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France and Israel Join Forces in Nanobioscience

For the past two years, CNRS and the Weizmann Institute, a prestigious Israeli research institution, have joined forces to explore the rapidly-growing field of nanobioscience, at the interface between nanoscience and biology.

Set up in January 2008 by CNRS and the Weizmann Institute, the European Associated Laboratory Nano Bioscience (LEA NaBi) is the successful combination of both scientific and human elements. On the one hand, its creation is motivated by the shared need to move forward in this new field which applies the methods of nanoscience to biological systems and structures. And on the other hand, it acknowledges the longstanding bond that has developed between French and Israeli researchers.
Joseph Zyss, who, along with his Israeli counterpart Ron Naaman, is the technical and scientific co-director of the LEA, was the initiator of this project. “In 1990, I launched a series of biennial Franco-Israeli conferences in physical optics, the FRISNO series, which continue to this day. To a large extent, these conferences provided a framework for the development of the LEA. The project now offers an opportunity for greater understanding and appreciation between our two countries in the field of photonics and beyond.”
Little negotiation was therefore necessary before the two institutions signed a preliminary agreement in 2007, which led to an initial four-year renewable joint research program. This agreement covers a dozen or so projects that are all related to nanobioscience with a photonics component. For example, teams are working on the design and production of biochips for biological analyses, as well as on the development of systems for the control of cell differentiation, which could both be of value to cancer research.

weizmann institute

© N. Singer

The Weizman Institute's particle accelerator.

The LEA NaBi was officially inaugurated in March 2009 at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot (south of Tel Aviv). But it is also active on three sites in France: the Institut d'Alembert1 in Cachan near Paris, the French “bridgehead” headed by Zyss; the laboratory of statistical physics (LPS)2 and the PASTEUR chemistry laboratory,3 both at the ENS in Paris; and the Institut Fresnel4 in Marseille.
Yet this geographical distance does not affect the cohesion of the teams involved: “We host Israeli researchers for several months, and vice versa,” explains Zyss. “The projects we are working on provide a daily framework for the activities of the different teams.”
A total of 40 people, divided equally between the two partners, now work for the LEA. Post-doctoral fellows form the backbone of the program. “We have seen a growing, spontaneous flow of requests from potential partners who want to be part of the LEA,” stresses Zyss, who admits he is often approached by students eager to join such a prestigious laboratory. And prestige does play its part, at both an individual and institutional level.
Francesca Grassia, who contributed to setting up the LEA at the CNRS Office of European Affairs, recalls the importance of this partnership: “The Weizmann Institute is one of the best-performing research institutions in the world, both in terms of scientific results and technology transfer.” Similarly, CNRS is perceived in Rehovot as a European partner of choice.
As for the LEA NaBi, its future depends on three major factors. The first is to obtain results that will enhance the reputation of nanobioscience and its applications. The second is the hope that the advances achieved by the laboratory will result in industrial exploitation. “In this respect, the Weizmann Institute and CNRS have all the expertise necessary,” notes Grassia. Finally, perhaps one day the LEA NaBi could have its own site. It would then become the first CNRS International Joint Research Unit in Israel.

Stéphan Julienne

The Weizmann institute
Founded in 1934 as the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, it was renamed Weizmann Institute in 1949 and has since been distinguished on several occasions. Its scientists were responsible for developing the RSA cryptography algorithm that is today used for the security of bank credit cards or for online transactions. One of its 2600 members, Ada Yonath, received the 2009 Nobel Prize for chemistry. The Institute's participation in the LEA NaBi allows Israel, an associate country in EU programs since the end of the 1990s, to reinforce its position in the European Research Area. There is one noteworthy precedent: the Pasteur-Weizmann Foundation has for the past 35 years involved scientists from both institutions.


Notes :

1. Institut fédératif de recherche (CNRS/ ENS Cachan).
2. Laboratoire de physique statistique (CNRS/ ENS Paris/ Universités Paris-VI and -VII).
3. Processus d'activation sélectif par transfert d'énergie uni-électronique ou radiatif (CNRS/ ENS Paris/ Université Paris-VI).
4. CNRS / Universités Aix-Marseille -I and -III / Centrale Marseille.

Contacts :

Joseph Zyss,
ENS, Cachan.
Francesca Grassia,
DAE-CNRS, Paris.


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