Colleagues, friends and family have established this award in honor and memory of Dr. Eyal for the contributions that he has made to the science of plant pathology through his research, teaching, and service.
Zahir Eyal was born on October 6, 1936 in Haifa, Israel and died at his home in Tel Aviv, July 30, 1999. He was introduced to modern agriculture and to cereal pathology at the Miqve-Israel Agriculture High School while assisting plant pathologist I. Wahl and plant breeder J. Ephrat. Following service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Dr. Eyal came to the United States where he earned his B.Sc. degree in agronomy and plant pathology at Oklahoma State University, followed by a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from Rutgers. He pursued a postdoctoral term at Purdue University working with professors R.M. Caldwell and F.L. Patterson on nonspecific resistance to wheat leaf rust. The assignment with the small grains improvement program at Purdue played a key role in preparing him for a life-time career on diseases of barley, oats and wheat. He joined the Department of Botany, Faculty of Life Sciences, at Tel Aviv University in 1967 and served as head of the department for two separate terms.
Dr. Eyal returned to Israel at the time when CIMMYT semi-dwarf wheats were introduced into breeding programs and cultivation in Israel. The change in plant stature in cultivars susceptible to Septoria tritici and cultural practiced had enhanced its adverse effects on productivity. He began a multi-faceted program integrating fundamental and applied research aimed at minimizing the economic impact of the pathogen on production. He investigated host and pathogen parameters and the interactions associated with protection, virulence, and yield. He provided yield loss data and designated chemical control and cultural strategies that provided Israeli growers with control alternatives whenever needed. He conducted agronomic, genetic, and physiologic studies on tolerance to Septoria tritici blotch in certain wheat cultivars. He established the presence of physiologic specialization in S. tritici on cultivated bread and durum wheats and on wild relatives. He identified resistance sources, developed wheat differential sets and investigated national and global virulence patterns. The integration of biological and genetical parameters together with epidemiological aspects enabled him to establish guidelines for resistance breeding to this pathogen.
Dr. Eyal and his group investigated the biocontrol of Septoria tritici blotch with antagonistic bacteria, which resulted in a patent on this process. Mechanisms associated with the biocontrol of Septoria tritici blotch were elucidated by employing chemical, biochemical, and molecular approaches. He also incorporated cutting-edge technology into his holostic program using probes for polymorphism in S. tritici. These probes and fingerprinting techniques were further utilized to verify changes in the fungus, to follow events occurring in host tissue during colonization and prior to production of pycnidia in mesophyll wheat cells. They were also used to evaluate population dynamics of the pathogen under field conditions, to study cross-protection in wheat, and were employed in transformation studies of this pathogen.
Dr. Eyal conducted extensive studies on the interactions in situ and ex situ between populations of wild barley, oats, and wheat indigenous to Israel and some of their pathogens. Dr. Eyal and colleagues at home and at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany patented a method by which wheat and barley cultivars can be genetically transformed with foreign genes. The transformation method, which utilized the DNA-Pollen chase approach, is independent of genes, cultivars, and tissue culture, and is highly compatible with pathology/breeding programs. Professor Eyal's research and outreach programs incorporated ideas that were new to his country, were solidly anchored in basic science and were innovative to the end, resulting in improvements in wheat production in Israel and having positive effects on cereal improvement programs throughout the world. At the time of his death, Professor Eyal was Director of the Institute for Cereal Crop Improvement at Tel Aviv University where the germplasm of wild ancestors of cultivated small grains are being preserved, characterized and utilized in breeding improved cultivars.
Dr. Eyal's contributions in research, teaching, university administration and international agriculture were many and far reaching. His research and outreach programs were grounded in basic science, kept state-of-the-art throughout his career, and resulted in positive impacts, not only on wheat management in Israel, but on wheat improvement programs throughout the world. Dr. Eyal received the Hazera Seed Co. Melamed Award in 1968, the A.C. Cohen Award in 1978 and was recognized in 1995 as a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society. Professor Eyal served as President of the Israeli Phytopathological Society from 1979-82. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by his multitudes of friends, colleagues, and students throughout the world. His wife, Yona Eyal, lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.