Dr. Xiao-Bing Yang was born in 1958 in China. He obtained his B.A. and M.S. in plant pathology from China Agricultural University (formally Beijing Agricultural University). He completed his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 1989 from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Dr. Yang moved to the U.S. Foreign Disease Laboratory in Fort Detrick as a post-doctoral associate, where his colleagues started to address him as XB. After another post-doctoral stint at the University of Arkansas, he joined the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State University, where he is currently a full professor. His research focuses on plant disease epidemiology with emphasis on large-scale disease patterns and prediction, impacts of climate change on plant diseases, and disease risk assessment. He has served as both an associate and senior editor of Phytopathology. He has also served either as a member or chair of a number of APS committees over the years.
Dr. Yang is a pioneer in disease risk assessment, which now is playing a pivotal role in plant disease epidemiology, regulatory plant pathology, and disease management. As early as 1990 as a post-doc at Fort Detrick, Dr. Yang pioneered the quantitative assessment of disease risk using soybean rust as a model system. In a series of articles, he developed a computer-modeling approach that has been widely used for assessing plant disease risk worldwide. The framework developed by his work has become a standard approach for assessing the risk of exotic or new plant diseases. The principle has also been used in risk assessment for introduced agents for biological control, and use of GM crops, etc. His review articles on this topic were cited by the National Plant Pathology Board in 1995 as one of the directions of future plant pathology research. His pioneering work in modeling exotic disease risk has been cited in many review articles and textbooks. In 2000, before the importance of biosecurity was widely recognized by the scientific community, he foresaw the importance and role of plant pathologists in this area and wrote a widely regarded article on disease risk assessment and biosecurity.
A second area of Dr. Yang’s seminal and widely acclaimed contributions has come from his determination of the impact of climate change on plant diseases. Dr. Yang and Dr. Harold Scherm were the first to establish a link between the El Niño climate pattern and disease epidemics. Using plant disease as a model system, in a letter to Science, they proposed a general paradigm linking the El Niño climatic cycle to infectious diseases in humans, animals, and plants. In collaboration with Harvard Medical School, he has studied climate impacts on crop diseases and pests in the world and was invited twice to speak at Capitol Hill by the Senate Agriculture Committee on climatic change research. His studies were covered by national media (e.g., Washington Post, ABC News, Associated Press, Public Radio, and C-SPAN). He was invited to develop future scenarios in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at UN headquarters and by Swiss Refund, the largest global reinsurance company, in Switzerland.
A third area of plant pathology with an impressive array of accomplishments has come from Dr. Yang’s study of macroscale disease patterns. To establish the theoretical framework for risk assessment, together with Professor S. M. Zeng at China Agricultural University, Dr. Yang proposed a framework for the study of large-scale disease patterns, which is the study of large-scale statistical patterns of disease occurrence in time and space. He was the first to detect the long-term patterns (time series) of disease outbreaks after studying wheat stripe rust pandemic records in China. Ten years later, he was the first to find largescale spatial distribution patterns of plant diseases using U.S. soybean production region.
Finally, Dr. Yang’s contributions have come from his determination of the risk of deploying GM crops. Concerns have been raised regarding the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant soybeans and its impact on increased prevalence of sudden death syndrome. Dr. Yang and his associates assessed the effects of herbicides on the phenology of causal agent of sudden death syndrome and on the development of the diseases in the glyphosate-tolerant soybean. His studies revealed that increased prevalence of sudden death syndrome was not related to the glyphosate tolerance gene. This body of work has helped ensure the successful deployment of this new technology in the United States and South America.
Dr. Yang has achieved so much so early in his career that have brought him the well-deserved, wide recognition. He has given 30 invited plenary addresses, lectures, or symposia in 13 countries on the topic of risk assessment and macroscale disease pattern study. Nationally, he has given 52 invited talks at national conferences, symposia, institutes, or organizations, including twice in the U.S. Congress. He has served as a spokesman on a variety of issues for private and public institutions and has been consulted on various issues by international companies, foreign countries, national commodity boards, federal agencies, and the UNDP. He has been a board member on four journals, and a reviewer for 24 journals. He has also been awarded honorary professorships by China Agricultural University and Kasetsart University in Thailand. His research and views have been covered 12 times by national media, 8 times by international media, and over 50 times by regional newspapers.
Dr. Yang has had a prolific publication record with over 80 refereed journal articles, reviews in Annual Review of Phytopathology, Science, Bioscience and other influential journals, invited book chapters, and numerous articles in trade journals. He has also overseen a research group consisting of staff, post-docs, undergrads, and graduate students working toward M.S. or Ph.D. degrees. He enjoys the intensified intellectual exchanges with his post-docs and has had 13 post-docs from diverse cultural backgrounds. His former associates are pathologists in governments, industry, and academy with four being faculty in land grant universities. He is also a very amiable person imbued with a fine human nature and cooperative attitude. His outstanding, aweinspiring achievements so early in his career eminently qualify him for the APS Fellow Award.