2004, Fernando Nuez-Vinals | Spain

Professor Dr. Fernando Nuez was born just after the Spanish civil war, in Alzira, an agricultural village surrounded by vegetable crops, citrus trees and rice fields. It was in these very difficult times of his early years when he became interested in agriculture and nature. After his secondary school, he began his studies of Engineer in Agronomy in the Polytechnical University of Valencia where he specialised in plant and animal production. It was there that he showed a special interest in genetics and plant breeding. After obtaining his degree of Engineer in Agronomy in 1967 he was offered to get in charge of the Plant Breeding of classroom laboratory, where apart from teaching practical sessions of plant breeding, he began his research work on genetics and plant breeding with nothing else than a table and some basic equipment of a classroom laboratory. In 1970 he got a post of Assistant Professor of Statistics, which allowed him to get solid foundations in the experimental design and analysis of data in plant breeding and quantitative genetics experiments. During this time he continued with his research in genetics and plant breeding, mainly dealing with heterosis in tomato, and with his PhD Thesis, which dealt with the computer simulation of response to selection. In 1972 he managed to get the post of Assistant Professor of Genetics and Plant Breeding, the subject of his liking. One year later, he presented his PhD thesis, entitled “Genetic simulation with computers. Influence of non-epistatic variation on the response to selection”, which was pioneer in Spain in the use of simulation models in selection, and which got the maximum qualification. It was in this subject, “Genetic simulation with computers”, in which he got a contract to work in the IBM Center in Philadelphia, where he made further developments in these early times of applications of computers to applied plant breeding.

After his return to Spain he continued the work on quantitative genetics applied to selection in plant breeding and in the genetic improvement of tomato, where he made significant contributions to the study of the components of heterosis in different materials. It was at these times, that he joined EUCARPIA, society of which he has been member until now.

In 1978 he got the post of associate Professor of Genetics and Plant Breeding and became director of the Department of Genetics of the Polytechnical University of Valencia. In 1981 he became Full Professor and got the Chair of Genetics and Plant Breeding of this same University. There, he promoted the creation of the Germplasm Bank of Valencia, which now holds more than 20.000 accessions, most of them of vegetable crops and wild relatives, many of them product of collecting expeditions in Spain and South America led by Dr. Nuez. Among the materials collected and studied by Dr. Nuez, there are new forms of wild and weedy tomato collected in the Galápagos Islands and that have special relevance for understanding the evolution of domestication in this crop. He also discovered a new type of Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium, the currant tomato, and that is morphologically and molecularly very different from the other members of this species. This newly discovered type has some unique features that make it of special interest for tomato breeding.

The collection of germplasm amassed by Prof. Nuez is especially rich in Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae, being one of the best collections in the world in wild relatives of Solanaceae vegetable crops, as well as the reference center of the European Cooperative Programme for Genetic Resources Network for cucurbit genetic resources, of which Dr. Nuez is the focal person for this family. His great effort in the conservation, characterization, evaluation, and documentation of genetic resources has not only consisted in the preservation of this diversity. He always held the opinion that utilization and conservation of the genetic resources must be linked, that is, “genebanks must not be museums or gene cemeterys”. Using his own expression: “There is no conservation without utilization”.
During the early 80s he also promoted the creation of the group of “in vitro plant and cell culture”, which since then has mainly worked in using in vitro growing techniques for the genetic improvement of vegetable crops, in particular in tomato and melon. Similarly, he enthusiastically managed the creation of a group for “molecular breeding” in order to support the plant breeding programmes that took place at the University.

During this decade he also expanded his work on tomato to pepper and melon. His research works dealt with the exploitation of variability (including wild relatives) for the improvement of yield and fruit quality, which resulted in the development of new improved varieties. He also worked on breeding for parthenocarpy, so that tomatoes could give high yields in winter greenhouse production without the need of plant growth regulators, and studied the inheritance, physiology and molecular genetics of this trait, obtaining a new parthenocarpic hybrid of tomato. Tolerance to salinity, a huge problem in the Eastern Mediterranean coast, was also a problem addressed by Dr. Nuez. Despite the complexity of this trait, he was able to make substantial contributions to breeding for tolerance to salinity, mainly by using the variation from wild relatives. Resistance to viral and fungal pathogens, mainly to newly introduced diseases, like those caused by Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), the tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), the pepino mosaic virus (PepMV), the melon yellowing disease or the melon dieback have also been object of extensive research work by Dr. Nuez. He has discovered new genes and sources of resistance and, introgressed them into the cultivated tomato and melon, which has resulted in the development of new commercial hybrids that are among the most widely cultivated in Spain. Another of his objectives has been diversification of the vegetable crops production. He has worked with several South American Solanaceae crops and has worked to adapt them to Spanish conditions. At this respect, he has developed several varieties of pepino, a Solanum native to the Andes, with improved yield and quality and adapted to Mediterranean conditions.

