Jerusalem- Research leading towards a solution to the problem of colony collapse disorder (CCD) -- a world-wide syndrome of bee disappearance inflicting losses of an estimated $35 billion annually in the US alone -- has earned a Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor first prize in this year's Kaye Awards for Innovation. The awards will be presented on June 18 during the 76th meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors.
The project began with the discovery by Prof. Ilan Sela of a new virus (IAPV), and the insertion of the IAPV genome in the public database. Then, an American group doing a metagenomic study, associated the phenomenon of CCD with IAPV.
Subsequently, a group of investors approached Prof. Sela, asking him to be chief scientist of an Israeli startup company, Beeologics, which received a license to develop the technology from the Hebrew University's Yissum Technology Transfer Company. Beeologics' mission is to control bee diseases and pests. Within three years a method was developed for controlling IAPV by silencing the expression of the viral genes, thus controlling CCD.
Meanwhile, another apiary-threat, infestation by the mite Varroa destructor, was also brought under control. Two patents were written to protect these inventions. Last year Beeologics was bought by Monsanto for $120 million, and the product, "remebee," is now commercialized.
Sela, professor emeritus of virology and molecular biology at the Hebrew University's Robert H. Smith Institute for Plant Sciences and Genetics at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, joined the faculty of the university in 1968 and was named a full professor in 1981. Although he formally retired several years ago, he is actively involved in research, and has made significant breakthroughs in the study of virus-based vectors in plants and bees, and in gene silencing.
He has served at the Hebrew University as the director of the Otto Warburg Center for Agricultural Biotechnology, head of the Department of Entomology and chairman of the university's Inter-Track for Biotechnology.
Another Kaye Award winner this year among the Hebrew University faculty is Prof. Avi Domb of the Institute for Drug Research at the School of Pharmacy, who developed an innovative water filtration system for converting low quality drinking water into safe, healthy and tasty water. The invention has been successfully commercialized.
Also winning a Kaye Award is Prof. Emeritus Raymond Kaempfer of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Faculty of Medicine, who has developed groundbreaking technology in the area of inflammatory disease medicine, which also has been successfully developed commercially.
The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.