Improving Health & Medicine

How Weizmann is Using Science to Provide Food Security

E-News, March 2021

A year into Covid-related shutdowns, we are seeing a host of devastating impacts unrelated to the illness itself. One of these is hunger.

Food insecurity – lack of consistent access to sufficient, nutritious food – was a major public-health concern before the pandemic. Climate change’s extended droughts, destructive fires and storms, and rising waters are wiping out resources in many areas, notably India and Africa. Poverty is another contributing factor, particularly in cities with “food deserts” where it is hard to find fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthy options. (Interestingly, the World Bank reports that “children who are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults.”) 

Hunger may seem like something that happens in other countries, but under the pandemic, it is now an everyday crisis across America; people are suffering unprecedented financial losses and school closings mean that kids miss out on free or inexpensive meals. A report by NPR states that, in June 2020, nearly 14 million American children lived “in a household characterized by child food insecurity” and that Covid-19’s continuation could double the number of people experiencing food insecurity globally.

The Weizmann Institute’s mission – science for the benefit of humanity – is truly fulfilled by its research on food security. Having spent many years studying the problem’s complexities, Weizmann’s dedicated scientists are applying their expertise to the development of real, viable solutions, including:

  • “Super” soymilk to help malnourished children. In Africa, malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths of children under five. Food insecurity plays a big role in this problem, including lack of access to cow’s milk and its high caloric content, vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and quality proteins. Wanting to address this health crisis, Prof. Asaph Aharoni and his team are producing a soy plant that has the nutrients and energy a child needs. The resulting soybean milk is designed to have similar taste and nutrition to cow’s milk, but with a superior health profile: the plant will produce all seven proteins found in cow’s milk, express omegas 3 and 6, and naturally provide essential vitamins and minerals – meaning there is no need for additives.

    The drink can provide areas facing under-nutrition with a cow’s milk alternative that can be grown and cultivated by the community, using traditional farming techniques; thus, the milk-producing soybean plants could sustainably feed children in places where dairy farming is not possible.

  • Using old “good genes” to upgrade wheat. Wheat is a staple food around the world, but today’s domesticated version has a limited nutritional profile. It can even contribute to malnutrition when consumed in vast quantities, such as half of a person’s diet. Prof. Avi Levy is working to improve wheat’s nutritional quality, including boosting traits such as protein content, micronutrient composition, and antioxidant levels.

    Wheat originated in the Levant, and Prof. Levy and his team have travelled throughout the region to collect DNA samples from thousands of strains – including wild wheats and heirloom varieties that have been cultivated by farmers for hundreds of years. These strains are a rich source of “good genes,” and Prof. Levy is employing the revolutionary gene-editing technique CRISPR to transfer those desirable, healthy traits into the DNA of our weakened modern species.

    Prof. Levy’s work could have a significant positive impact on the health of millions of people who are malnourished – particularly children. He is also sharing his methods with the global scientific community: under his guidance, discoveries about plant biosynthesis are making it possible to upgrade plant productivity and bring it to the enhanced level needed to feed our growing world.

  • Fortifying defenses, overcoming diversity. Feeding the world is all the more challenging because a staggering proportion of crop yields worldwide – close to one-third – is regularly lost to pests, disease, and weather. Prof. Robert Fluhr and his team focus on research that can help increase yields by reducing these losses. In particular, they aim to understand – and ultimately enhance – the plant’s natural defenses against a variety of ills.

    In a collaboration with Australian scientists, Prof. Fluhr discovered the control switch for a crucial mechanism behind plant growth and survival. Certain enzymes come into play when the plant is trying to control the spread of a disease or needs to recover nutrients from old unused leaves – however, it’s crucial that the process occurs at exactly the pace needed to ensure the plant’s survival: fast enough to contain a disease, for example, but not so fast as to cause this rescue operation to kill the entire plant. Ultimately, the Fluhr team seeks to gain in-depth understanding of plant defenses, then use that knowledge to create hardier plants with greater yields, thus minimizing loss in the face of adversities such as a dry climate or poor soil.

These are just a few ways in which the Weizmann Institute is using sophisticated science to make a real-world difference. Please support our commitment to ensuring that food security exists everywhere – from well-off countries that need to improve their crops to marginalized areas that lack sufficient access to nutritious food – so that hunger and malnutrition become things of the past.

