Weizmann Institute-Led Project Receives Center of Excellence Grant


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REHOVOT, Israel -- October 20, 1996 -- A Center of Excellence research grant has been awarded to a project being coordinated by a Weizmann Institute of Science professor. The project, a study of the molecular processes involved in vision, was the only one selected from 11 proposals submitted nationwide to the Israel Science Foundation this year.

Grants for the establishment of Centers of Excellence at leading academic institutions have been awarded annually by the Foundation, administered by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, since 1994. A grant provides funding of up to $900,000 over three years for an outstanding research project that meets the highest international standards, and recipients are chosen on the basis of recommendations from world experts. Out of 10 such grants awarded to date, six have been won by projects headed by Weizmann Institute scientists.

Previous Institute-led projects have been in areas as diverse as intracellular communication, particle physics, laser control of chemical reactions, the brain and computation, and one-dimensional electron systems.

The research program that received this year's Center of Excellence grant, entitled "Light energy transduction in retinal proteins," is being coordinated by Prof. Mordechai Sheves, of the Weizmann Institute s Organic Chemistry Department, working with Profs. Michael Ottolenghi and Aaron Lewis of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

They are studying the light-sensitive protein bacteriorhodopsin, which occurs naturally in the cell membranes of the salt-loving bacterium Halobacterium salinarium and enables the bacterium to carry out photosynthesis. This protein is related to the visual pigments found in the eyes of vertebrates.

Prof. Sheves and his colleagues are using new experimental methods -- including novel synthetic approaches, ultrafast spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy -- to map the precise molecular processes by which the protein absorbs, stores and converts light energy in the bacterium. Their research is expected to increase understanding of the visual process in vertebrates, and to clarify the mechanism by which light energy is converted to chemical energy during that process.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is a major center of scientific research and graduate study located in Rehovot, Israel.