WORKING WITH ISRAEL: UC DAVIS RESEARCH COLLABORATIONS
By Al Sokolow Davis Faculty for Israel October, 2016
University collaborations between Israel and the United States are extensive and fruitful, judging from a survey of faculty projects and interests at the University of California, Davis. The study was conducted by Davis Faculty for Israel, a group formed in early 2015.
More than 200 UC Davis faculty members currently and in recent years have had research and other connections to Israeli faculty and institutions. At least 60 professors and other faculty have been involved in major joint research projects supported by grant funds. The collaborations also include jointly-written publications, faculty exchanges, sponsorship of postdoctoral scholars and graduate students, and more informal connections.
The collaborations extend across many scholarly disciplines and almost all colleges and schools at the Davis campus. They are especially strong in the agricultural sciences, medicine, veterinary medicine, the physical sciences, engineering, and the biological sciences, but also extend to the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
UC Davis has such connections to all major Israeli universities and research institutions--including Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion--Israel Institute of Technoogy, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Weisman Institute of Science, Bar-Ilan University and the Agriculture Research Organization of the Ministry of Agriculture.
There are formal MOUs between UCD and two Israeli universities, the Technion and Ben Gurion, that call for collaborations in particular areas. Since 2012, the Tehnion agreement has covered work in the food sciences. Signed in 2015, the Ben Gurion agreement is intended to develop joint projects in engineering and related fields.
Stimulating these collaborations are the academic strengths of UCD and the Israeli institutions. At UCD the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and
There is no one information source that comprehensively captures the range of UCD-Israel collaborations. Consequently, this report most likely undercounts the actual extent of collaborations, particularly formal research projects supported by grant funds.
Sources used include several data bases compiled by different UCD offices and outside agencies:
● UCD OFFICE OF RESEARCH: compilation of sponsored research projects.
● UCD OFFICE OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS: lists of faculty with self-reported international linkages and of visiting scholars and fellows.
● PIVOT: a data base of faculty profiles compiled by an outside organization to assist searching for research funding opportunities
● BINATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (BSF): a program funded by the US and Israeli governments to support research collaborations in the sciences.
● BARD: a program that funds US-Israeli research collaborations in the agricultural sciences.
We appreciate n particular he data assistance of jennie A. konsella-norene and wesley young of the office of global affairs and ahmad hakim-elahi of the office of research
Many individual faculty and administrators also provided useful information about particular projects and areas of collaboration. As much as possible, overlaps of individual UCD faculty mentions among the separate information sources were avoided to develop a total count of collaborations.
the School of Veterinary Medicine are ranked internationally as the top programs in these fields and there are centers of excellence in the biological sciences, physical sciences, medicine, engineering and other fields. Among the collaborating Israeli institutions, six are ranked among the top 100 universities in the world, with particular strengths in water science, medicine, biotechnology, and computer technology.
UC Davis is not unique among major universities in the United States in maintaining close ties with Israeli institutions. Most other UC campuses also have extensive collaborations, with faculty at UC Berkeley co-authoring with Israeli academics more than 1400 publications in recent years. Examples of major US universities in other parts of the country that have similar connections include Cornell which operates with the Technion an applied science campus in New York City and the University of Chicago which works with Ben Gurion University to develop water purification technologies.
The remainder of this report highlights specific projects and areas of collaboration at UC Davis.
Among all academic disciplines, UC Davis – Israel collaborations are most numerous in the plant sciences and related agricultural fields. Much of this work concerns basic plant processes, such as genetic properties, cell growth and chemical interactions. There also is a focus on improving the production of agricultural crops, including their health, resistance to stress, quality and yield. A variety of specific vegetable, grain and fruit crops are research targets, including tomatoes, wheat, cherries, peppers, lettuce, peaches, grapes, avocadoes and olive oil.
A major boost for these collaborations comes from a research funding source provided by the US and Israeli governments. BARD (Binational Agriculture Research and Development Fund) administers competitive grants to joint projects that seek mainly to increase agricultural productivity especially in hot and dry climates. In the number of grants awarded, UC Davis leads the list of the many US universities—mostly land grant state universities—that have benefited from this program. About a fifth of the 93 BARD grants awarded in 2013-16 went to UCD agricultural scientists and their Israeli collaborators. Overall in its 35-year history, BARD has funded more than 1300 projects at a total cost of more than $300 million.
