bank could receive its power from Jordan while the Gaza Strip could receive its power from Egypt. Perhaps with enough electricity to allow full economic development, a future Palestinian administration would consider afresh the advantages of living in peace with Israel.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post>>