LIVE: First trees, now tobacco. How JNF-USA is turning a new leaf in Israel’s south

Yedidya Harush, Jewish National Fund-USA Liaison in conversation with Erica Schachne Jerusalem Post magazine editor.

Yedidya Harush, Jewish National Fund-USA Liaison in conversation with Erica Schachne, Jerusalem Post Magazine Editor

Watch Live! Monday, 24 July • 5 pm Israel Time|10 am EST

Erica Schachne, editor of the Jerusalem Post magazine, speaks with Jewish National Fund-USA Liaison Yedidya Harush about the pioneering efforts in the northwest Negev settlement of Halutza to grow modified tobacco plants. The tobacco is turned into highly purified recombinant collagen, which is then used in 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs, including lungs and kidneys.

“A professor in Israel invented the combination between collagen and tobacco,” he explains. “Once the collagen was injected into the tobacco plants, it is possible to grow the plants and harvest leaves with collagen. There is much more collagen in the leaves when they are harvested than when they were planted.”

The collagen is then taken from the leaves in a unique process and sent to a special lab for printing of tissues and organs, including the liver, chest, kidneys, and heart. The organs will be DNA-matched to the person who requires the transplant, thus minimizing the chances of organ rejection. While the process is several years away from becoming operational, it harbors great potential.

Harush says that investments of this type by JNF-USA will attract skilled residents to the Negev. “Once this becomes operational, we will need hundreds of thousands of acres of tobacco. This sophisticated growing requires higher skills, higher profits, and will present hundreds of high-quality job opportunities.”

Halutza was founded by a group of families evacuated from the Gush Katif communities of Atzmona and Netzarim during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Says Harush, “We wanted to turn the page and continue the Zionist dream and the pioneering values of building Israel where it is needed. The partnership with JNF-USA is crucial for us. JNF-USA is there for us, from healthcare to cultural life to education, land development, agriculture, and research and development. The Negev is thriving, and the future of the Negev is just starting.”