Xianming Chen grew up in a small village in Shaanxi, China. He earned a B.S. degree in plant protection from Northwest Agricultural University in 1982 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology from Washington State University (WSU) in 1987 and 1991, respectively. After working as a post-doctoral research associate at WSU from 1991 to 1997 and a post-doctoral plant geneticist with the USDA-ARS from 1997 to 2000, he was hired as a research plant pathologist in the USDA-ARS Wheat Genetics, Quality, Physiology, and Disease Research Unit and was appointed as an adjunct faculty in the WSU Department of Plant Pathology in 2000. His research program focuses on the control of rusts of cereal crops.
Chen’s research program has been highly successful in generating knowledge and developing resources and techniques for more effective control of stripe rusts of wheat and barley. His concepts and strategies for developing wheat and barley cultivars with durable resistance are widely adopted by wheat and barley breeders internationally. He has made important scientific contributions in the areas of disease epidemiology and forecasting; virulence and race identification of the wheat and barley stripe rust pathogens; molecular characterization and genomics of the pathogens; characterization, identification, and molecular mapping of resistance genes and mechanisms of plant resistance; and cultural and chemical control of rusts.
Chen has established and improved the systems for characterizing races of Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici and P. striiformis f. sp. hordei. He and associates have identified 89 races of P. striiformis f. sp. tritici and 32 races of P. striiformis f. sp. hordei. This race information has become essential for developing resistant cultivars. Chen was one of the first to characterize wheat and barley stripe rust populations using molecular markers. He and associates constructed the first BAC and cDNA libraries for the stripe rust pathogen and the first microarray to study its gene expression. He and colleagues initiated the stripe rust whole-genome sequencing project. Recently, he and his students have developed numerous EST-SSR markers and used the markers in characterization of stripe rust populations in the United States and the world and in determination of evolutionary mechanisms of the pathogens.
Chen’s program supports the U.S. wheat and barley breeding programs in developing stripe rust-resistant cultivars. Every year his program evaluates more than 20,000 wheat and barley germplasm lines for stripe rust resistance. Chen and breeders have registered more than 40 wheat and barley cultivars, and his program has made contributions to almost every wheat and barley cultivar developed by public or private breeding programs in the northwestern United States during the last 10 years. Through their collaborative effort, most of the wheat cultivars grown in the western United States have durable resistance, and an increasing number of new cultivars in the eastern United States are resistant to stripe rust. Chen and associates have conducted intensive studies to identify and map genes for stripe rust resistance in both wheat and barley. The resistance gene analog polymorphism technique he developed has been widely adopted by international scientists to identify molecular markers for resistance to various diseases. His group has identified more than 50 genes in wheat and more than 20 genes in barley for resistance to stripe rust and has mapped more than 30 genes to wheat or barley chromosomes. Their molecular markers have been widely used by breeding programs to develop stripe rust-resistant cultivars. He and associates have developed more than 70 new wheat germplasm lines with effective stripe rust resistance, which have been used by breeding programs in the United States and many other countries to diversify stripe rust resistance genes in new wheat cultivars.
For stakeholders, Chen established a monitoring program that has provided essential information for stripe rust control of wheat and barley. Chen and one of his students developed new models for predicting potential yield loss caused by stripe rust and used the models for guiding stripe rust management in the Pacific Northwest and determining pathogen survival in regions throughout the United States. Chen’s program evaluated numerous chemicals for control of stripe rust. Almost all currently labeled fungicides for stripe rust control have been registered based on testing data of his program. His timely disease updates and recommendations for planting resistant cultivars and appropriate use of fungicides are followed closely by growers and have saved Pacific Northwest growers more than $100 million dollars annually.
Chen has authored or coauthored 137 peer-reviewed research articles, two extension articles, 79 technical publications, five book chapters, and 159 abstracts, and he is highly regarded as an international authority on stripe rust. He has trained more than 30 visiting scientists and students from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Chen has given 94 invited presentations in regional, national, and international conferences and institutes and has participated in international collaborative projects with institutions worldwide.
Chen has been active in service to professional societies. For APS, he has served on the Host Resistance (1998–2003), Genetics (2001–2005, 2008–present), Collections and Germplasm (2003–2007 [chair 2005–2006]), Epidemiology (2008–present), and Biotechnology Committees (2008–present) and as associate editor for Phytopathology (2005–2007) and senior editor for Plant Disease (2007–2009). He has also served as an editor-in-chief for Crop Protection (2010–present). In addition to APS, he is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Chinese Plant Pathological Society, the Crop Science Society of America, and the International Plant Pathology Society. He also has served on the Washington Variety Release Committee since 2001 and on the U.S. National Wheat Improvement Committee (2004–2007).
Chen’s record of diligent work on internationally important diseases, his research productivity, his mentorship of graduate students and visiting scientists, and his outstanding service to the wheat and barley industry through application of his research results for effective disease management make him most deserving of the APS Fellow Award.