Israel’s economy in the previous millennium relied on agriculture, just like many young countries. In recent years, our agriculture sector suffered from the high cost of labor, lack of workers and competition from more lucrative high-tech sectors.
My laboratory at the Hebrew University has partnered with talented entrepreneurs, venture capital funds and the Israel Innovation Authority to put agriculture back in the front seat of the Israeli economy by creating new, exciting opportunities.
We are converting plants to sustainable production platforms of biomaterials — such as human collagen for printing tissues and organs for transplantation (CollPlant), biologic drugs (such as for rheumatoid arthritis) and growth factors for the cultured meat industry (Biobetter), probiotic bacteria to support gastrointestinal microbiome health (Wonder Veggies) and dairy proteins and fat without cows (Miruku).
I am motivated by my students. Young Israeli students think out of the box. They dream to make a change and an impact. This young generation isn’t just looking for job security but to have a meaningful life. Their dream is my fuel.
“My greatest challenge was never scientific or technological. It was always human skepticism.”
Three hundred years since the industrial revolution and fossil oil industry brought our planet to manmade environmental disaster, we are leading a new age, The Plant Age. Using modern technologies such as genetic engineering and genome editing, we can convert plants to produce any biomaterial. The plants consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, they are scalable and most importantly, sustainable. Our work may save us from the climate crisis.
Oddly enough, my greatest challenge was never scientific or technological. It was always human skepticism. Policymakers and decisionmakers are typically older people. Very few are openminded.
My father used to quote the farmer and writer Moshe Smilansky, “Im chaklaut po, moledet po,” simply translated to: “Without agriculture we have no homeland.” I am a great believer of that.
I look forward to continuing to work with young talented students and entrepreneurs, seizing the opportunity of scientific and technological advances of the last 10 years to make a better world for generations to come.