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Molecular storytellers
A new hire in the Department of Structural Biology, Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami uses electron microscopy to study the 3D structure of proteins

Tiny, cellular proteins have an outsize impact on every aspect of our lives. For Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami, the key to understanding how these miniature machines work is to find the right lens through which to read a complex and dynamic molecular story—capturing these molecules in action.

A new hire in the Department of Structural Biology who earned her PhD under Nobel laureate Prof. Ada Yonath, Dr. Shalev-Benami uses electron microscopy to study the 3D structure of proteins: the complex molecules underlying the healthy function of the body’s organs and tissues. Her goal? To determine how the complicated architecture of these miniature machines enables them to perform their designated cellular tasks.

During her postdoctoral studies at Stanford University, Dr. Shalev-Benami developed her expertise in cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM)—a state-of-the-art technology capable of visualizing biological molecules with near-atomic resolution. Using cryo-EM, she studied the structure of proteins responsible for regulating processes in the human central nervous system. This work has shed light on fascinating mechanisms that govern communication between brain cells.

“What I like most about cryo-EM is that it allows you to capture direct snapshots of molecules in action—snapshots that when put together, tell the story of how molecules work,” she says.

In another study, conducted together with Prof. Yonath, Dr. Shalev-Benami used cryo-EM to visualize cellular targets residing within the parasitic protozoa Leishmania—a deadly pathogen afflicting millions around the globe. The new atomic-level images obtained in this study revealed the way by which anti-leishmanial drugs kill the parasite, and help the researchers identify hotspots in the parasitic cell that could be targeted by new therapies.

In her new lab at the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Shalev-Benami aims to investigate the structure of protein machineries that are expressed on cell surfaces, and which are in charge of cellular communication throughout the body. By combining cryo-EM with biochemistry, molecular biology, and mass spectroscopy techniques, Dr. Shalev-Benami’s research is expected to inform our understanding of how these proteins work to maintain proper communication between cells, and how their malfunction contributes to the development of a variety of diseases and disorders. Importantly, her research will help to identify miscommunication hotspots for the development of novel, targeted therapeutics.


Dr. Shalev-Benami received her BA in molecular biochemistry from the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology (2006) and her MSc in Biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2008). She returned to the Technion to complete her PhD in chemistry (2013) with a focus on structural biology, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship with Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Ada Yonath at the Weizmann Institute. Dr. Shalev-Benami undertook a second postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, dividing her time between Israel and the US between 2015-2017. In 2017, Dr. Shalev-Benami joined the lab of Prof. Georgios Skiniotis at Stanford University to continue pursuing her postdoctoral training in structural biology, specializing in the cutting-edge technology of cryogenic electron microscopy in single particles. She will join the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Structural Biology in December 2018.

Dr. Shalev-Benami has received numerous awards for academic, research, and teaching excellence, including: Rector’s Prize (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2007); Schulich Award for Scientific Excellence (2012), Klartag Memorial Prize for Excellence in Biochemistry (2013), and Sego Award for Excellence in Teaching (2013), all from the Technion; and, the Sir Charles Clore Prize for postdoctoral fellows at the Weizmann Institute (2014). She was the first awardee of the Combined Weizmann-Abroad Postdoctoral Fellowship for Advancing Women in Science (2015-2017).

Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami is supported by the Pearl Welinsky Merlo Foundation.

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