Of Hornets and Astronauts

What do hornets have in common with astronauts? Prof. Yaacov Yishai of Tel Aviv University, one of the world’s leading experts on hornets, expects to find out this year.

He has arranged to place a nest of hornets on a U.S. space flight to see what effect weightlessness has on their ability to reproduce and grow. The purpose of the experiment is to find out why 50 percent of astronauts suffer from space sickness.

Back on earth, scientists of the Haifa Technion’s agricultural facility and the Hebrew University’s department of atmospheric sciences, plan to follow up studies which indicate that certain plants can provide an effective early warning system against atmospheric pollution.

Their experiments involve tobacco plants which, along with certain varieties of pinto beans and other common crops, have been shown to be reliable monitors of sulpher dioxide pollution. Conventional warning systems require expensive equipment monitored by skilled personnel. Technion researchers say there is evidence that plants can do the job simply by growing. Meanwhile, at the Volcani Institute for Agricultural Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rebovot scientists say genetic engineering may save citrus trees from the ravages of the Tristeza virus which has killed an average of a million trees annually over the past 50 years.

The experimenters are introducing parts of the Tristeza genome into a bacterium which they hope will develop a mild form of the virus. This would be used to immunize the trees. According to Dr. Moshe Bar-Yosef of the Volcani Institute, if successful, the experiment will be a major agricultural breakthrough.

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