Born in Haifa, Israel, Prof. Assaf Vardi earned a BSc in biology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1994), from which he also received his MSc in environmental sciences (1999) and PhD in molecular ecology (2004). After conducting postdoctoral research at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and at Rutgers University, he joined the Weizmann Institute faculty in 2010 where he is the incumbent of the Edith and Nathan Goldenberg Career Development Chair. He was also appointed an Adjunct Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA).
Prof. Vardi elucidates the molecular mechanisms that drive microbial interactions in the marine environment. He investigates microscopic single-celled algae called phytoplankton, which inhabit oceans and lakes around the world, forming the basis of the marine food web. He focuses on communication signals among phytoplankton cells and is particularly interested in the signaling occurring during algal blooms, which can extend over thousands of kilometers and be detected from satellites. In some cases, these blooms can be toxic, posing a serious threat to humans, livestock, and the marine food web. He has also found intriguing evidence that the interaction between algae and their pathogens stimulates the production of compounds that induce algal cell suicide (apoptosis) or possess antiviral properties. Such insights may have potential biotechnological applications such as anti-cancer drug development or induced lipid production for biofuel purposes.
He has received a number of esteemed fellowships and awards, including two Rieger Foundation Awards for Excellence in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, the Marie Curie Fellowship, a "Legacy Heritage Brain Drain" Fund award from the Israeli Science Foundation, and the prestigious ERC young investigator grant from the European Union and the Human Frontiers Award.
Prof. Vardi is married to the artist Nivi Alroy, who reinterprets scientific concepts from his research in her sculptures. He is father to Michael, a young marine biologist in his own right.