Yigal Elad has made significant contributions to several areas of plant pathology, especially in the biological control of plant diseases, the physiology of the diseased plant, and integrated management of foliar diseases of greenhouse crops. He is the president of the Israeli Phytopathological Society (IPS). He was born in 1952 in Tel Aviv, Israel. He received a B.Sc. degree with honors in 1977, an M.Sc. degree in agriculture (plant pathology) with honors in 1978, and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 1983 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a visiting scientist at Colorado State University and IPODLO (Wageningen, the Netherlands), and honorary scientific research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. He is currently a senior researcher in the Department of Plant Pathology and Weed Research, the Volcani Center, Israel, as well as the scientific manager of agriculture R&D for the Arava region (Israel’s largest area of intensive agriculture). He served as department head in the Volcani Center and in the SafeCrop R&D Center in Trentino, Italy.
As a young M.S. and Ph.D. researcher, Elad became well recognized for his work on biocontrol and integrated management of soilborne diseases. He studied Trichoderma and its interaction with Sclerotium rolfsii. His work on biocontrol mechanisms, under I. Chet, established the role and dynamics of cell-wall degrading enzymes and of mycoparasitism in biocontrol. He implemented biocontrol agents (BCA) under field conditions, establishing the importance of a food base in this system. This earlier work was summarized in over 20 widely cited publications and stimulated research on and commercialization of Trichoderma and other BCAs. Over the following three decades, Elad continued biocontrol studies at the Volcani Centre dealing with detection, development, and implementation of new BCAs. A new isolate of T. harzianum (T39) was patented, registered worldwide, and commercialized (Trichodex) by the multinational company Makhteshim. It was the first Trichoderma BCA to be registered for controlling Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum in grape vineyards and greenhouse crops. Elad’s studies identified important biocontrol mechanisms, i.e., induced host resistance (the first report on this subject) or Trichoderma protease that inactivates fungal pathogenicity enzymes.
Another important target of Elad’s team is to facilitate effective and reproducible biocontrol under field conditions. Studies of the ecology of BCAs in connection with cropping systems led to the development of a novel decision support system (Greenman) in which BCA application is timed according to epidemiological parameters. This led to significant reductions in fungicide use. Furthermore, he is cooperating with D. Shtienberg regarding epidemiological aspects of biocontrol.
Elad’s research on foliar pathogens also focused on the physiology of the diseased plant. He studied latent infections in flower crops (roses); the role of ethylene in susceptibility of infected tissues and in stimulation of the pathogen; and the role of reactive oxygen species bursts, especially in Botrytis-infected tissues. Consequently, the use of ethylene inhibitors and scavengers of free radicals resulted in significant disease suppression. He also studied the involvement of plant hormones in disease resistance. His physiological research led to basic and applied studies of calcium and boron involvement in host resistance to pathogens; the applied results being implemented by farmers.
Elad studied B. cinerea resistance to chemical fungicides, especially the dynamics of resistant pathogen populations in greenhouses and vineyards and their survival. Triple-fungicide resistance was found. These findings led to recommendations that optimize gray mold management by farmers. Elad is recognized as a leader in Botrytis research. He organized the 2004 Botrytis symposium (and served as its president) and coorganized the last symposium in 2008. He led the editing of the book Botrytis, Biology Pathology and Control that was published in 2004 by Springer, and was reprinted in 2007, which speaks for itself.
Since 1997, Elad has been involved in research on powdery mildews of cucurbits, pepper, tomato, and strawberry. Integrated powdery mildew management systems were developed and are used in Israeli greenhouses, thus reducing the number of sprays. Since 2002, a novel system (soil polyethylene mulch) is being developed jointly with Shteinberg and colleagues to combat tomato late blight and is already widely implemented.
The extensive studies of Elad, alone or jointly with graduate students and colleagues, are documented in an impressive list of more than 140 refereed journal publications, many in Phytopathology (seven in the last four years) and other leading journals, in addition to edited books, invited reviews and chapters, many local publications in Hebrew for advisors and farmers, as well as other publications.
Although he works in a governmental institution (USDA-ARS equivalent), Elad is heavily engaged in supervising graduate students (a total of 40), post-doctoral fellows, visiting scientists, and trainees from abroad. In addition, he is teaching as a guest lecturer at the Hebrew University and other institutions.
Elad served national and international societies in numerous ways, including as chair and member of many committees. Among others, he was elected in 1998 and 2002 to lead the Working Group on Plant Pathogen Biocontrol in the International Organization of Biological Control (IOBC/WPRS). In 2009, he was elected to serve as its council member. Also, he served as an organizer, keynote speaker, invited lecturer, and chair of many national and international conferences. He is currently president of IPS and recently initiated the establishment of a Hebrew list of common names of plant diseases.
He is involved in numerous international and national research programs, including cooperation with U.S., European, Mediterranean, and Palestinian groups funded by competitive research funds. He currently heads major projects on climate change effects on plant-pathogen-microflora interactions, pests in herbal crops, Botrytis on lily, and more.
He has been awarded many times, including the Researcher of the Year Award—the highest award presented for agricultural research that is bestowed by the Israeli Minister of Agriculture to one scientist each year.
Elad is a very pleasant person who readily cooperates with colleagues. He is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in the disciplines of biocontrol and foliar pathogenesis who successfully combines fundamental and applied research relevant to agriculture. He exhibits exceptional leadership and dedication to the field of plant pathology.