The Dialogue of Life


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Prof. Yosef Shaul


How many genes are needed to sustain a living cell? Clearly, many more than the small number of genes in viruses. That’s the reason viruses have developed the ability to “borrow” genes from the cells they attack. More questions arise when a virus doesn’t kill the attacked cell but rather lives harmoniously inside it. How do the virus and the cell achieve an existential compromise? Prof. Yosef Shaul, Head of the Weizmann Institute’s Molecular Genetics Department, studies the interactions between viruses and their host cells.

In his investigations of the hepatitis B virus, which dwells in liver cells for years, Shaul managed to decipher the molecular dialogue conducted between the virus and the cell to agree upon coexistence. This dialogue occurs between the proteins encoded by both the viral and the cellular genes.

These findings have led to the development of an advanced vaccine against the virus. In addition, they have shown how viral infection can be controlled through appropriate nutrition.


Why Israel? Why Weizmann?

“The year the Weizmann Institute was dedicated, I was born in Iran. When I reached bar mitzvah age, my parents sent me and my brother to Israel with Aliyat Hanoar. We were two kids alone in a new country, and it wasn’t easy. However, it was clear to me then, as it is today, that the Diaspora period is over and Israel is my home. I was chosen to represent my high school at a Weizmann Institute annual science day, and after meeting its researchers, I felt a strong desire to become a scientist. Why Israel? Why Weizmann? For me, being in Israel and working at the Weizmann Institute is a dream come true.”

“I chose to be photographed in Jerusalem, which is etched in the heart of every Jew. I find its beauty breathtaking. As the Talmud says, ten measures of beauty were bestowed upon the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem.”


Prof. Yosef Shaul’s research is supported by the M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research; the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine; the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Center for Molecular Genetics; the Rachel and Shaul Peles Fund for Hormone Research; and the Eugene and Delores Zemsky Charitable Foundation Inc. Prof. Shaul is the incumbent of the Oscar and Emma Getz Professorial Chair.