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Yehudith Birk


BIRK, YEHUDITH (1926–2013), Israeli biochemist. Birk was born in Grajewo, Poland, and immigrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1935. She received her M.Sc. in biochemistry and microbiology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1950). Her studies were interrupted by service in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence. In 1954 she received her Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture in Reḥovot. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Rutgers University, New Jersey, with Nobel Laureate Selman *Waksman , she returned to the Faculty of Agriculture in 1957, where she became professor and first incumbent of the Karl Bach Chair in Agricultural Biochemistry from 1970.

Birk was the founding director of the School of Nutritional Sciences at the Hebrew University (1972–74) and subsequently professor emeritus. Her world-renowned research concerns the biochemical and nutritional properties of legume seed proteins. With Donald Bowman she identified and characterized a protease inhibitor in legume seeds, the Bowman-Birk Inhibitor (BBI), which protects against contaminating insects and also has anti-cancer properties. Her honors include the Rothschild Prize in agricultural research (1978), election to the Israel Academy of Sciences (1993), and the Israel Prize in agricultural research (1998). She was elected to the European Academy of Sciences and Art in 2004 and was the 2004 awardee of the International Women's Forum (IWF), for "women who make a difference." She made major contributions to developing higher education at all levels in Israel and her academic appointments included dean of the Faculty of Agriculture (1977–80) and pro-rector and acting rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1990–95). She wrote more than 150 scientific articles and chapters in books and in 2003 published Plant Protease Inhibitors: Significance in Nutrition, Plant Protection Cancer Prevention and Genetic Engineering.

[Bracha Rager (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.