I could have stretched forth My hand and stricken you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been effaced from the earth. Exodus 9:15 (The Israel Bible™)
With the world’s governments, health systems and citizens of the world shuddering under the threat of COVID-19 (the new coronavirus), the race is on in labs around the globe to find a way to defeat it – a vaccine, a drug or new technology. COID-19 is not quite like anything man has encountered in the last 100 years.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba has joined the effort. BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz has just launched the BGU COVID-19) Task Force to harness the university’s brainpower and ingenuity to help cope in an interdisciplinary way with the coronavirus pandemic.
During a meeting attended by over 50 scientists from departments across the BGU campus, Chamovitz declared that the university would set aside resources to bring the most promising projects to fruition.
“It is our moral obligation to contribute to coping with this pandemic,” he wrote in the letter urging all BGU researchers to join the task force.
Chamovitz, an expert in the field of developmental biology, computational biology, and botany, was elected BGU’s president in August 2018 after serving as dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University for five years.
A native of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, he studied at both Columbia University in New York City and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he obtained a doctoral degree in genetics.
Chamovitz is an internationally recognized activist promoting plant sciences and their contribution to feeding the growing world population and is on the editorial board of several important scientific journals.
During the launch meeting on Thursday, over a dozen ideas were raised by members of departments from different faculties who then broke off into working groups. Several researchers contributed ideas via video conferencing because they were in isolation for two weeks because they may have been exposed to COVID-19. In some cases, ongoing projects were quickly altered to fight this new challenge; in others, new collaborations sprung up around the discussion tables.
As everyday life around the world has been affected, the effects of the coronavirus extend beyond the search for a vaccine. In addition to the university’s virologists, BGU scientists and students will address the public health, public policy, engineering, information systems, economic, psychological, technological, tourism and educational challenges.
“Since the outbreak of this coronavirus, it has become an international crisis that affects individuals, families, communities and countries around the world,” Chamovitz concluded. “I am turning to you, our researchers, to make the coronavirus crisis and its repercussions your top priority, to be creative and practical in order to achieve significant contributions to the national and international challenges that stand before us.”