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Ukrainian Citizens Display High Resilience Amid Fighting

Research

Nov 2nd, 2022
Ukrainian Citizens Display High Resilience Amid Fighting

Ukrainian People show more national resilience than Israelis did during Operation "Guardian of the Walls"

  • Medicine

A first-of-its-kind study conducted by Tel Aviv University has found that the national resilience of the citizens of Ukraine, who are currently fighting for their independence, is comparatively very high (4.35) on a scale of 1 to 6. It is, in fact, significantly higher than the national resilience that characterized Israeli citizens (3.89) at the height of "Operation Guardian of the Walls" in May 2021.

 

The researchers explain this difference by saying that whereas Ukrainian citizens now find themselves fighting for their homeland and are ready to do anything to win the war, the rounds of fighting in Gaza have become a kind of recurrent nuisance for the citizens of Israel, accompanied by a moderate level of national resilience.

 

The study was led by Prof. Bruria Adini and Prof. Shaul Kimhi of the ResWell Research Center at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

 

 

Ukrainian Citizens Still Have Hope

According to the researchers, the current study constitutes the first attempt by academic researchers to assess Ukrainian citizens’ positive and negative coping indices during wartime. The study indicates that in such conditions of conflict, a population may experience high levels of stress and, simultaneously, high levels of societal resilience and hope for the future.

 

In the current situation in Ukraine, the population has also demonstrated a great deal of support for their government.

 

The study surveyed 1000 Ukrainian citizens, as well as a sample of about 650 Israeli citizens using data collected during Operation Guardian of the Walls. The study’s findings suggest that the danger, in the eyes of Ukrainian citizens, is perceived as much more tangible (3.7 on a scale of 1 to 5) than Israelis’ perception of danger in the rounds of fighting against Hamas in Gaza (2.45). The perception of threat amongst Ukrainians is also more significant (3.29) than among the citizens of Israel (2.79).

 

The researchers note that the younger population, those between the ages of 26 to 30, present higher levels of stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms compared to other age groups. Women report higher levels of all negative coping mechanisms in comparison to men.

 

Interestingly, despite the significant dangers and threats they face, Ukrainian citizens have not lost hope, with their ‘hope index’ being higher (an average of 3.95) than that of Israelis (an average of 3.5).

 

 

"Israelis, unlike the Ukrainian People, do not feel that their country is under a direct existential threat and have, to a certain degree, adapted to an ‘emergency routine’ due to the recurrent conflicts." Prof. Adini and Prof. Kimhi

 

 

Israelis Adapted to ‘Emergency Routine’

Prof. Adini and Prof. Kimhi explain that “the perception of a threat as existential to the survival and sovereignty of the state and society is likely, under certain conditions, to enhance the population’s societal resilience and sense of hope. This is the case even when the population feels anxious and threatened by the situation. "

 

"Moreover, it appears that the war launched by Russia against Ukraine has actually contributed to the process of Ukrainian identity-building, which also leads to increased levels of resilience, as well as an extremely high sense of hope."

 

"Israelis, unlike the Ukrainian People, do not feel that their country is under a direct existential threat and have, to a certain degree, adapted to an ‘emergency routine’ due to the recurrent conflicts. In light of this, they present lower levels of resilience relative to Ukrainians, but at the same time higher levels of well-being and morale.”

You and Me on the Beach, A Towel and Two Tons of Microplastic

Research

Oct 31st, 2022
You and Me on the Beach, A Towel and Two Tons of Microplastic

First-of-its-kind study reveals alarming findings about the level of microplastic pollution on Israel’s beaches

  • Engineering
  • Exact Sciences

If you've ever walked barefoot on the beach and noticed how, instead of seashells, the waves brought empty packages, disposable dishes, and small particles to the shore – you are right to feel alarmed.  A new Tel Aviv University study conducted in collaboration with the Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel examined the level of microplastic pollution along Israel’s coastline. The researchers collected sand samples from six beaches, from Haifa to Ashkelon. The research findings revealed that the Israeli shoreline is contaminated with more than two million tons of microplastics, with the most polluted beaches being those of Tel Aviv and Hadera.

 

In light of these worrying findings, the researchers warn exposure to microplastic waste is unavoidable. It should be noted that microplastics are generally proved as dangerous both to the environment and to human health.

 

Food Packaging, Single-use Plastic Products, and Fishing Nets

The study was led by doctoral student Andrey Ethan Rubin and master’s student Limor Omeysi from the laboratory of Dr. Ines Zucker of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The study was published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

 

Over the course of 2021, the researchers collected samples from six areas along the coast: Ashkelon, Rishon LeZion, Tel Aviv, Hadera, Dor Beach and Haifa. The samples were then taken to the laboratory where various analyses were performed, including particle count, mass measurements, image analysis, and chemical analysis to identify the polymer the plastic was made up of, as well as the elements adsorbed onto the microplastic particles. The researchers discovered, among other things, that the samples included plastic originating from food packaging, single-use plastic products, and fishing nets.

 

“It was interesting to see that plastics of terrestrial origin, such as food packaging, were more dominant than plastics of marine origin, such as fishing nets,” says Rubin. “This indicates a need for better regulation of coastal waste.”

 

From left to right: Doctoral student Andrey Ethan Rubin and Dr. Ines Zucker

 

 

Most Polluted: Beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera

The research findings show that the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera were the most polluted of the beaches tested. The level of contamination on these beaches, which are located near stream estuaries (the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and Nahal Alexander in Hadera), was four times higher than that of Rishon Lezion and Dor Beach, which were the two beaches with the lowest concentration of microplastic particles. Still, even in the Dor Beach nature reserve, which is cleaned frequently, a considerable amount of microplastic particles were found.