But the interest and work of Dr. Nuez is not limited to vegetable crops. He has also worked on maize and bean breeding. His research works in maize dealt with the synchronization of flowering and the improvement of quality of forage maize. Regarding beans, his most important contributions have been in the genetic improvement of grain quality.

His research in plant breeding has been innovative, ground-breaking, and sustained. Over his career, he has been author of more than 800 publications, of which more than 150 are papers in high-quality refereed journals, and 35 correspond to books. But his interest is not only in research, but also in bringing the latest developments in plant breeding to researchers and students. An example of this, are his three latest books, which are entitled “Molecular markers in plant breeding”, “Genomics and plant breeding” and “The genetic resistance to plant pathogens”. His work is described by peers as “meticulous,” “pioneering and outstanding,” and “carefully documented”. Important as it has been his research work it has always been devoted to the ultimate objective of bringing the results of research to the field. At this respect he has obtained almost 20 varieties of vegetable crops.
Although he began from zero, with barely any facilities for research, his effort and achievements have helped his long life struggle to get more facilities and staff for the development of plant breeding research in Spain. The culmination of this effort has been the establishment in 2000 of an internationally reputed institute for vegetable crop breeding and conservation of genetic resources (the Center for Conservation and Improvement of Agricultural Diversity; COMAV) which was promoted by Prof. Nuez. This Institute counts among its scientific staff with more than 25 researchers holding a PhD degree and many PhD students, technicians and other personnel, all of them devoted to vegetable crops breeding and conservation in order to give a genetic solution to the problems of Spanish vegetable crop production.

During his career he has been advising 31 PhD Thesis. His PhD students know him for being a man extremely exigent, but this exigence is reflected in their excellent formation, with the result that many of his students have gone on to highly successful careers, indications of the solid training and mentoring he gave them. This is reflected by the fact that 17 of his PhD students are professors or lecturers of plant breeding in many faculties of agronomy in Spain and 9 of them work in plant breeding research in public centers or seed companies, demonstrating that Prof. Nuez has left a “genetic imprinting” in the research and teaching in plant breeding in Spain.

Despite all this work he also found time to serve as president of the Plant Breeding group of the Spanish Society for Horticultural Science, a post from which he will step down in a few weeks, during the next Spanish Congress of Plant Breeding. There he promoted the development of plant breeding through the celebration of workshops, seminars, symposia and congresses and through the publication of books of broad interest to researchers in plant breeding
It is not surprising that his numerous accomplishments have brought him many awards, including being “Horticulturist of Honour” of the Portuguese Society for Horticultural Science, the “Agricultural Book” Award (twice), the “Mediterranean Research and Development Award”, or the “Bancaixa Prize for Conservation of Agricultrual Diversity”. He is for many years the professor of the Polytechnical University of Valencia, among a staff of 2200 professors, the one with the greatest score in the Yearly Reasearch Activity Index, and this year received the award of the Polytechnical University of Valencia for being one of the only three professors of the University having demonstrated more than 36 years of intense research, as defined by the highly exigent criteria of the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain.

Because of his interest in the development of plant breeding he has always supported the activities of EUCARPIA. He has participated in more than 15 events organized by EUCARPIA and because of his advice, many new members came to our society. Through his post of president of the Plant Breeding Section of the Spanish Society for Horticultural Sciences and thanks to his reputation, he has always supported and encouraged all the events of EUCARPIA in our country. He became very excited when Spain was proposed to hold the 2008 General Congress of EUCARPIA and he proposed that Valencia would be the right place to organize it. Since then, I, as vice-president of EUCARPIA, have approached him for guidance, which has always been extremely opportune, and I, undoubtedly, will continue to do so during the next years of Spanish presidency of EUCARPIA.

Finally, it has to be said that Fernando Nuez is one of the last “Renaissance” men of our days, interested in all arts and sciences, and in particular by Natural History. During his life he has amassed huge collections of almost every conceivable thing, from fossils to photographs of cave paintings, many of them depicting scenes related to domestication of plants and animals.

By J. Prohens
(The following text is based on an address given on September 10, 2004, during the 17th EUCARPIA Congress, which took place in Tulln, Austria.)