About 50 territory residents got to meet one of the world’s most promising young researchers Tuesday when she appeared at the University of the Virgin Islands via video conference from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Dr. Tali Kimchi is an expert in animal behavior and particularly the study of pheromones, the subtle scents emitted by animals – including the human kind. While most people are unaware of them, pheromones play a major role in communication, particularly on the social and sexual levels.
Kimchi is the 2012 recipient of the Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence, a three-year fellowship at Weizmann sponsored by St. Thomas residents Peter and Patricia Gruber. This was the sixth such award, and the third one conveyed at a ceremony via video hook-up between the institute and UVI.
Kimchi spoke briefly about her research and fielded questions from the primarily lay audience. She said much of her work has potential for practical applications, for instance the differences in chemical reactions between males and females indicate that doctors may need to consider not only the size of their patients when prescribing medications, but possibly their gender as well.
Some disorders themselves appear to be related to gender, she said; autism, for example, is four times more likely to occur in males than in females.
Kimchi’s lab is conducting studies on autism using genetically altered mice, and she said they may have found a clue: Autism may be linked to sensory perception because interfering genetically with sensory perception results in an autism-like condition. Learning how the brain controls social behavior may eventually lead to finding a treatment for autism and other disorders, she said.
Kimchi hopes her work will “help us to better understand ourselves” and contribute to the betterment of humanity, she said, expressing gratitude for the Gruber Award.
“It will for sure help to advance my studies,” she said.
The Weizmann Institute, located in Rehovot, Israel, has been a center of scientific research and teaching for 60 years, bringing students from around the world to study. It focuses on medicine, health, energy, technology, agriculture and the environment.
Philanthropist Patricia Gruber said she and her husband Peter, a retired asset manager, chose to concentrate on supporting science because they believe it is key to improving the human condition.
“We live in a global world,” she said, so they have emphasized international initiatives.
The Grubers personally support the Weizmann fellowship. Their foundation presents awards for groundbreaking achievements in cosmology, genetics and neuroscience, and gives fellowships to young scientists in those fields.
The Grubers recently closed the St. Thomas office of the foundation and now continue the prize program and fellowships through Yale University.