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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 13, 2009 i Scientists unl00 secret of drug resistance in deadly bacteria Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University. TEL AVIV--Whenever hu- mans create a new antibiotic, deadly bacteria can counter it by turning into new. inde- structible super bugs. That's why bacterial infection is the number one killer in hospitals today. But new research from Tel Aviv University may give drug developers the upper hand in outsmarting bacteria once and for all. The secret weapon against a colony of bacteria may be to stress it with its own protec- tion system, which forces it to reduce its population through cannibalism. "Our studies suggest this is a new way to fight off bacteria," says Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, an award-winning scientist from Tel Aviv University's School of Physics andAstronomy. "If we expose the entire colony to the very same chemical signals that the bacteria produce to fend off competition, they'll do the work for us and kill each other. This strategy seems very promising--it's highly unlikely that the bacteria will develop resistance to a com- pound that they themselves produce." A sophisticated secret weapon to foU attack Cannibalism among bac- teria, explains Prof. Ben- Jacob, is a strange coop- erative behavior elicited under stress. In response to stressors such as starvation, heat shock and harmful chemicals, the bacteria re- duce their population with a chemical that kills sister cells in the colony. "It works in much the same way that organisms reduce production of some of their cells'when under starvation." says Ben-Jacob. "But what's most interesting among bacteria is that they appear to develop a rudimentary form of social intelligence. reflected in a sophisticated and delicate chemical dia- logue conducted to guarantee that only a fraction of the cells are killed." The researchers' findings, published this month in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Science," were carried out in collaboration with a group from Texas University led by Prof. Harry Swinney and his post-doctoral fellow Dr. Avraham Be'er, for- merly of Tel Aviv University. Ben-Jacob believes that the discoveries offer new hope for fighting both bacterial infec- tions of today and the super- super-bugs of the future. In the current study, the researchers investigatedwhat happens when two sibling colonies of bacteria--Paeni- bacillus dendritiformis (a special strain of social bacteria discovered by Ben-Jacob) are. grown side by side on a hard surface with limited nutrients. Surprisingly, the two colonies not only inhib- ited each other from growing into the territory between them but induced the death of those cells close to the border, researchers found. Even more interesting to the scientists was the discov- ery that cell death stopped when they blocked the ex- change of chemical messages between the two colonies. "It looks as if a message from one colony initiates popula- tion reduction in the cells across the gap. Each colony simultaneously turns away from the course thatwill bring both into confrontation," says Ben-Jacob. Getting to know the enemy In only a year, bacteria can develop resistance to a new drug that may have taken years and a small fortune to develop, but drug developers haven't utilized bacteria's co- operative behavior and ocial intelligence yet. Bacteria, Ben-Jacob says, know how to glean informa- tion from the environment, talk with each other, distrib- ute tasks and generate collec- Competition between two sibling colonies of the Paeniba- cillus dendritiformis bacteria grown side by side. The cells on the inner edges of the two colonies are dead. tive memory. He believes that bacterial social intelligence, conveyed through advanced chemical language, allows bacteria to turn their colonies into massive "brains" that process information, learning from past experience to solve unfamiliar problems and bet- ter cope with new challenges. "If we want to survive the challenges posed by bacteria, we must first recognize that bacteria are not the simple, solitary creatures of limited capabilities they were long believed to be," concludes Ben-Jacob, who is now in- vestigating practical applica- tions for his current research findings. American Friends of Tel Aviv University (www.aftau. org) supports Israel's leading and most comprehensive center of higher learning. In independent rankings, TAU's innovations and discoveries are cited more often by the, global scientific community than all but 20 other universi- ties worldwide. How J '.00vs both segregated and integrated Levittown By Peter Ephross NEW YORK (NEXT- BOOK)--In the years follow- ing World War II. suburbs sprouted up across the United States. giving millions of Americans the ability to own a home. Levittown. in particu- lar. became synonymous with the suburban dream, attract- ing young families looking for affordable property with modern comforts. The Levitts. a Jewish fam- ily with roots in Russia and Austria, built the first of these towns on Long Island between 1947 and 1951. The second was