 

The researchers’ assessment is that the high level of pollution on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera and the fact that they are in close proximity to streams indicates that the stream’s waters carry microplastic particles with them into the sea, thereby intensifying the level of contamination on the beach.

 

 

"The smaller the plastic particles, the harder it is to remove them from the environment, and the more dangerous they are to the environment and to our health. The microplastic particles that drift into the sea are swallowed by fish, and their remains eventually reach humans." Andrey Ethan Rubin

 

 

For example, the researchers say that Nahal Alexander collects leachate from untreated sewage from the West Bank, as well as waste from agricultural and industrial areas located near the riverbeds. Similarly, microplastics accumulate at the Yarkon River from the industrial centers in Tel Aviv.

 

“Our research reveals that the Israeli coastline likely contains over two tons of microplastic waste,” says Rubin. “Environmental conditions slowly break this plastic down into even smaller particles. The smaller the plastic particles, the harder it is to remove them from the environment, and the more dangerous they are to the environment and to our health. The microplastic particles that drift into the sea are swallowed by fish, and their remains eventually reach humans.”

 

Dr. Zucker adds: “Our microplastic studies reveal the current state of microplastic pollution along Israel’s Mediterranean coast and provide knowledge on the effects of the presence of microplastics in the environment. Plastic monitoring research in Israel is still lacking, and we must monitor the smaller plastic particles and additional environmental samples, such as sea water and streams, in order to better understand environmental patterns with regards to the presence of microplastics. This way or another, it would appear that exposure to microplastic waste is inevitable. We are working on assessing the environmental and health impacts that may arise given the prevalence and high concentrations of the particles that we found. In a practical perspective, regulatory steps are required in order to reduce Israel’s contribution to microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean.”

The Bible - Fact or Fiction?

Research

Oct 25th, 2022
The Bible - Fact or Fiction?

Researchers confirm invasions of biblical Israel using geomagnetic fields 

  • Humanities

A joint study by TAU and the Hebrew University, involving 20 researchers from different countries and disciplines, has accurately dated 21 destruction layers at 17 archaeological sites in Israel by reconstructing the direction and/or intensity of the earth's magnetic field recorded in burnt remnants. The new data verify the Biblical accounts of the Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian military campaigns against the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

 

Findings indicate, for example, that the army of Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus, was responsible for the destruction of several cities - Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit, and Horvat Tevet, in addition to Gath of the Philistines, whose destruction is noted in the Hebrew Bible. At the same time, the study refutes the prevailing theory that Hazael was the conqueror who destroyed Tel Beth-Shean.

 

Other geomagnetic findings reveal that the cities in the Negev were destroyed by the Edomites, who took advantage of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians.

 

The groundbreaking interdisciplinary study was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) and is based on the doctoral thesis of Yoav Vaknin, supervised by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef and Prof. Oded Lipschits of TAU's Nadler Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Ron Shaar from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University.

 

 

WATCH: Yoav Vaknin from TAU's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology explains about the research

 

 

 

Reliable Tool for Archaeological Dating

The researchers explain that geophysicists, attempting to understand the mechanism of earth's magnetic field, track changes in this field throughout history. To this end, they use archaeological findings containing magnetic minerals which, when heated or burned, record the magnetic field at the time of the fire.

 

Thus, in a 2020 study, researchers reconstructed the magnetic field as it was on the 9th of the month of Av, 586 BCE, the Hebrew date of the destruction of the First Temple and the City of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army.

 

Now, using archaeological findings unearthed over several decades at 17 sites throughout Israel, alongside historical information from ancient inscriptions and Biblical accounts, the researchers were able to reconstruct the magnetic fields recorded in 21 destruction layers. They used the data to develop a reliable new scientific tool for archaeological dating.

 

Yoav Vaknin explains: "Based on the similarity or difference in intensity and direction of the magnetic field, we can either corroborate or disprove hypotheses claiming that specific sites were burned during the same military campaign. Moreover, we have constructed a variation curve of field intensity over time which can serve as a scientific dating tool, similar to the radiocarbon dating method."

 

 

Yoav Vaknin measuring at the site (Photo: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

 

 

One example given by the researchers is the destruction of Gath of the Philistines (identified today as Tel Tzafit in the Judean foothills) by Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus. Various dating methods have placed this event at around 830 BCE but were unable to verify that Hazael was also responsible for the destruction of Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit and Horvat Tevet.

 

The new study, identifying full statistical synchronization between the magnetic fields recorded at all these four sites at the time of destruction, now makes a very strong case for their destruction having taken place during the same campaign.

 

A destruction level at Tel Beth-Shean, on the other hand, recording a totally different magnetic field, refutes the prevailing hypothesis that it too was destroyed by Hazael. Instead, the magnetic data from Beth-Shean indicate that this city, along with two other sites in northern Israel, was probably destroyed 70-100 years earlier, a date which could correspond with the military campaign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq.

 

Shoshenq's campaign is described in the Hebrew Bible and in an inscription on a wall of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt, which mentions Beth-Shean as one of his conquests.

 

 

"While Jerusalem and frontier cities in the Judean foothills ceased to exist, other towns in the Negev, the southern Judean Mountains and the southern Judean foothills remained almost unaffected. Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah's ultimate demise." Prof. Erez Ben Yosef

 

 

Judah's Ultimate Demise

One of the most interesting findings revealed by the new dating method has to do with the end of the Kingdom of Judah. Prof. Erez Ben Yosef: "The last days of the Kingdom of Judah are widely debated. Some researchers, relying on archaeological evidence, argue that Judah was not completely destroyed by the Babylonians. While Jerusalem and frontier cities in the Judean foothills ceased to exist, other towns in the Negev, the southern Judean Mountains and the southern Judean foothills remained almost unaffected. Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah's ultimate demise."

