Yehudith Birk

Yehudith Birk’s investigations into the protein structures of legumes like soy and chickpeas led to vital discoveries about both the nutritional value of legumes and their potential for combatting certain cancers. Birk made Aliyah with her family in 1935 and earned her master’s degree in biochemistry from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1950. From 1948–1949 she served as a lieutenant in the IDF Scientific Corps, developing parachute flares that could illuminate enemy territory for night actions. She earned a PhD in biochemistry from Hebrew University in Rehovot in 1954 and after a fellowship at Rutgers from 1955–1956 she began teaching at Hebrew University’s agriculture school in Rehovot. Her experiments with legume protease inhibitors (including the Bowman-Birk Inhibitor that bears her name) led to discoveries of pest controls, cancer inhibitors, and pain relievers, and won her the Israel Prize in 1998. She served as founding director of the Food Science and Nutrition School at Hebrew University from 1972–1974 and dean of the agriculture faculty from 1977–1980. In 2003 she published her opus, Plant Protease Inhibitors: Significance in Nutrition, Plant Protection, Cancer Prevention and Genetic Engineering. Long respected in Israel and abroad, Birk was elected to the European Academy of Science and Arts in 2004.


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Yehudith Birk was awarded the 1998 Israel Prize for her research on nutritional biochemistry, which has increased our understanding of the anti-cancer properties of legume proteins, including such Israeli favorites as soy and humus.

Institution: Yehudith Birk.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Yehudith Birk." (Viewed on January 24, 2020) <>.


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