BSF (Binational Science Foundation) is a similar program funded by the two governments that supports research collaborations in other disciplines as well as agriculture, including medicine, natural sciences, social sciences and environmental sciences. Current and recent projects involving UC Davis faculty have included work in plant genetics, psychological consequences of war captivity, mathematics, monetary policy, and animal cannibalism.
Solarization and Bio-solarization
One area of intensive and continuing UCD-Israeli research collaboration that has produced major benefits for agricultural crop production throughout the world is solarization, the passive solar heating of soils to inactivate harmful soil pests. Bio-solarization, which harnesses passive solar heating with soil microbial activity for control of soil pests, is an environmentally-friendly approach that substitutes for the more conventional method of chemical fumigation. The technique involves a combination of soil mulching with transparent polyethylene sheets to trap solar radiation energy and support organic matter conversion to organic acids.
Leading the California part of the research for several years have been Dr. James Stapleton, plant pathologist in UC Cooperative Extension located at the Kearney Agricultural Research Center in the San Joaquin Valley; Jean VanderGheynst, Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Christopher Simmons, Professor of Food Science and Technology; and Dr. Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, farm advisor in UC Cooperative Extension. Their Israeli colleagues are at Hebrew University and Newe Ya’ar Research Center at the Agricultural Research Organization of Israel. The research has been supported by grants from several federal and state sources and has featured exchanges of post-doctoral students, faculty sabbatical and shorter visits, and jointly written journal articles.
The technique had accidental origins. In the mid-1970s, the chemical fumigation process on an Israeli farm in the Jordan Valley failed when the chemicals escaped. Yet the crops produced were as healthy and high quality as if the fumigation had worked, leading to the discovery of the effects of passive solar heating. A Hebrew University faculty member and his students looked into the accidental discovery, publishing their results in a paper in a plant pathology journal that was noticed by UC Davis researchers. What followed was the series of grant-funded collaborations by researchers in the two countries that continues today. Current research focuses on the utilization of inexpensive, abundant agricultural and food processing residues as biosolarization soil amendments
Solarization and bio-solarization have been applied to crop production in more than 50 countries, mostly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In the United States, it is widely used in organic farming and home gardens with efforts underway to apply it to conventional agriculture.
Simmons notes that “bio-solarization offers new opportunities for sustainable agriculture and integrated pest management, while creating a novel application for plant residues that might otherwise be discarded as waste”.
Water for Farms
Israel is the world’s leading nation in the development and application of technologies for preserving and expanding water resources. It has pioneered a range of water technologies--including desalination, agricultural irrigation, reuse of wastewater, metering, conservation—according to the 2015 book by Seth Siegel, Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. As a result, the small Middle Eastern nation has run a water surplus for some years and has provided a model for many other countries, especially in arid regions.
California has taken advantage of the Israeli model in state government policy, agricultural crops and municipal applications as well as in research collaborations at UC Davis and other UC campuses. In 2014 Governor Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an MOU to create “a strategic partnership for enhanced economic relations” with an ephasis on sharing water innovations. A separate agreement for similar cooperation between Los Angeles County and Israel was signed in September, 2015.
For some years prior to these agreements, Israeli scientists and faculty (including Cooperative Extension specialists) at UC Davis were engaged in research and demonstration collaborations. Continuing today, the collaborations have involved UCD academic departments in the plant sciences; land, air and water resources; food tehnology; viticulture; agricultural engineering; and Cooperative Extension. The projects have involved work in two separate but related broad areas: research into basic plant-water processes and research and applications in water management technologies.
Among recent and current collaborations is research on how agricultural plants absorb water in the root zone. This has been led by Professor Jan Hopmans, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, in collaboration with Israeli researchers at the Technion and Ben Gurion University.
The economics of water scarcity is another topic that has brought UCD and Israeli researchers together in conferences and joint projects. In early 2016 they met in a conference in Sacramento on “Water Pricing for a Dry Future” that included UCD agricultural eonomists Colin Carter, Richard Howit, Cynthia Lin and Dan Sumner and Isreali economists from Tel Hai College and Hebrew Univertsity.
Israeli water experts also have been brought into direct contact with California growers. “Proven Solutions to Drought Stress”, a water management conference held in Modesto in 2016, attracted 300 paricipants and featured 10 Israeli speakers and UC and other presenters. They discussed such topics as irrigation technologies, water use by specific crops, and the use of recycled wastewater and saline water. Israeli experts also are directly assisting California rice growers in reducing their water use through drip irrigation.
