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"Crystal developers in the fields of nanotechnology can learn from the magnetic bacteria"

Says Dr. Nathalie Zithoni from Ben-Gurion University, one of the two winners of the UNESCO-L'Oréal Prize for Women in Science

Dr. Nathalie Zithoni is the winner of the UNESCO-L'Oreal Prize for Women in Science 013.
Dr. Nathalie Zithoni is the winner of the UNESCO-L'Oreal Prize for Women in Science 013.

"Crystal developers in the fields of nanotechnology can learn from the magnetic bacteria". Says Dr. Nathalie Zithoni from Ben-Gurion University, one of the two winners of the UNESCO-L'Oréal Prize for Women in Science. She and her colleague Dr. Edith Naor from Tel Aviv University won the prize this year, and they will represent Israel in the global competition. Each of them will receive a scholarship in the amount of NIS 50 intended to help them move to the universities where they will complete their post-doctorate.
Zithoni took a direct path to a doctorate in the laboratory of Dr. Raz Zaribetz, who at the time was part of the team that solved the ribosomal connection in the laboratory of Prof. Ada Yonat at the Weizmann Institute.
In a conversation with the "Hidan" website, Dr. Zithoni explains: "The field I am involved in is structural biology. I study magnetic bacteria. Through the structure of proteins or other molecules in the cell we try to learn about their function and how they can be improved or inhibited. This is an extensive field and basic science.”
"The magnetic bacteria carry out a unique process of biomineralization - the creation of solid material by living beings, i.e. biological. These bacteria know how to take dissolved iron from the water and create inside special organelles in the cell crystals of small, nanometer magnets. This whole process is controlled at the genetic level. I am interested in biomineralization - the transition from biological material to solid material, how proteins know how to do it. We chose the magnetic bacteria as a model material to study these processes."
"In general, the magnetic particles line up in a sort of row and are used like a compass needle, and this helps them navigate the Earth's magnetic field towards a suitable animal environment in the water."

It is true that it is basic science, but in what fields can it be used in the future?

"There is a great deal of interest from two areas - one from researchers interested in the magnetic particles themselves. These are nanometer crystals and very ordered. The chemical method accepted today creates nanometer crystals but they are created in non-uniform sizes. The advantage of the bacterium is that it gives a narrow range of sizes. The crystals themselves have good magnetic properties and are of interest to the computer industry for creating hard disks. If we know how to characterize the protein system that creates them, which is a complex system, we can first contribute to basic science, that is, understand processes of biomineralization. In addition, we will be able to better understand the proteins that know how to contact metal and use their properties for other applications. Today there is not much characterization of proteins that interact with metal surfaces, so it is important to study the subject."

"If we manage to understand the process well, we might be able to create the magnetic crystals in a test tube with the help of the proteins."

Where are magnetic bacteria found in nature?
Zithoni: "The bacteria are found in many places, both in fresh water, in salt water and in thermal springs. In recent months an article was published whose author claimed that there was once a time when the earth was very rich in iron and iron is poisonous to living creatures. Therefore it is possible that all the bacteria at that time were magnetic bacteria and the majority lost this feature with evolution and only some of them remained the feature. There are many types of magnetic bacteria and they are very common."

What will you do as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia in Canada?
"I'm going to continue in the field of structural biology, but this time with tuberculosis bacteria in the laboratory of Dr. Nathalie Sarindka. Tuberculosis bacteria know how to take over cells of the immune system by secreting proteins to these cells and weakening them. They use a unique protein system to secrete these proteins and I want to learn about this secretory system. If I succeed in deciphering the structures, we may be able to find small molecules or antibiotics of some kind that will be more adapted to blocking this secretion system."

What do you have to say to the awardees?

"The award is an amazing award, it is a great honor to win this award, it also of course helps a lot in the difficult process of starting a post doctorate. Ada Yonat, who, among other things, even before winning the Nobel, also won the UNESCO-L'Oreal prize, is a great inspiration for me, also in the professional field. I am very flattered and excited by this honor that has fallen to me both to win the award and to do my doctorate in a wonderful laboratory with amazing people and a supervisor that I wish all graduate students to have such a supervisor."

By the way, according to Zithoni, she and Naor are friends they met when they traveled together to a scientific conference in Japan.

The Minister of Science - Yaakov Perry said at the award ceremony: "The jury congratulates the two winning female scientists for this year - Dr. Nathalie Zithoni and Dr. Edith Naor and wishes them to continue the global tradition of groundbreaking achievements among Israeli women scientists."

"Dr. Zithoni's research in the field of bacteria and Dr. Naor in the field of the genetic transition of micro-organisms in the Dead Sea are groundbreaking and I wish you both success in Canada and the USA - I have no doubt that we will see you on the awards stage in your continued contribution to science."

"The purpose of the award is to honor the contribution of prominent women scientists and to convey a clear message that the encouragement of women in science is a first-rate interest of the State of Israel. The trend in Israel is definitely positive, definitely encouraging. "50% of science students are women" but still in some professions the percentage of women is low and we must encourage the trend."
"The increase in the number of female science students encourages and requires continued effort and action, and the office I head sees the encouragement of women as an important thing for the empowerment of women in Israeli science."

"Three issues - when talking about advancement in science - one - recruitment, the second - retention, and the third - advancement. In these three issues, we conducted ourselves for many years without a clear and uniform policy. We saw the buds for change precisely from the academy that knew how to recognize the challenge and most academic institutions built forums for the advancement of women. Change must be accelerated both in industry and in government offices. A policy that will know how to deal with the challenges facing women in entering science and research."

"As the Minister of Science, I see this as a responsibility and a mission to continue promoting women to the forefront of the scientific stage in Israel. We do this, among other things, with the help of the Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology with the aim of increasing the national product and improving the state of science. The council is chaired by Prof. Miriam Erez. The purpose of the council is to promote women from all sectors while taking initiative and recruiting women at all levels, even at the end of the doctorate for academia and of course for industry."
"The office invests tens of millions of shekels and on average tens of thousands of shekels per researcher. We will use this to strengthen the support we give to Israeli female researchers."

"As a strategic goal, the office chose to invest in the future female scientists project in which we provide guidance to outstanding girls from the periphery in grades 300 to 16. XNUMX girls from XNUMX different authorities. All these initiatives will not be able to bring about real change without the support of all government ministries and public bodies."

"As the Minister of Trust for Science and the Chair of the Forum of Chief Scientists of all Government Ministries, I placed the advancement of women as one of the Forum's goals. Without the female resource, there won't be enough science and there won't be enough technology."

The president of the Academy of Sciences, Prof. Ruth Arnon, who was also the chairman of the jury, said: "All those who return from the post receive a position from our academic system and begin research as independent researchers. Every year, the European community distributes two types of prestigious grants: grants for mature scientists and starting grants.

The European Research Council (ERC) distributed 277 of them to 32 Israeli scientists. The countries that catch up with us are Great Britain with 60 and Germany with 46. All the other countries including France, Switzerland and the Netherlands - are all behind us. If you look at the number of grants to a number of citizens - Israel is in first place in the world. The doctoral students who are now joining the crowd of young scientists that is developing in the post-war era and are returning to Israel - you are the future and the hope of science in Israel."

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