 

"Several decades after they had destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, sites in the Negev, which had survived the Babylonian campaign, were destroyed – probably by the Edomites who took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem. This betrayal and participation in the destruction of the surviving cities may explain why the Hebrew Bible expresses so much hatred for the Edomites - for example, in the prophecy of Obadiah."   

 

Prof. Oded Lipschits adds that "the new dating tool is unique because it is based on geomagnetic data from sites, whose exact destruction dates are known from historical sources. By combining precise historical information with advanced, comprehensive archaeological research, we were able to base the magnetic method on reliably anchored chronology."

 

 

Burnt mud stones

 

 

"Until recently scientists believed that [the magnetic field] remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity." Prof. Ron Shaar

 

 

Taking Advantage of an Unstable Geomagnetic Field

Prof. Ron Shaar, who led the geophysical aspects of the study, as well as the development of the geomagnetic dating method, explains: "Earth's magnetic field is critical to our existence. Most people don't realize that without it there could be no life on earth - since it shields us from cosmic radiation and the solar wind. In addition, both humans and animals use it to navigate."

 

"The geomagnetic field is generated by earth's outer core, at a depth of 2,900 km, by currents of liquid iron. Due to the chaotic motion of this iron, the magnetic field changes over time. Until recently scientists believed that it remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity."

 

"Our location here in Israel is uniquely conducive to archaeomagnetic research, due to an abundance of well-dated archaeological findings. Over the past decade we have reconstructed magnetic fields recorded by hundreds of archaeological items. By combining this dataset with the data from Yoav’s investigation of historical destruction layers, we were able to form a continuous variation curve showing rapid, sharp changes in the geomagnetic field. This is wonderful news, both for archaeologists, who can now use geomagnetic data to determine the age of ancient materials, and for geophysicists studying the earth's core."

 

A separate paper, presenting the scientific principles of the novel archaeomagnetic dating method, is in preparation.

Improving the Well-being of Women with BRCA Gene, Responsible for Breast Cancer

Research

Oct 19th, 2022
Improving the Well-being of Women with BRCA Gene, Responsible for Breast Cancer

Unique technique found by Tel Aviv University researchers to improve emotional well-being of women with increased risk of breast cancer, assist in decision making

  • Medicine

Many young women with increased risk of breast cancer (carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes) suffer from a state of uncertainty regarding their future, mainly due to the realization that they are highly likely to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. There is currently no effective treatment for preventing the illness and the only active procedure available is a risk-reducing mastectomy [surgery to remove a breast] and/or oophorectomy [a surgical procedure to remove one or both ovaries] around the age of 40 (it was this procedure that Angelina Jolie underwent in 2013).

 

Due to fear and uncertainty, these women often suffer psychological and physical symptoms that significantly disrupt their normal lives. In a new study conducted at Tel Aviv University, researchers sought to examine whether workshops and tools for promoting personal health, relief of stress and tension, and strengthening of mental soundness can improve the emotional well-being and quality of sleep of these young women. The researchers determined that use of the Inquiry Based Stress Reduction (IBSR) technique can be very helpful in coping with stressful events, enhance emotional and psychological well-being, improve quality of sleep, and assist in decision making.

 

 

Doing "The Work"

The study was led by Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with Prof. Eitan Friedman of Sheba Medical Center and assistance from other researchers, as part of PhD student Clara Landau's dissertation. The study was published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA Network Open.

 

The study included 100 women, all carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes and currently under supervision at the Meirav Breast Center at Sheba Medical Center. As part of the study, the women learned and practiced the IBSR method, a clinical application of "The Work" by Byron Katie, consisting of a mindful self-inquiry for increased mindfulness, work on stress-causing beliefs (the "Inquiry" process) for reduction of stress, and cognitive reframing.

 

Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari

 

 

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever study in the world in the framework of such an experiment, as far as the number of participants is concerned." 

 

 

Significant Improvements

The results were impressive. After participating in the workshops, as well as self-practice, the women showed great improvement in all aspects of personal growth, positive relations with others, life goals, and self acceptance. A clear improvement was seen in quality of sleep, which returned to normal.

 

Furthermore, a clear change of attitude was found among the participants with regard to previous doubts over whether to undergo surgical procedures such as mastectomy and oophorectomy. The technique helped the women make rational medical decisions, and some changed their position from ruling out the option of having any procedure done to scheduling a doctor's appointment to discuss the option.

 

The researchers believe their findings indicate that study and practice of IBSR techniques might improve the psychological well-being of women with BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutations, and form the basis (in conjunction with other studies) for recommending to consider providing this technique to women, along with their oncogenetic consultation.

 

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever study in the world in the framework of such an experiment, as far as the number of participants is concerned," says Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari.

 

"We think that healthcare services in Israel and worldwide should evaluate the impact of coping with the genetic information and surgical procedures offered to asymptomatic women carriers on their emotional well-being and quality of life, and offer them interventions to promote their health on the individual level, such that have been scientifically proven in improving the quality of life and emotional well-being of women with the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes," he summarizes.

