Eviatar Nevo: His Life and Research Programs

Eviatar (Eibi) Nevo is a leading Israeli and world-renowned Professor of Evolutionary biology at the University of Haifa, Israel. He established and directed the Institute of Evolution (IOE, 1973-2008) and the International Graduate Center of Evolution ( IGSE) (2004-2008). Both the IOE and IGSE are unique. His scientific career involved interdisciplinary studies of biodiversity evolution, adaptation and speciation across life based on the science he advanced in Evolutionary Functional Ecological Genetics and Genomics across life from viruses and bacteria through fungi, plants, animals, and humans. Nevo published ~1500 scientific papers, 1000+peer reviewed, and 35 books; he was cited 44,955 times, with an H index of 103 and i10 index of 716. He contributed substantially to the understanding of genetic diversity, its correlates and predictors in nature, under diverse environmental stresses (chemical, climatic, thermal, biotic, and atomic). His studies involve genes, genomes, phenomes, populations, species, and ecosystems of bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and humans focusing on the structure, function, and causation of genetic diversity in nature on local, regional, and global scales. His major models of biodiversity evolution include: evolution of blind subterranean mammals (1948-present), evolution of wild cereals (1975-present), evolution of marine organisms as pollution indicators (1980s), evolution in action at “Evolution Canyon” models, caused by interslope microclimatic divergence at four microsites in Israel, which he dubbed the “Israeli Galapagos“, and extended to “Evolution Plateau” and “Evolution Slope”, edaphic microsites in the Upper Galilee (1990-present); evolution of Dead Sea fungi (Nevo discovered with Prof. Wasser) (1997-present), evolution of chimpanzees in the Mali Savanna mirroring early human evolution (2010-present), which was developed with Itai Roffman and colleagues. He has conducted local (in four natural laboratories of “Evolution Canyons” in Israel), regional (in Israel and the Near East Fertile Crescent as natural genetic laboratories), and global (across all continents as genetic labs) genetic studies, interdisciplinarily linking genetics and ecology in terms of ecological-genetics and ecological-genomics, bridging genotypes and phenotypes, integrating molecular and organismal biology, organism-environment relationships, and elucidating the patterns and causation of genetic diversity in nature. These studies link environmental stress with the level of genetic polymorphism in proteins and DNA across life (bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals) and the entire planet (all continents). Nevo established the Environmental Theory of Genetic Diversity proposing that, generally, genetic polymorphism on all scales (local, regional, global, and across life) is largely positively correlated with, and predictable by environmental stresses. The “Evolution Canyon” (EC) model initiated by Nevo and dubbed by him the “Israeli Galapagos”, became a classical model of biodiversity evolution at a microscale, caused by sharp microclimatic interslope divergence confronting biotic representation (biomes) of two continents, Africa and Europa. The 250 papers and 4 books published on the EC model involve diverse fundamental problems of evolutionary biology. These include biodiversity evolution, genetic polymorphism, transposon and retrotransposon dynamics and their effects on genome size, DNA repair,mutation, recombination, and gene conversion rates, adaptation, methylation and fitness, associated with stress, lateral transfer, splice variation, wide genome gene expression; and the twin evolutionary processes of adaptation and incipient sympatric speciation across life from viruses and bacteria through fungi, plants, and animals from invertebrates to mammals.

In application, Nevo advanced a novel genetic methodology to safeguard the quality of marine environments (documented in 25 scientific papers). Likewise, he substantiated the idea that wild progenitors of cereals and other cultivars harbor rich genetic resources that could improve crops, and should be conserved in situ and ex situ (documented in 420 + papers and one book). These genetic resources represent the best hope for future genetic crop improvement, advancing the second genetic green revolution, thereby guaranteeing the increase and stabilization of world food production. This is of cardinal importance, particularly in a world where population rates are still exploding. In practice, he and his colleagues mapped several candidate genes and QTLs related to adaptation and domestication. Nevo and colleagues discovered 77 species of filamentous fungi in the Dead Sea (DS), cloned several genes, sequenced the first eukaryote filamentous fungus from the DS, transformed the HOG gene to yeast and Arabidopsis, and showed that, in principle, genetic resources of the Dead Sea fungi could revolutionize saline agriculture and medicine (documented in dozens of papers and one book). Nevo substantiated the study of subterranean mammals across the globe as a uniquely important global evolutionary experiment in mammals. He wrote some 380+ scientific papers and 2 books on subterranean mammals across the globe in all continents with his colleagues. In blind subterranean mole rats, genus Spalax, Nevo and colleagues identified five species in Israel: four species originated peripatrically (allopatrically) and one species by sympatric speciation on the basalt in the upper Galilee. Likewise, they identified hundreds of hypoxia-tolerant genes linked to cancer resistance, stroke, and cardiovascular resistant diseases that could revolutionize medicine, space flight, and deep sea diving. They transformed Spalax VEGF to ischemic mice and saved the leg of an experimental mouse after severing its main blood vessel by generating extensive capillarization and vascularization.

Professor Nevo founded (1973) and directed the Institute of Evolution, at the University of Haifa till October 2008. The Institute of Evolution is a world center of excellence, conducting active integrative research in biodiversity, molecular, genomic, and organismal evolutions, linking field, laboratory, and theoretical research programs across life focusing on stress and genetic evolution. The Institute of Evolution consists of 25 research laboratories integrating observations and experiments. Nevo developed the theory of Stress and Functional Ecological Genomics in the contexts of Genomics, Proteomics, and Phenomics. In 2004 Nevo established the International Graduate Center of Evolution with 77 PhD students from 13 countries, thus cultivating future world evolutionary leaders of biodiversity and genetic diversity, adaptation and speciation in nature. Nevo and colleagues have studied the effects of atomic radiation at the Chernobyl disaster and found numerous molecular mutations associated with cancer in the offspring of liquidators who cleaned the site and in those who were born after the event, indicating that the mutations have passed through the germ line from parents to offspring. All publications appear separately, in the full list, and three sub-lists on the evolution of the blind mole rat Spalax, and other subterranean mammals across the planet; the evolution of wild cereals as the basis for crop improvement; and the Evolution Canyon model, for biodiversity adaptive evolution, sympatric speciation, host-parasite and disease resistance evolution, and a microsite model for following the effects of global warming, including extinction, and inter-slope migration.