built north of Philadelphia. in the early '50s. With their appliance-stocked homes. public pools and playgrounds, the Levitts proved adept at tapping into the suburban zeitgeist. But William Levitt (whose father. Abraham. founded the company, and whose brother. Alfred. was the firm's architect) excluded blacks from living in his fam- ily's developments, arguing that potential white home buyers would find racially mixed areas undesirable. During the summer of 1957. this whites-only policy was challenged when a leftist Jewish family, the Wechslers. secretly helped an African- American family buy a house in Levittown. Pa. After Bill and Daisy Myers and their two children moved into Levit- town. racial tnsions erupted. In his new book, "Levit- town: Two Families. One Tycoon. and the Fight for Civil Rights in America's Legend- ary Suburb." David Kushner "vividly depicts how that battle raged and was ultimately re- solved in the courts. Kushner, who grew up outside Tampa, says he "always has had a soft spot for suburbs." and is particularly intrigued by their dark underside. In "Levittown." he tells a story that pitted Jew vs. Jew--William Levitt's myopic and ultimately unsuccessful business strategy against the Wechslers' refusal to tolerate segregation. Question: You first learned about this story because your mother-in-law was neighbors with the Wechslers. David Kushner: What struck me about it was there was this coming together of so many historical themes: civil rights. McCarthyism. the invention of modern suburbia. Levittown was not the first postwar suburb, but it was iconic. Aside from barring black families, the Levitts imposed a "no-Jews" policy in one of their earlier developments. So was William Levitt focused solely on profits? He was really compartmen- talized. The way he lookedat it was, "I can either fight for civil rights or I can build houses. And I'm a builder." On the one hand. he pro- vided the American Dream for an entire generation of veterans, but he also denied it for African-American vet- erans. He was a complicated person. Itwould have been dif- ficult for me to write this story had he been the only Jewish character in the bookthat could have perpetuated some unfortunate stereotypes. As a Jewish writer, it's nice to be able to tell a story where there's Jewish family that's heroic in fighting for civil rights, a movement where Jews like the Wechslers played a huge role. Q: The Wechslers and Lev- itts seem to highlight two National Archives and Records Administration The first Levittown was built on Long Island between 1947 and 1951. The second was built outside Philadelphia in the early '50s. different strains in American Jewish history: leftist activists vs. those seeking material success, That's true. From what I gather, though, Levitt was on the left side of the political spectrum. He was materially motivated for sure. but he was also motivated by ego he had the towns named after him. The Wechslers were all about helping people. Levitt was ostensibly about helping people, but just so he could be called the king. Levitt was very philan- thropic and certainly very supportive of Israel. When I visited his widow, there was a picture of Golda Meir on the wall. Q: How does his widow feel about her husband's legacy? She certainly has reached out to Daisy Myers. and she was there when the town hon- ored Daisy in 1999. Actions speak louder than words. Also. she came in later in Levitt's life; she wasn't there when he was building Levittown. Q: The racial hatred that erupted in Levittown after the Myers familymovedinwas in- credible: the mobs, the rocks, even crosses being burnt. I didn't want to oversim- plify it. I took pains to show that while there was a mob in Levittown, the mob rep- resented a small percentage of people there. The situa- tion also inspired the best in this town I'm thinking of the scene when Daisy Myers comes home and finds people she didn't know cleaning her house. Q: A recent New York Times article on Levittowr mentioned that the town is still overwhelmingly white. Is this the Levitt family's legacy? Yes. Many people are old enough to remember that this town was not welcom- ing to blacks. This is similar to Jews not wanting to go to Germany. It's not exactly the same thing, but there are black people who don't want to live in Levittown. But I hope I vindicated Al- fred Levitt. He's the real hero. The houses in Levittownwere ticky-tacky little boxes, but that was for a reason. People couldn't afford anything else. People there had brand-new appliances, which was un- heard of. And the houses were built to be expanded. The New York Times also recently reported that Long Island is 94 percent segre- gated the highest rate in the country. In Levittown, Pa., African-Americans are still very much a minor- ity population, and I don't- see that changing. But one thing people can get out of this story blacks and Jews can get together because in Levittown, they certainly did. Peter Ephross' articles and reviews have appeared in the Village Voice, Publish- ers Weekly, and Antiques & Collecting Magazine, among other publicationsReprinted from Nextbook.org, a new read on Jewish culture.