The Hitchhiker's Guide for Hostile Species

Research

Oct 18th, 2022
The Hitchhiker's Guide for Hostile Species

First-of-its-kind study shows how invasive marine species survive under surprising environmental conditions

  • Life Sciences

The phenomenon of marine animals invading distant regions endangers local marine environments and their resident species. A new study from Tel Aviv University included a pioneering experiment simulating the changing environmental conditions encountered en route by marine animals 'hitching a ride' by clinging to the bottom of container ships, traveling with the ship to distant regions around the globe. In this study, researchers demonstrate that suitable regulation can decrease this phenomenon and prevent potential invaders from reaching new habitats.

 

The study was led by research student Doron Bereza under the supervision of Prof. Noa Shenkar of the School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Science of the Total Environment

 

 

"At any given moment, thousands of marine creatures travel from one location to another by marine vessels."

 

 

Harmful to Local Species

The experiment demonstrated that the animals' ability to survive the arduous journey depends on factors like the type of vessel and the route it navigates, as well as the changing temperature and salinity of seawater.

 

According to the researchers, the routes of vessels of different sizes are determined mainly by technical limitations of infrastructures at different ports, as well as economic trends in the shipping industry. This results in unique geographic routes that create completely different sets of environmental and other challenges for creatures attaching themselves to these vessels. 

 

"At any given moment, thousands of marine creatures travel from one location to another by marine vessels," says Prof. Shenkar. "They do this in two different ways: in the ballast water - seawater taken on by the vessel for stabilizing, or by clinging to the ship's hull. The problem of invasive species transferred by ballast is addressed by legislation, but the 'hitchhikers' clinging to the ships are not – and thus numerous species are transferred from place to place along international trade routes."

 

 

Prof. Noa Shenkar

 

An experiment conducted by research student Doron Bereza, together with Prof. Shenkar, examined the survivability of two species of 'ascidians' [marine invertebrates, or cold-blooded animals with no backbone], known to be harmful, on a journey that follows a typical trade route – from Southeast Asia to Northern Europe. Ascidians attach to hard surfaces such as rocks, breakwaters, and ship hulls. There are hundreds of species of ascidians, and the rise in global trade enables some opportunistic species to disperse over great distances, sometimes establishing themselves as invasive species and harming both marine infrastructures and local species in their new habitats.

 

Doron Bereza: "We focused on two species of ascidians that are common in the Mediterranean, including Israel, and are known to be transferred by ships. I created a comprehensive database, comprising info from about 200 container ships, and used it to build a route representing the trade routes of two different types of container ships - giant vessels, over 395m in length, vs. 'regular' container ships that can be served by the infrastructures of more harbors. In addition, I collected data about changes in seawater temperatures and salinity, as well as chlorophyl concentrations, as a measure for the availability of food on the voyage and at the different ports along the way."

 

 

"We were surprised to discover that one tropical ascidian species survived the entire journey to Rotterdam. This does not mean that the creatures enjoyed their trip, but the fact is that they did survive, and just a few individuals are sufficient for launching an invasive population in the new territory." 

 

 

Making their Trip Unbearable

In the second stage of the study, the researchers exposed both species of ascidians to similar conditions in the lab. Bereza: "We discovered that survivability was significantly impacted by several factors: environmental conditions, the type of vessel, and traits of the animal itself. Under extreme conditions, found in some eastern ports, such as a combination of high temperatures and low salinity, one species died out completely, while no mortality was observed in the other species."

 

"In real life, even when routes are generally similar, these ports are not visited by ships over a certain size, for lack of suitable infrastructures. Thus, we concluded that docking at ports with different extremes in conditions can significantly diminish the survival chances of specific species clinging to the ships. Additional experiments of this kind, specifically addressing groups of marine animals that pose a threat, can lead to effective regulatory measures for preventing the conveyance of species."

 

Prof. Shenkar adds: "We were surprised to discover that one tropical ascidian species survived the entire journey to Rotterdam. This does not mean that the creatures enjoyed their trip, but the fact is that they did survive, and just a few individuals are sufficient for launching an invasive population in the new territory. Moreover, global warming is expected to enable tropical species to thrive in water that is still too cold at present. The fact that the environmental conditions in some ports on the way proved deadly to almost all members of a certain species, suggests that such locations may be utilized as environmental barriers to prevent the spreading of invasive species."

Want Success in Business? Have a Diverse Workforce

Research

Oct 3rd, 2022
Want Success in Business? Have a Diverse Workforce

Diversity in gender and ethnicity among employees can lead to over 50% improvement in company decision-making

  • Social Sciences

Gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace are not just a matter of morality or political correctness, according to Prof. Thalma Lobel of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences. Lobel explains that diversity, in fact, contributes to the success of companies and organizations worldwide.

 

 

“When you bring people with different opinions into the room, the decision-making process becomes more complex, and the participants take more information into account. The more perspectives and points of view that are heard, the greater the chances of reaching a better solution.”

 

 

More Points of View

In her study, Lobel presents a wealth of empirical evidence that gender and ethnic diversity improves the performance of companies and organizations – to the point of bringing about a 58% improvement in decision-making. She mentions as an example a 2008 report, which she says, "found that among the companies included in the Fortune 500 list, those whose board of directors included more women achieved better financial results."

 

In another example, researchers from the Credit Suisse Research Institute surveyed 2,360 companies and found that the ones whose board of directors included at least one woman performed better than those whose board consisted of only men.

 

A McKinsey report examined the impact of gender and multinational diversity on companies’ financial performance. The researchers looked at the composition of the boards of directors of 180 companies in France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States from 2008 to 2010, and the results were clear: the financial success of the companies that were characterized by diversity were significantly higher than those that were less diverse.”