Improving Health & Medicine

How Weizmann is Using Science to Provide Food Security

E-News, March 2021 • TAGS: World hunger , Nutrition , Plants , Children

A year into Covid-related shutdowns, we are seeing a host of devastating impacts unrelated to the illness itself. One of these is hunger.

Food insecurity – lack of consistent access to sufficient, nutritious food – was a major public-health concern before the pandemic. Climate change’s extended droughts, destructive fires and storms, and rising waters are wiping out resources in many areas, notably India and Africa. Poverty is another contributing factor, particularly in cities with “food deserts” where it is hard to find fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthy options. (Interestingly, the World Bank reports that “children who are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults.”) 

Hunger may seem like something that happens in other countries, but under the pandemic, it is now an everyday crisis across America; people are suffering unprecedented financial losses and school closings mean that kids miss out on free or inexpensive meals. A report by NPR states that, in June 2020, nearly 14 million American children lived “in a household characterized by child food insecurity” and that Covid-19’s continuation could double the number of people experiencing food insecurity globally.

The Weizmann Institute’s mission – science for the benefit of humanity – is truly fulfilled by its research on food security. Having spent many years studying the problem’s complexities, Weizmann’s dedicated scientists are applying their expertise to the development of real, viable solutions, including:

  • “Super” soymilk to help malnourished children. In Africa, malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths of children under five. Food insecurity plays a big role in this problem, including lack of access to cow’s milk and its high caloric content, vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and quality proteins. Wanting to address this health crisis, Prof. Asaph Aharoni and his team are producing a soy plant that has the nutrients and energy a child needs. The resulting soybean milk is designed to have similar taste and nutrition to cow’s milk, but with a superior health profile: the plant will produce all seven proteins found in cow’s milk, express omegas 3 and 6, and naturally provide essential vitamins and minerals – meaning there is no need for additives.

    The drink can provide areas facing under-nutrition with a cow’s milk alternative that can be grown and cultivated by the community, using traditional farming techniques; thus, the milk-producing soybean plants could sustainably feed children in places where dairy farming is not possible.

  • Using old “good genes” to upgrade wheat. Wheat is a staple food around the world, but today’s domesticated version has a limited nutritional profile. It can even contribute to malnutrition when consumed in vast quantities, such as half of a person’s diet. Prof. Avi Levy is working to improve wheat’s nutritional quality, including boosting traits such as protein content, micronutrient composition, and antioxidant levels.

    Wheat originated in the Levant, and Prof. Levy and his team have travelled throughout the region to collect DNA samples from thousands of strains – including wild wheats and heirloom varieties that have been cultivated by farmers for hundreds of years. These strains are a rich source of “good genes,” and Prof. Levy is employing the revolutionary gene-editing technique CRISPR to transfer those desirable, healthy traits into the DNA of our weakened modern species.

    Prof. Levy’s work could have a significant positive impact on the health of millions of people who are malnourished – particularly children. He is also sharing his methods with the global scientific community: under his guidance, discoveries about plant biosynthesis are making it possible to upgrade plant productivity and bring it to the enhanced level needed to feed our growing world.

  • Fortifying defenses, overcoming diversity. Feeding the world is all the more challenging because a staggering proportion of crop yields worldwide – close to one-third – is regularly lost to pests, disease, and weather. Prof. Robert Fluhr and his team focus on research that can help increase yields by reducing these losses. In particular, they aim to understand – and ultimately enhance – the plant’s natural defenses against a variety of ills.

    In a collaboration with Australian scientists, Prof. Fluhr discovered the control switch for a crucial mechanism behind plant growth and survival. Certain enzymes come into play when the plant is trying to control the spread of a disease or needs to recover nutrients from old unused leaves – however, it’s crucial that the process occurs at exactly the pace needed to ensure the plant’s survival: fast enough to contain a disease, for example, but not so fast as to cause this rescue operation to kill the entire plant. Ultimately, the Fluhr team seeks to gain in-depth understanding of plant defenses, then use that knowledge to create hardier plants with greater yields, thus minimizing loss in the face of adversities such as a dry climate or poor soil.

These are just a few ways in which the Weizmann Institute is using sophisticated science to make a real-world difference. Please support our commitment to ensuring that food security exists everywhere – from well-off countries that need to improve their crops to marginalized areas that lack sufficient access to nutritious food – so that hunger and malnutrition become things of the past.