Israel’s only school of veterinary medicine has a special relationship with its companion program at UC Davis. The Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, a part of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was established in 1985. Since 1994 it has been closely linked in a collaborative relationship with the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, the top ranked program in this discipline in the world.
The UC Davis school partners with and mentors its Israeli counterpart by providing support and training through faculty and student exchanges, joint research projects, and other forms of cooperation. The knowledge transfer is not all one way, as UCD veterinarian researchers and teachers also learn from their Israeli colleagues in such areas as orthopedics, anesthesiology and infectious diseases. The relationship has helped the Koret School become the premier animal science program in the Middle East. As well as training Israeli veterinarians, the school attracts students to its four-year DVM program from throughout the world. Graduates go on to practice veterinary medicine and care for companion animals, livestock, horses and poultry and work in food and hygiene areas.
Financial support for the UC Davis – Israeli veterinary school relationship has come largely from the Koret Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization, in a series of grants since 1994. The foundation has a history of supporting various activities at Hebrew University, including teaching and research in animal sciences prior to the creation of the Vet school. The Koret Foundation has also supported multiple programs and projects at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
According to Professor Michael Kent, a veterinarian and director of the Center for Companion Animal Health at UCD: “We are proud to be part of this collaboration. The program provides everyone at both schools with the opportunity for additional training, the funds for faculty and student exchanges and the resources to carry out joint research to advance animal health – which really fits the mission of both our schools.”
Wine: Boosting the Golan
Winemaking is another area where Israel has benefited from UCD expertise. The Golan Heights in the far north is now Israeli’s top winegrowing area, largely instigated by the work in the 1970s of Cornelius Ough, renowned UCD Professor of Enology. After visiting the Golan in 1972, Ough reported that the region was ideal for growing high quality wine grapes because of its cool climate and volcanic soil. Starting with the first grape plantings in 1976, several wineries were established in the region including the Golan Heights Winery whose wines are sold in the United States and have won many international competitions..
The two-nation wine connection continues today, with numerous Israeli winemakers receiving their education in the field from UC Davis. One example is Victor Schoenfeld, head winemaker at Yarden-Golan Heights Winery, who earned his BS in fermentation science from UC Davis in 1988. Three other winemakers at the winery also are UCD alumni. Schoenfeld credits his academic work as going beyond the “knowledge of winegrowing and winemaking” to include “thinking critically about the entire process, enabling ongoing independent education, enrichment and improvement.”
In another wine-related collaboration, a recent UCD PhD from Israel, Calanit Bar-Am, has worked with UCD Professors Dan Sumner (Agricultural and Resource Economics) and James Lapsley (Viticulture and Enology) on several projects including the adaptation of winegrape production to climate change and the network of information flows in wine industry innovation.
Diverse Research Projects
Suggesting the diversity of topics covered by UCD-Israel research collaborations, here is a sample of current and recent projects, identifying the field of study, project description, participating Davis faculty, and collaborating Israeli institutions.
AGRICULTURAL ENGINEERING: Early recognition of pests and diseases in fruit trees. Professor Michael Delwiche. Agricultural Research Organization-- Ministry of Agriculture.
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING: Properties of ionic conductors in materials research. Professor Kim Sangtae. Weizmann Institute.
ECONOMICS: Risk neutral distribution of inflation. Professor Hilschen Jens. Bar Ilan University.
EDUCATION: Pending research on inequality in education as affecting college access and completion. Professor Michal Kurlander. Ben Gurion University.
ENGINEERING: Computer modeling in gene therapy. Professor Niels Gronbech-Jensen. Ben Gurion University.
ENTOMOLOGY: How cannibalism among animals evolves, as influenced by certain pathogens. Professor Jay Rosenheim. Hebrew University.
HISTORY: The first comprehensive study of Hasidism, the Jewish religious movement that originated in Eastern Europe in the 1 Century and now has a world-wide presence. Professor David Biale. Tel Aviv, Hebrew and Bar-Ilan Universities. Also universities in England and Poland, and Queens College in the U.S.
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT: Israeli belief systems in relation to peace prospects with Palestinians. Cooperative Extension Specialist Kali Trzesniewski. Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Also Stanford University.