 

According to Prof. Lobel, these and other studies clearly demonstrate that diversity offers significant benefits to companies and improves their functioning, since people from different backgrounds bring with them a variety of perspectives, points of view, and types of knowledge, and this variety contributes to innovation and creativity: “When you bring people with different opinions into the room, the decision-making process becomes more complex and the participants take more information into account. The more perspectives and points of view that are heard, the greater the chances of reaching a better solution.”

 

Prof. Thalma Lobel

 

 

"This was a surprising finding which may have far-reaching implications: the mere presence of the minorities changed the trend of decision-making."

 

 

Diversity - Louder than Words

Diversity in the workplace, in fact, improves performance even if the diverse perspectives are not heard at all. “Researchers examined the effect of diversity in racial origin on decision-making and the performance of traders in the capital market,” says Prof. Lobel. “They invited people with a financial background to participate in the study, and trained them to calculate the intrinsic value of stocks. The participants were then divided into groups with either a homogenous or diverse make-up. The diverse groups included at least one person of a different origin than the other participants. The researchers conducted their study in two markets – North America and Southeast Asia.

 

“In North America, the homogenous group included only white traders, while the diverse group included one trader of African-American origin and one of Latino origin. In Asia, the homogenous group was composed of only Chinese traders, and the diverse group also included traders from Malaysia and India. The results were astonishing: the members of the diverse groups demonstrated a significantly higher level of accuracy in stock pricing than the homogeneous groups. Their ability to quote a price that reflected the true value of the assets was 58% higher.

 

“The members of the homogeneous groups tended to pay unreasonable and exorbitant prices, which were further from the true value of the stocks than those quoted by the diverse groups. In other words, the chances of a dangerous bubble forming were higher when the trading was carried out by a homogenous group, and lower when the traders belonged to different ethnic groups. This was a surprising finding which may have far-reaching implications: the mere presence of the minorities changed the trend of decision-making."

 

 

"When you form a team, task force or committee, try to include as many people as possible from a variety of ethnic groups, genders, and backgrounds."

 

 

Get an Outsider’s Opinion

In her book, Whatever Works, published in the United States in 2020, Prof. Lobel presents findings that extend far beyond the world of work and business: A study conducted by Prof. Richard Freeman and his doctoral student Wei Huang of Harvard University compared 2.5M articles published in scientific journals, and found that articles whose authors came from diverse ethnic backgrounds garnered more mentions and citations in the scientific literature.

 

“Many studies show that working in a diverse team contributes to better decision-making,” Prof. Lobel concludes. “In light of this, you should take a look around the next time you’re working on a joint project. Are all your team members of the same gender and ethnic group as you? If the answer is yes, you should carefully consider all your options and avoid rushing to make any decisions. You will likely benefit from getting an outsider’s opinion. When you form a team, task force or committee, try to include as many people as possible from a variety of ethnic groups, genders, and backgrounds.”

Our Ancestors Irreparably Damaged the Timna Valley Environment 3000 Years Ago

Research

Sep 28th, 2022
Our Ancestors Irreparably Damaged the Timna Valley Environment 3000 Years Ago

Their activities destroyed local vegetation for the copper industry

  • Humanities

Humans destroying ecosystems apparently dates as far back as to biblical times: Researchers from Tel Aviv University collected samples of charcoal used as fuel for metallurgical furnaces in the Timna Valley, located in Israel’s southern desert region, during the 11th-9th centuries BCE and examined them under a microscope. They found that the charcoal fuels used changed over time. The earlier samples contained mainly local white broom and acacia thorn trees, excellent fuel available nearby, but the quality of the firewood had deteriorated over time, with later samples consisting of low-quality wood fuel and timber imported from afar.

 

The researchers: "Our findings indicate that the ancient copper industry at Timna was not managed in a sustainable manner, with overexploitation of local vegetation eventually leading to the disappearance of both the plants and the industry. Copper production was not renewed in this region until about a thousand years later, and the local environment has not recovered fully to this day."

 

 

"We can only assume that [King] David took an interest in this remote desert region because of its copper – an important and valuable metal at the time, used for making bronze among other purposes."

 

 

Why Burn so Many Trees?

The study was conducted by PhD student Mark Cavanagh, Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, and Dr. Dafna Langgut, head of the Laboratory of Archaeobotany and Ancient Environments, all from TAU's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, and Dr. Langgut is also affiliated with the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The study was published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports from the Nature portfolio.

 

"Many findings in the Timna Valley indicate that a vast copper industry flourished here for a period of about 250 years, between the 11th and 9th centuries BCE, with thousands of mining sites, and about 10 processing sites that used furnaces to extricate copper from the ore," says Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, director of the archaeological excavations in the Timna Valley. "This impressive operation is known to the public as 'King Solomon's Mines', and today we know that copper production peaked here at about the time of Kings David and Solomon."

 

"The Bible never mentions the mines as such, but it does tell us that David conquered the area of Timna, known at the time as Edom, placing garrisons throughout the land, so that the Edomites became his subjects; and that his son Solomon used huge quantities of copper for building the Temple in Jerusalem. We can only assume that David took an interest in this remote desert region because of its copper – an important and valuable metal at the time, used for making bronze among other purposes. The Timna copper industry was run by the local Edomites, who specialized in this profession, and copper from Timna was exported to distant lands, including Egypt, Lebanon, and even Greece. This study shows, however, that the industry was not sustainable, a fact that may fit in well with occupation by a foreign power, perhaps ruled from Jerusalem."

 

Investigating a pile of industrial waste mixed with charcoal on Slaves’ Hill, Timna Valley (photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and the Central Timna Valley Project)

 

The researchers explain that Timna's copper industry was highly advanced for its time, and that the metalsmiths who processed the copper were skilled and well-respected individuals.

