Ariella Levie of Teaneck is spending her summer researching a gene that may be the fountain of youth.
The Stern College for Women rising senior is one of 23 Yeshiva University undergraduate science majors participating in the fifth annual Summer Science Research Internship program, a joint initiative with Israel’s Bar-Ilan University that gives them hands-on experience in emerging scientific fields under the mentorship of some of Israel’s top scientists.
Ms. Levie was assigned to the lab of Haim Cohen, a noted molecular biologist whose lab focuses on so-called “longevity genes,” especially Sirtuin 6, or SIRT6 for short. Her role during the seven-week internship is to study the effect of SIRT6 on the DNA of human cells.
“The lab is looking at this gene as a whole, and I’m looking at its effect on DNA to see if the cells with added SIRT6 make fewer mutations that contribute to the aging process,” she said. “The language barrier was difficult at the beginning but they were very patient with me, and now I’m learning lots of ‘biology Hebrew’ and I feel I’m making a real contribution to the research.”
Because she hopes to move to Israel one day, Ms. Levie values the language acquisition as well as the networking this program has afforded her. “I am always hearing about how Israel is amazing at high-tech and advanced in science, and now I get to see it firsthand,” she said.
Four other Bergen County residents are among the 23 interns housed at Yeshiva University’s Jerusalem campus and bused daily to Bar-Ilan in the greater Tel Aviv area. The interns are working in university labs at the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, the Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, the Mina and Everard Goodman Life Sciences Department, and the departments of engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics and computer science. The program includes weekly trips, lunchtime speakers from the university, and nightly Torah study.
Batsheva Reich of Bergenfield, a biology major going into her junior year at Stern, is working in the biology lab of Benny Motro, where researchers are studying a protein whose deficiency could be related to widespread anemia found in the Bedouin population.
“I’m looking at different variations in the primary cilia of mice to find variations in genotypes,” she said. “This is a very new area of research.”
Ms. Reich said that she is putting into action what she had learned in the classroom. “I knew the theory of a lot of it but they have taught me so much here. I think you can’t compare learning something in a classroom and a lab where they’re conducting real research. It opened my eyes to what is done on day-to-day basis in research.”
She, too, hopes to move to Israel after college, “so I hope this is giving me connections for the future.”
Chaim Metzger of Teaneck, 23, is one of two Summer Science Research interns who participated last year as well. This summer he is creating and testing samples of paramagnetic materials in the lab of physics professor Amos Sharoni, head of the Nano-devices and Materials Lab at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials. Mr. Metzger, about to enter his senior year at Yeshiva College, also is creating a substrate to guide the growth of neurons.
“The program gives you research experience with a built-in framework of room and board and transportation, and you’re in Israel, which is lots of fun,” he said. Some of the most memorable field trips, he added, took the group to Israel Aerospace Industries, the government-run Agriculture Research Organization (Volcani Center), and an archeological dig. Mr. Metzger plans to apply to graduate programs in physics in both the United States and Israel.
The other local participants are Jonathan Karp of Fair Lawn, who is working in the physics lab of Emanuele Dalla Torre, and Rebecca van Bemmelen of Teaneck, who is assigned to the chemistry lab of Arie-Lev Gruzman.
This year’s program, which ends August 6, is coordinated by Prof. Ari Zivotofsky, a senior lecturer in Bar-Ilan’s Interdisciplinary Brain Science Program (and the father of Menachem Zivotofsky, whose birth certificate was the focus of a recent Supreme Court case reflecting on the U.S. government’s policy regarding the status of Jerusalem).
“As always, the quality of the Yeshiva University students joining us this year is very impressive,” Dr. Zivotofsky said. “Over the years, the students have integrated very well into our labs during their brief stay such that the Bar-Ilan faculty who have hosted them have been quite pleased.
“It is particularly impressive that women comprise the majority of this year’s group,” he added. “This will allow us to drive home the message that observant Jewish women can thrive in the sciences in Israel, at the same level as their male counterparts.”
Dr. Harvey Babich, chair of the biology department at Stern, said, “This unique internship program allows undergraduate students with a strong background in the sciences to experience the nurturing, interdisciplinary research environment and to develop their basic research skills. In addition, it increases the positive visibility of Israel and strengthens the very special bond between Yeshiva University and Bar-Ilan, encouraging faculty to pursue collaborative projects and visit each other’s campuses to share their research interests.”