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in Memoriam: Yitzchak Gutterman (1936-2022)

This obituary is published in Seed Science Research (https://www.doi.org/10.1017/S0960258523000041) and posted here with permission of Cambridge University Press.

The world has lost a major contributor to research on desert plants and in particular on seed germination. Yitzchak was born in Israel, served in the Israeli army and was a founding member of Kibbutz “Ein-Gedi”.  He obtained his B.S. (1966), M.S. (1967) and Ph.D. (1969) from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the latter two degrees under the direction of the famous desert ecologist /seed physiologist Michael Evenari. For his Ph.D. thesis, Yitzchak tested the effect of photoperiodic of the mother plant during seed development on the germination response of the seeds produced.  In particular, he showed that for Ononis cicula (Fabaceae) permeability or impermeability of the mature seeds to water was greatly influenced by the photoperiod experienced by the mother plant. Yitzchak did a postdoc with Professor W. Heydecker at Nottingham University in England.  He became a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1972 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1982 and to Professor in 1990.  In 1980, he became Head of the Unit for Ecophysiology and Introduction of Desert Plants, The Institute for Desert Research, Sede Boker Campus of Ben-Gurion University.  He formally retired in 2005 as Professor Emeritus but remained on the Sede Boker campus doing research, publishing papers and doing volunteer teaching until 2021.  He advised or co-advised 12 M.Sc. and 7 Ph.D. (including Zhenying Huang) students.  Yitzchak fulfilled his promise to devote his life to science.

Professor Gutterman remained interested in maternal environmental effects on germination of seeds and published several papers on this subject. His other areas of primary interest were the effects of microenvironments made by the digging of animals (porcupines and ibex) on seed germination and seedling establishment in the Negev Desert; ecophysiology of seed mucilage; and ecological life history strategies of desert plants, especially seed dispersal, germination, seedling survival and flowering. It is noteworthy that several of Yitzchak’s studies were on wild relatives of wheat (Aegilops ovata, Triticum dicoccoides) and of barley (Hordum spontaneum). He published about 200 papers and book chapters.  Yitzchak also published three books on desert plants, one of which was Seed germination in desert plants. Adaptations of desert organisms (Springer-Verlag, 1993).

Yitzchak was well known to members of the international seed community, not only because of his many publications on seeds but also because he attended one or more conferences and/or had sabbaticals  in many countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and  USA, gave talks and enjoyed meeting and discussing seed science with fellow seed scientists. Jerry and Carol Baskin first met Yitzchak in 1980 at “Botany 80” at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Professor Gutterman will long be remembered for his many studies on desert plants.  He was fascinated by the mysteries of the desert and worked hard to discover how nature worked in the desert. He is probably best known internationally among seed scientists for his research and publications on the effects of maternal environment, e.g. photoperiod, on seed germination. It was a privilege for the three authors of this in memoriam to field trip with Professor Gutterman in the Negev Desert and the matorral in Israel in spring 1998 and in the cold desert of Xinjiang in NW China in summer 2006. Yitzchack was not only an excellent seed scientist but also a superb desert ecologist/naturalist. He loved his late wife Mina, his three children (Tzukit, Ron and Tal), 10 grandchildren (Roee, Tomer, Shachaf, Bar, Raz, Amit, Oren, Amitay, Nuphar and Ofri), 6 great grandchildren (Kerem, Rotem, Evyatar, Emri, Emri and Omer ), Israel and the desert and its mysteries.  He also cared deeply about his students and friends, and we were lucky to be included among his many friends.

Jerry M Baskin, University of Kentucky, USA

Zhenying Huang, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Carol C. Baskin, University of Kentucky, USA


  1. Guo Ruru says:

    I had the honor to visit professor Gutterman at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 2019 and still remember his persistence and seriousness in scientific research. The professor’s positive attitude towards life and his kindness to us will be remembered forever. Professor Huang Zhenying and his students will always remember him.

  2. Maria A. Doussi says:

    It has been a privilege and great pleasure to visit the now late Professor Gutterman’s laboratory in Sede Boker Campus, Israel back in the spring of 2000, under a post-doctoral fellowship granted by the Large Scale Facility (LSF) program.
    I was impressed by his deep knowledge of desert plants seed germination, his restless mind, amazing vigor and curiosity towards what he loved most and dedicated his life to: desert plants and their wonders.
    But most of all, I will always remember his kindness, generosity, warmth and good-natured smile.
    Farewell Yitzchak!

  3. Raquel Roizman says:

    I am so so sad to hear that I didn’t get a chance to visit Yitchak again. He welcomed we to his lab on the summer of 2005 when I was an undergraduate Biology student in Toronto. I always loved the Negev and he allowed em to work over summer break, digging out porcupine holes filled with layers of seeds and organic matte, identifying and quantifying the seeds which, as tedious as it was, was exciting.Yitzchak was so warm and thoughtful and treated me like a post doc. I had to read countless articles and my love for his work and the evolution of the problems and solutions and discoveries he worked on grew my interest. The facility and cactus greenhouses were inspiring. I also pulled mucilage off of seeds which was tortuous but again, the surroundings, the other researchers and the entire Sde Boqer campus were highlights of my young university career. May his memory always be for a blessing. The country owes much to his passion, dedication and accomplishments.

  4. Moses Gichua says:

    I was a Masters student of Prof Guttermann between the year 2000-2002. His first from Kenya, and probably Africa. He was an excellent scientist and encouraged me to publish my first article in a peer reviewed journal. He made me feel so at home at Sde Boqer and my visit to him and Mina was usually pleasant. He talked to me a lot about pioneering Israeli research on seeds with Prof Evenari, and I visited places where he had done excellent research on Nabatean terraces in the early years of the Israeli Nation. He made me appreciate life in the Desert and my last gift to him as I left was a picture of some blooming tulips from the heart of the Negev.

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