 

The copper was extracted from the ore via smelting in earthenware furnaces at a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius. The entire process took about eight hours, after which the furnace was smashed, and the copper retrieved from its base. The wood charcoal required to attain the high temperature was manufactured beforehand at special sites, by slow combustion of trees and bushes cut down for this purpose.

 

Where did the Firewood Come From?

Ever since the copper industry at Timna was first discovered, about 200 years ago, researchers have repeatedly asked what fuel was used to heat the smelting furnaces. Since vegetation is very sparse in this desert area, where did the firewood come from?

 

"In order to finally solve this mystery, we collected samples of charcoal from the smelting sites and examined them in the lab," says Mark Cavanagh. The charcoal samples, well-preserved thanks to the dry desert climate, were taken from mounds of industrial waste at two large production sites in the Timna Valley and brought to the archaeobotanical laboratory at TAU.

 

"At the lab we examine plant remains discovered at archeological excavations," explains Dr. Dafna Langgut. "In the present study we examined more than 1,000 charcoal samples under an electronic microscope. The anatomic structure of the original wood is preserved in the charcoal, and under the microscope the species can be identified. The samples were dated according to the layer of the waste mound in which they had been found, and some were also sent out for carbon-14 dating."

 

 

"The production site called the 'Slaves’ Hill' (…) burned as many as 400 acacias and 1,800 brooms every year. As these resources dwindled, the industry looked for other solutions, as evidenced by the changing composition of the charcoal."

 

 

Excavating Slaves’ Hill (photo: Hai Ashkenazi, courtesy of the Central Timna Valley Project)

 

Mark Cavanagh describes the findings: "We found significant changes in the composition of the charcoal as time went on. Charcoal from the bottom layer of the mounds, dated to the 11th century BCE, mostly contained two plants known to be excellent burning materials: 40% acacia thorn trees, and 40% local white broom, including broom roots. The 'burning coals of the broom tree' are even mentioned in the Bible as excellent firewood (Psalm 120, 4). About 100 years later, around the middle of the 10th century BCE, we saw a change in the makeup of the charcoal. The industry had begun to use fuel of a lower quality, such as various desert bushes and palm trees. In this latter stage, other trees were imported from far away, such as junipers from the Edomite plateau in present-day Jordan, covering distances of up to 100 km from Timna, and terebinth, also transported from dozens of kilometers away."

 

Lasting Damage

The researchers claim that the gradual change in the contents of the charcoal resulted from overexploitation that had destroyed the natural resources – in this case high-quality firewood, the acacia and white broom.

 

Prof. Ben-Yosef: "Based on the amount of industrial waste found at the processing sites we can calculate the quantity of woody plants required for producing copper. For example, the production site called the 'Slaves’ Hill', which was only one of several sites operating simultaneously, burned as many as 400 acacias and 1,800 brooms every year. As these resources dwindled, the industry looked for other solutions, as evidenced by the changing composition of the charcoal. However, transporting woody plants from afar did not prove cost-effective for the long run, and eventually, during the 9th century BCE, all production sites were shut down. The copper industry in the Timna Valley was renewed only 1,000 later, by the Nabateans."

 

Dr. Langgut concludes: "Our study indicates that 3,000 years ago humans caused severe environmental damage in the Timna Valley, which affects the area to this day. The damage was caused through overexploitation, especially of the acacia and white broom, which, as key species in the ecosystem of the Southern Arava, had supported many other species, stored water, and stabilized the soil. Their disappearance generated a domino effect of environmental damage, irreparably harming the entire area. Three thousand years later, the local environment still hasn't recovered from the crisis. Some species, like the white broom, once prevalent in the Timna Valley, are now very rare, and others have disappeared forever."

 

Tel Aviv University's Dr. Dafna Langgut and Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef

World’s Earliest Evidence of Opium Use

Research

Sep 28th, 2022
World’s Earliest Evidence of Opium Use

Opium residue was found in Israel, dating back to the 14th century BC. Researchers believe Canaanites used the psychoactive drug as offering for the dead

  • Humanities

A new study by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and The Weizmann Institute of Science has revealed the earliest known evidence of the use of the hallucinogenic drug opium, and psychoactive drugs in general, in the world. The opium residue was found in ceramic vessels discovered at Tel Yehud in Israel, in an excavation conducted by Eriola Jakoel on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. The vessels that contained the opium date back to the 14th century BC, and were found in Canaanite graves, apparently having been used in local burial rituals.

 

This exciting discovery confirms historical writings and archeological hypotheses according to which opium and its trade played a central role in the cultures of the Near East.

 

The research was conducted as part of Vanessa Linares’s doctoral thesis, under the guidance of Prof. Oded Lipschits and Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archeology and Prof. Ronny Neumann of the Weizmann Institute, in collaboration with Eriola Jakoel and Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The study was published in the journal Archaeometry.

 

 

"Because the vessels are similar in shape to the poppy flower when it is closed and upside down, the hypothesis arose already in the 19th century that they were used as ritual vessels for the drug."

 

 

Thoughtful Send-off

In 2012, the Antiquities Authority conducted a salvage excavation at the Tel Yehud site, prior to the construction of residences there. Several Canaanite graves from the Late Bronze Age were found in the excavation, and next to them burial offerings – vessels intended to accompany the dead into the afterlife.

 

Among the pottery, a large group of vessels made in Cyprus and referred to in the study as “Base-Ring juglets,” stood out. Because the vessels are similar in shape to the poppy flower when it is closed and upside down, the hypothesis arose already in the 19th century that they were used as ritual vessels for the drug.