MATHEMATICS: Research in Geometric Topology involving invariants of random knots and links. Professor Joel Hass. Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University.
NEUROBIOLOGY: Cell movement and division. Professor Alex Mogilner. Technion.
PLANT BIOLOGY: Root system adaptation to low phosphate environments. Professor Sibohan Brady. Technion.
PLANT PATHOLOGY: Health of basil and lettuce production. rofessor Rick Bostock. gricultural Research Organization—Ministry of Agriculture and Tel Aviv University. Also US Department of Agriculture.
PLANT SCIENCES. Stress tolerance in cereals. rofessor Eduardo Blumwald. Hebrew University.
POMOLOGY: Pit formation in cherries. rofessor Elizabeth Mitchem. Agricultural Research Organization—Ministry of Agriculture.
POLITICAL SCIENCE: Mediation efforts in international conflict. rofessor Zeev Maoz. nterdisciplinary Center at Herzlia and Tev Aviv University.
PSYCHOLOGY: Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder among war captives. Professor Philip Shaver. eizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University.
VETERINARY MEDICINE: Anesthesia technology in surgery on dogs. Professor Erik Wisner. oret School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University.
The diversity of collaborations with Israel also is illustrated by multiple projects involving faculty in the School of Medicine in such disciplines as Neurology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry. As well as joint research projects, the collaborations include frequent visits by UCD medical faculty and Israeli counterparts to each other’s clinical and academic programs. For example, UCD Professors David Siegel and Ezra Amsterdam regularly discuss their work on hypertension and cardiac care, respectively, at Hadassah University Hospital and other locations in Israel, while Hebrew University Professor Michael Bursztyn frequently conveys information on coronary disease in UCD medial grand rounds.
Postdocs and other International Scholars
Another form of binational linkage is seen in the presence of many “International Scholars” (more than 30 in 2014-15) from Israel, researchers and teachers engaged in short-term assignments at UC Davis. Most are postdoctoral scholars, academics with PhDs or medical degrees engaged in advanced research in their specialties. Also included in the “international” category are assistant professors and researchers with short-term assignments.
Most of the Israeli visitors are in the agricultural sciences and engineering fields, with a scattering in Medicine, Vet Medicine and the biological sciences. In the humanities and social sciences, there has been a post-doctoral fellowship in Israel Studies sponsored by the interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program and funded by the Israel Institute from 2014-2017 which will transition into a teaching fellowship in 2017-2020.
Typically, postdocs work with a faculty mentor at UC Davis, as a member of his/her lab operations or research team. The postdoctoral experiences usually are preparation for university and other research careers. Although just a few years in duration, they often lead to long-term collaborations between the Israelis and UC Davis faculty.
Yigal Achmon is a second year postdoc in the UCD Department of Food Science and Technology, whose background and plans are representative of the visiting scholars. In his late 20s, he is a native of Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek in Israel’s Jezreel Valley and is married with two children. Achmon’s undergraduate degree is
from Hebrew University. His PhD project at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology involved the production of rose and petunia flavors for food and cosmetic products through the genetic engineering f microorganisms.
At UC Davis, Achmon is working with food science Professor Christopher Simon and biological and agricultural engineering Professor Jean VanderGheynst in research on bio-solarization. Achmon’s contributions involve the incorporation of food wastes in the treatment process and the production of methane as an energy source.
Achmon chose UC Davis for his postdoc work because of its world-class reputation in food and agricultural sciences and the opportunity to work with top researchers. He expects that his research experience at Davis “will open doors and help establish my own academic career”.
Significance and Impacts
A common feature of these binational collaborations is that knowledge and expertise flows in both directions; depending on the project, Americans learn from Israelis and Israelis learn from Americans. Overall, there is a synergy in these connections that creates significant forms of new knowledge and application, as representatives of both UCD and Israel note.
UCD Vice Chancellor of Research Harris Lewin explains that the Davis-Israel collaborations have “enormous benefit for the citizens of California, Israel and the world. The many common problems faced in Israel and California, from agricultural sustainability, water conservation and energy efficiency, to human health and the defense industries, require expertise beyond the scope of any one country or university.”
A comparable message comes from the Israeli side. Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General of Israel in the Pacific Northwest, says “we value the relationships built on innovation, research and the exchange of ideas and we look forward to continued and increased partnerships between our faculties in the future.”