Why study aging?

We are all aging!

Aging is the primary risk factor for many human pathologies, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and diabetes. Yet, understanding how organisms age remains one of the biggest challenges in biology.

How can we do it?

In the past 25 years, experiments in short-lived model systems (yeast, worms, and flies) have revolutionized the way we perceive aging – revealing that the aging rate itself can be manipulated by genetic and environmental interventions. However, the lack of short-lived vertebrate models for genetic studies has significantly limited our understanding of vertebrate aging, including the role of vertebrate-specific genes (e.g. IL8 and APOE), organs (e.g. bones and blood), and physiological processes (e.g. adaptive immunity).

To this end, we have developed a comprehensive genetic platform for rapid exploration of aging and disease in the shortest-lived vertebrate model, the African turquoise killifish, including a sequenced genome, CRISPR/Cas9-based genome editing, and mutant fish for many aging- and disease-relates genes.

(Check out our gallery of the killifish's natural habitat)

What are we interested in?

Taking advantage of this exciting platform, we are trying to answer fundamental questions in biology, such as 1) what is the molecular basis behind the outstanding diversity of lifespan between different animals (which can reach 500-fold difference among vertebrates); and 2) what separates disease from healthy aging? To explore these questions, we are developing a variety of disease models, as well as using cutting edge approaches (including single-cell technology, mass spectrometry, and genome-editing).

Ultimately, our research holds great promise for tackling one of the most fascinating questions in biology – how and why do we age?

Selected publications

Efficient genome engineering approaches for the short-lived African turquoise killifish

Harel I, Valenzano DR, Brunet A., Nature Protoc. 11 (2016)

The African turquoise killifish: a model for exploring vertebrate aging and diseases in the fast lane

Harel I, Brunet A., Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol (2015)

The African Turquoise Killifish Genome Provides Insights into Evolution and Genetic Architecture of Lifespan

Valenzano, D. R., Benayoun, B. A., Singh, P. P., Zhang, E., Etter, P. D., Hu, C. K., Clement-Ziza, M., Willemsen, D., Cui, R., Harel, I., Machado, B.,  E.Yee, M.,  C.Sharp, S. C., Bustamante, C. D., Beyer, A.Johnson, E. A., Brunet, A. Cell (2015)

A platform for rapid exploration of aging and diseases in a naturally short-lived vertebrate.

Harel I, Benayoun BA, Machado B, Singh P, Hu CK, Pech MF, Valenzano DR, Zhang E, Sharp SC, Artandi SE, Brunet A., Cell 160 (2015)

Where to find us

We are located at the Department of Genetics at the Institute of Life Sciences, surrounded by the beautiful Givat Ram campus at the the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)


Meet the Team

We are looking for highly motivated master/graduate students and postdocs.


Dr. Itamar Harel


Itamar Harel, PhD

Research interests: Aging, disease, and development; quantitative genetics; molecular mechanisms driving homeostasis; Vertebrate-specific traits.

Education: BS, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science; Postdoctoral, Stanford

Hometown: Beit Elazari, Israel

Favorite saying: "its just the universe, resisting, the closer you get to revealing its secrets"

Favorite activities outside the lab: Hiking, Running, Painting, and Cooking

Dream baymate: David Attenborough

Birthday: October 6th

Animal model

Nothobranchius furzeri

Turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri)

Research interests: Swimming, eating, mating, aging.

Education: University of life

Hometown: Gonarezhou national park, Zimbabwe 

Favorite saying: "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long" (Blade Runner)

Favorite activities outside the lab: N/A

Birthday: a couple of months ago