 

Now, an organic residue analysis has revealed opium residue in eight vessels, some local and some made in Cyprus. This is the first time that opium has been found in pottery in general, and in Base-Ring vessels in particular. It is also the earliest known evidence of the use of hallucinogens in the world.

 

Vessels intended to accompany the dead into the afterlife. These Cypriot jugs and juglets were laid on the deceased. Remains of opium were found in several of the vessels (photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

 

 

"It may be that during these ceremonies, conducted by family members or by a priest on their behalf, participants attempted to raise the spirits of their dead relatives in order to express a request, and would enter an ecstatic state by using opium."

 

 

Raising Spirits

"In the excavations conducted at Tel Yehud to date, hundreds of Canaanite graves from the 18th to the 13th centuries BC have been unearthed," shares Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "Most of the bodies buried were those of adults, of both sexes. The pottery vessels which had been placed within the graves were used for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members."

 

Beeri explains that the dead were honored with foods and drinks that were either placed in the vessels or consumed during a feast that took place over the grave, at which the deceased was, in fact, considered a participant. It may be that during these ceremonies, conducted by family members or by a priest on their behalf, participants attempted to raise the spirits of their dead relatives to express a request, and would enter an ecstatic state by using opium. Alternatively, he says, the opium, which was placed next to the body, may have been intended to help the spirit of the deceased rise from the grave in preparation for the meeting with their relatives in the next life.

 

 

"Canaanites attached great importance to ‘satisfying the needs of the dead’ through ritual ceremonies performed for them by the living, and believed that in return, the spirits would ensure the health and safety of their living relatives"

 

 

Highly Valued Drug

Vanessa Linares of Tel Aviv University explains: “This is the only psychoactive drug that has been found in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age. In 2020, researchers discovered cannabis residue on an altar in Tel Arad, but this dated back the Iron Age, hundreds of years after the opium in Tel Yehud. Because the opium was found at a burial site, it offers us a rare glimpse into the burial customs of the ancient world. Of course, we do not know what the opium’s role was in the ceremony – whether the Canaanites in Yehud believed that the dead would need opium in the afterlife, or whether it was the priests who consumed the drug for the purposes of the ceremony."

 

"Moreover, the discovery sheds light on the opium trade in general. One must remember that opium is produced from poppies, which grew in Asia Minor – that is, in the territory of current-day Turkey – whereas the pottery in which we identified the opium were made in Cyprus. In other words, the opium was brought to Yehud from Turkey, through Cyprus; this of course indicates the importance that was attributed to the drug.”

 

Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Antiquities Authority adds, “Until now, no written sources have been discovered that describe the exact use of narcotics in burial ceremonies, so we can only speculate what was done with opium. From documents that were discovered in the Ancient Near East, it appears that the Canaanites attached great importance to ‘satisfying the needs of the dead’ through ritual ceremonies performed for them by the living, and believed that in return, the spirits would ensure the health and safety of their living relatives.”

 

According to Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “New scientific capabilities have opened a window for us to fascinating information and have provided us with answers to questions that we never would have dreamed of finding in the past. One can only imagine what other information we will be able to extract from the underground discoveries that will emerge in the future.”

Slowing Down Skin Cancer

Research

Sep 22nd, 2022
Slowing Down Skin Cancer

Tel Aviv University researchers decipher the mechanism that enables skin cancer to metastasize to the brain - delaying its spread by 80%

  • Medicine

Once melanoma, or skin cancer, spreads to the brain, it becomes extremely aggressive. Individuals with this stage of cancer are given an average 15 months to live, and that is following surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Researchers from Tel Aviv University deciphered, for the first time, a mechanism that enables skin cancer to metastasize to the brain and managed to delay the spread of the disease by 60% to 80% (depending on the stage of the intervention) using existing treatments.

 

The encouraging study was led by Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro and Ph.D. student Sabina Pozzi of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. The results were published in the scientific journal JCI Insight.

 

"In an advanced stage, 90% of melanoma patients will develop brain metastases. This is a puzzling statistic. We expect to see metastases in the lungs and liver, but the brain is supposed to be a protected organ."

 

How do the Cancer Cells Infiltrate the Brain?

"In an advanced stage, 90% of melanoma [/skin cancer] patients will develop brain metastases," explains Prof. Satchi-Fainaro. "This is a puzzling statistic. We expect to see metastases in the lungs and liver, but the brain is supposed to be a protected organ. The blood-brain barrier keeps harmful substances from entering the brain, and here it supposedly doesn't do the job—cancer cells from the skin circulate in the blood and manage to reach the brain. We asked ourselves with ‘whom’ the cancer cells 'talk' to in the brain to infiltrate it."

 

The researchers found that in melanoma patients with brain metastases, the cancer cells "recruit" cells called 'astrocytes', star-shaped cells found in the spinal cord and brain which are responsible for maintaining stable conditions (/homeostasis) in the brain.

 

"The astrocytes are the first to come to correct the situation in the event of a stroke or trauma, for example," says Prof. Satchi-Fainaro, "and it is with them that the cancer cells interact, exchanging molecules and corrupting them."

 

Protecting the Brain's Border Guards

"Moreover, the cancer cells recruit the astrocytes so that they do not inhibit the spread of the metastases. As such, they create local inflammation in the melanoma cells-astrocytes interaction areas that increase the permeability through the blood-brain barrier, as well as the division and migration of the cancer cells."

