It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of Dr. Biao Ding. Dr. Ding, a Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics, The Ohio State University, and a Senior Editor of MPMI was a world-renowned plant vascular biologist and leading authority in viroid research. He passed away suddenly on June 25, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic, while attending the International Conference on Viroids and Viroid-Like RNAs as a Keynote Speaker.
Dr. Ding was born in 1960, in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. The third child of five, he grew up in a small village in a rural mountainous area without electricity. His family could not afford to send him to first grade, so he stood outside a classroom window trying to learn Chinese characters, while caring for his younger brother. Surmounting this hardship, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from Beijing Forestry University in 1982. He was then selected as one of the first group of scholars to study abroad upon the implementation of China’s Reform and Open Policy. He earned both M.S. (1986) and Ph.D. (1991) degrees with Dr. Parthasarathy from Cornell University. He then spent three years pursuing postdoctoral studies in the laboratory of Dr. William Lucas at University of California-Davis, where he worked on the role of plasmodesmata in viral infections. In 1994 he moved to Oklahoma State University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Botany. He later joined the faculty of the Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology program at The Ohio State University in 2000, and was a Full Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics since 2005.
Throughout his remarkable research career, Dr. Ding had a lasting interest in the mechanisms of intercellular communications through plasmodesmata. His unique contribution to this research field was to establish the small and non-encapsidated RNA pathogen called viroid as a model system for tracking the intercellular transport of macromolecules. His research group was first to reveal the specific RNA structures needed for the potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd) to overcome cell boundaries for intercellular and systemic trafficking. Significantly, his work revealed the critical role of RNA tertiary structures, involving non-Watson-Crick interactions, in the movement as well as replication of the small non-coding viroid RNA. His discovery was featured in the “Editors’ Choice” section of Science, and reported by over 30 public media outlets around the world. His interests also included RNA silencing, microRNAs and evolution of RNA structures. Dr. Ding’s seminal research has been published in a number of prominent journals including Science, PNAS, Plant Cell, EMBO J, and was highly regarded by plant molecular biologists and plant pathologists worldwide.
Dr. Ding’s greatest strength as a researcher was his ever-expanding curiosity, passion, creativity and most importantly his courage in entering into new fields of science. We all learned from him to never fear trying new things, which is an essential step for further advancement in science and also in our personal lives.
Dr. Ding was a passionate teacher and mentor who inspired countless people even outside his academic community. He supervised numerous graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, many of whom now have successful research careers of their own. Dr. Ding was also a generous colleague, being always available to answer questions, offer insights and encouragement, and assisting junior colleagues with their grant-writing, and transition to a new environment. Being a teamwork enthusiast, he spearheaded numerous fruitful collaborations with both OSU and external scientists.
Dr. Ding was also an exemplary contributor to the academic communities. He was a long-time Senior Editor of MPMI, and recently also assumed the role of scientific editor for PLOS Pathogens, in addition to serving on the editorial boards of many other journals and reviewing articles for more than forty journals. He was actively involved in organizing International Plasmodesmata Conferences, International Conferences on Plant Vascular Biology, and the International Congress of Virology. He was elected to Fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012.
On a more personal level, Dr. Ding was an exceptionally kind and sincere person. He and his wife looked after lab personnel as if they were part of their family. He could also be goofy and make people laugh, sometimes even without trying. He loved playing the piano, writing poems, and drinking an occasional glass of good wine. Through our research and personal lives, we shared with Dr. Ding and his family laughter, excitement, and tears at times, and an ever more intimate closeness. He was a beloved son, father, husband, colleague, mentor, and friend, and will be dearly missed.
Dr. Ding is survived by his wife, Yan Xun, and their two college-age children, Arthur and Adeline.
Asuka Itaya (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Canada)William J. Lucas (Section of Plant Biology, University of California-Davis, USA) Yijun Qi (Center for Plant Biology, School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University, China)Feng Qu, (Department of Plant Pathology, The Ohio State University, USA) Ying Wang (Department of Molecular Genetics, The Ohio State University, USA) Xuehua Zhong (Wisconsin Institute for Discovery & Laboratory of Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)