Weizmann Institute Aids Galilee Manufacturer

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Dr. Vaya (left) finds the odor is just right


Keeping mushroom soup tasting like mushrooms, roses looking rose-colored and ambergris perfume smelling like ambergris are among the tasks performed by the Arogal firm in Kiryat Shmona -- tasks in which it is aided by the Weizmann Institute of Science. Kiryat Shmona is a development town of 18,000 near the troubled Lebanese border, and Arogal is one of over 50 industrial companies established in the Upper Galilee and Golan region in an effort to develop that sparsely settled part of Israel.

Dr. Jacob Vaya, a chemist at Arogal, is spending his sabbatical year at the Weizmann Institute, where he is studying techniques for the synthesis of various natural compounds with unique tastes, colors and odors. Arogal is the only plant in Israel that produces such natural compounds, which are important to both the food and the cosmetics industry.

Working with Prof. Mario David Bachi and his group in the Organic Chemistry Department, Dr. Vaya is developing synthetic methods for converting sclareol -- a natural substance extracted from sage -- into ambrox, a form of ambergris, whose aroma is highly sought after by perfume manufacturers.

Arogal was set up by the Galilee Technological Center (Migal) -- a research institute founded 12 years ago by the kibbutzim in the area -- in partnership with Israel Chemicals Ltd. Besides engaging in research that can lead to the establishment of technologically oriented local industries, Migal provides such industries with ongoing R&D support and quality control for their products.

In his work at Arogal, Dr. Vaya isolates and characterizes the natural essences that give certain plants their commercially desirable properties, and then refines these properties. In a related project, he attempts to regulate the biosynthesis of some secondary metabolites in plants so as to substantially increase the level of such fragrances.

For Dr. Vaya, research in Prof. Bachi's laboratory is nothing new: Prof. Bachi was his mentor during Vaya's doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute Feinberg Graduate School. After completing his postdoctoral work at Boston College, Dr. Vaya engaged in the development of therapeutic drugs at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in Jerusalem before joining the ranks of Arogal.

Prof. Bachi is the incumbent of the Charles and Charlotte Krown Chair of Medicinal Chemistry.