 

"The communication between them is reflected in the fact that the astrocytes begin to secrete a protein that promotes inflammation called MCP-1 (also known as CCL2), and in response to this, the cancer cells begin to express its receptors CCR2 and CCR4, which we suspected to be responsible for the destructive communication with the astrocytes."

 

"Both the antibody and the small molecule we used (…) have already been tested on humans as part of clinical trials. Therefore, these treatments are considered safe, and we can try to repurpose them for melanoma."

 

To test their hypothesis, Prof. Satchi-Fainaro and her team tried to inhibit the expression of the protein and its receptors in genetically engineered lab models and in 3D models of primary melanoma and brain metastases. To this end, the researchers used both an antibody (biological molecule) and a small molecule (synthetic), designed to block the MCP-1 protein. They also employed CRISPR technology, a gene-editing technique, to genetically edit the cancer cells and cut out the two genes that express the two relevant receptors, CCR2 and CCR4. With each of the methods, the researchers were able to delay the spread of metastases.

 

"These treatments succeeded in delaying the penetration of the cancer cells into the brain and their subsequent spread throughout the brain,” says Prof. Satchi-Fainaro. The team succeeded in achieving a 60% to 80% delay, depending on the stage of the intervention. They achieved the best results with the treatment conducted immediately after surgery to remove the primary melanoma and were able to prevent the metastases from penetrating the brain.

 

"I believe that the treatment is suitable for the clinic as a preventive measure," says Satchi-Fainaro. "Both the antibody and the small molecule we used—which are primarily intended to treat sclerosis, diabetes, liver fibrosis, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as serve as a biomarker for other types of cancer—have already been tested on humans as part of clinical trials. Therefore, these treatments are considered safe, and we can try to repurpose them for melanoma."

 

The research was conducted in collaboration with additional scientists and physicians from Tel Aviv University, including Prof. Adi Barzel, Dr. Asaf Madi, Prof. Iris Barshack, Prof. Eran Perlson, and Prof. Inna Slutsky. International researchers also participated in the study, including Prof. Eytan Ruppin from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Prof. Henry Brem and Thomas Hyde from Johns Hopkins University-, and Prof. Helena Florindo from the University of Lisbon.

 

The study was funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), the Kahn Foundation, the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF).

Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health

Research

Sep 19th, 2022
Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health

New study first to establish causal link between use of the platform and reported worsening in anxiety and depression among college students

  • Social Sciences

While many studies have found a correlation between the use of social media and various symptoms related to mental health, so far, it has been challenging to ascertain whether social media was actually the cause of poor mental health. By applying a novel research method, researchers have now succeeded in establishing such a causality: A study led by researchers from Tel Aviv University, MIT Sloan School of Management and Bocconi University reveals new findings about the negative impact of Facebook on the mental health of American college students.

 

The study was led by Dr. Roee Levy of the Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Alexey Makarin of MIT Sloan School of Management, and Prof. Luca Braghieri of Bocconi University. The paper is forthcoming in the scientific journal American Economic Review, and was awarded a prize at the 2022 Economic Society European Meeting (ESEM).

 

"Over the last fifteen years, the mental health trends of adolescents and young adults in the United States have worsened considerably,” says Prof. Braghieri. “Since such worsening in trends coincided with the rise of social media, it seemed plausible to speculate that the two phenomena might be related.” 

 

The study was based on data that dates back to the 2004 advent of Facebook at Harvard University, before it took the internet by storm. Facebook was initially accessible only to Harvard students who had a Harvard email address. Quickly spreading to other colleges in and outside the US, the network was made available to the general public in the US and beyond in September 2006. The researchers were able to analyze the impact of social media use by comparing colleges that had access to the platform to colleges that did not. The findings show a rise in the number of students reporting severe depression and anxiety (7% and 20% respectively). 

 

"We hypothesized that unfavorable social comparisons could explain the effects we found, and that students more susceptible to such comparisons were more likely to suffer negative effects."

 

 

Here Comes Trouble

The study combined information from two different datasets: the specific dates on which Facebook was introduced at 775 American colleges, and the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a survey conducted periodically at American colleges.

 

The researchers built an index based on 15 relevant questions in the NCHA, in which students were asked about their mental health in the past year. They found a statistically significant worsening in mental health symptoms, especially depression and anxiety, after the arrival of Facebook: 

  • 7% increase in number of students who reported having suffering, at least once during the preceding year, depression so severe that it was difficult for them to function 
  • 20% increase in number of students who reported anxiety disorders 
  • 2% increase in number of students expected to experience moderate to severe depression 
  • 3% increase in number of students experienced impairment to their academic performance due to depression or anxiety 
     

Dr. Roee Levy (Photo: Oren Sarig)

 

 

Social Media vs. Social Circumstances

TAU’s Dr. Levy notes, "When studying the potential mechanisms, we hypothesized that unfavorable social comparisons could explain the effects we found, and that students more susceptible to such comparisons were more likely to suffer negative effects.”

 

“More students believed that others consumed more alcohol, even though alcohol consumption had not changed significantly."  

 

In other words, the methodology also considered any differences in mental health over time or across colleges that were not related to Facebook. This approach enabled conditions similar to those of a 'natural experiment,' which would be impossible today now that billions of people around the world use many different social networks.

 

To test this interpretation, the team investigated more data from the NCHA. They found, for example, a greater negative impact on the mental health of students who lived off-campus and were consequently less involved in social activities, and a greater negative impact on students with credit card debts who saw their supposedly wealthier peers on the network. 

 

“We also found evidence that Facebook had changed students’ beliefs about their peers,” adds Levy. “More students believed that others consumed more alcohol, even though alcohol consumption had not changed significantly."  

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