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Israeli geneticist Assaf Distelfeld receives Rita Levi-Montalcini Prize at the Farnesina

The ceremony for the Rita Levi-Montalcini Prize for Scientific Cooperation between Italy and Israel has been celebrated at the Farnesina. The award, presented in association with the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA), was conferred on Israeli geneticist Assaf Distelfeld for a project on plant genomics. The award adds new momentum to joint research projects by the two countries in the field of technologies for sustainable agriculture.

The Rita Levi-Montalcini Prize for scientific cooperation between Italy and Israel was celebrated at the Farnesina on 13 September 2022. Before an audience of Italian and Israeli authorities, Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni awarded the prize – a medal featuring the Italian scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1986 – to Prof. Assaf Distelfeld, from the University of Haifa. The award was made for his research project in the sector of genome technologies for sustainable agriculture: “Comparative Analysis of seed growth regulating factors in wheat and barley”. The project was presented in cooperation with Erica Mica, from the CREA.

The Rita Levi-Montalcini prize is funded by the Farnesina’s Directorate General for Country Promotion and promoted in collaboration with the Ministry of Universities and Research and the Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI). Its aim is to foster exchanges between distinguished scholars in Italy and Israel. Awarded annually, the prize covers board and accommodation costs for an Israeli scientist to visit an Italian university or research centre to develop a joint research programme lasting four to six months.

“This is one of the most significant initiatives of the Cooperation agreement in industrial and scientific-technological research between our two countries”, declared Deputy Foreign Minister Sereni. “The agreement is a ‘feather in the cap’ of our scientific diplomacy. We have used this instrument over the years to co-finance scientific and industrial research, joint workshops and labs and science and technology events. Each year, the prize provides a new impetus to collaboration between Italy and Israel on the most topical scientific research issues. We are therefore particularly pleased to constantly renew its spirit and auspices in the memory of Professor Rita Levi-Montalcini, whose life continues to be a source of inspiration for us all”.

“Today’s prize recognises the value of a joint project taken forward by an Israeli and an Italian researcher in the agricultural field with the aim of mitigating the effects of climate change. It underscores the importance of joint efforts at the international level – the only way to address and overcome problems which no one country is capable of resolving on its own”, pointed out the Director General for Country Promotion, Ambassador Lorenzo Angeloni.

Assaf Distelfeld, winner of the 2022 edition, is a plant geneticist who has changed the wheat genome using an innovative approach. In 2020 he was appointed director of the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa. His studies focus on improving the yields and quality of cultivars, and in particular of wheat, one of the crops of greatest importance to humanity.

The collaboration with the CREA, Italy’s foremost agricultural research body, will seek to develop new cereal varieties for agriculture, a sector that at present is being heavily affected by climate change.

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