Wahl, Isaak

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WAHL, ISAAK (1915–2004), Israeli agronomist. Wahl was born in Kherson, Ukraine, and after immigrating to Palestine in 1933 studied botany at the Hebrew University. In 1939 he began to teach natural science at the Ben Shemen Youth Village, while writing his doctoral thesis on the biology of a local mushroom in the Herzl Forest under the supervision of Prof. Israel Deisers, the father of phytopathology (plant diseases) in Israel. In 1946 he left Ben Shemen and began to teach at the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, where he gained his practical knowledge of agriculture. Inspired by Aaron *Aaronson's discovery of the wild ancestor of wheat, Wahl began to take an interest in native species of wild cereal grains and the ability to withstand disease that they had developed over thousands of years.

While doing research at the University of Minnesota in 1949, Wahl was invited by Senator Hubert Humphrey to join a research group investigating the state's declining grain production. Wahl came up with a hybrid of American and sturdier Mediterranean strains that resolved the problem. In 1951 Wahl returned to Israel and became an associate professor at the Aaronson School of Agriculture (later the Faculty of Agriculture) in Rehovot. In 1966 Wahl moved to Tel Aviv University, where he established the Cereal Crops Research Institute.

Wahl was the recipient of many prizes, including the Technion's Harvey Prize for Science and Technology (1978) and the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Prize (1985) for research that led to increased food production in the third world. In 1992 he was awarded the Israel Prize in agriculture. The Awards Committee cited Prof. Wahl as "one of the fathers of phytopathology in Israel and one of the greatest researchers in the field the world over." His work made possible the establishment of the Wild Cereals Gene Bank, the source for improved grain harvests all over the world.

[Ruth Rossing (2nd ed.)]