Nian Wang was born and grew up in Qufu, Shandong Province, China. He obtained his BS degree in plant protection at Shandong Agricultural University, an MS degree in plant pathology from China Agricultural University, and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology at Texas A&M University under the guidance of Dr. Dennis Gross. Following his postdoctoral training at the University of California, Berkeley under the guidance of Dr. Steven Lindow, he started his current position in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, University of Florida (UF), Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL. Wang is currently a professor and graduate coordinator of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Program.
Wang's outstanding career achievements have come through the study of virulence mechanisms and etiology of diseases caused by several important plant pathogenic bacteria. His earlier work at Texas A&M elucidated the regulation mechanisms of the lipodepsipeptide phytotoxins syringomycin and syringopeptin in Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae. During his work as a postdoc, he performed a global transcriptional analysis of the important plant pathogenic bacterium Xylella fastidiosa and investigated the regulon under the control of a small signal molecule (DSF) that is central to the regulation of virulence factors in this pathogen. His work provided unprecedented insight into what constitutes virulence genes, which formed the basis for Wang's recognition with the APS Hewitt Award in 2010.
At UF, Wang has made impressive achievements in our understanding of the biology and epidemiology of two economically important bacterial diseases of citrus: citrus canker disease caused by Xanthomonas citri subsp. citri (Xcc) and Huanglongbing disease (HLB) caused by Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas). Wang is a world leader in the study of Xcc, having comprehensively investigated virulence genes including many novel effectors of Xcc via constructing a mutant library and controlling citrus canker via developing biofilm inhibitors. He has made tremendous contributions to our understanding of bacterial pathogenesis by investigating the roles of the type III TAL effector PthA and how it activates the canker susceptibility gene LOB1 by binding to its promoter region and how LOB1 activate downstream genes. Wang provided the concrete evidence that LOB1 is the canker susceptibility gene through genetic study with Cas9/sgRNA mediated genome editing. This work was the basis for Wang's recognition with the APS Ruth Allen Award in 2020.
Importantly, Wang is a leader in adapting the CRISPR/cas9 technology for site-specific gene editing in plants for disease control. Wang is the pioneer in citrus CRISPR genome editing. Wang successfully developed non-transgenic CRISPR genome editing technology for citrus to generate world's first non-transgenic canker-resistant citrus varieties (which are undergoing cultivar approval and release process), representing a major breakthrough in controlling this important disease.
Wang is the authority in citrus HLB. He has made major findings in the epidemiology, etiology, control, and physiological basis of HLB. Wang and colleagues conducted an international collaboration in the US, Brazil, and China to investigate the effects of region-wide comprehensive implementation of removal of HLB-symptomatic trees, psyllid control, and replacement with HLB-free trees to control HLB, with a total planted citrus acreage of over 110,000 ha from 2013-2019. With the region-wide implementation of comprehensive HLB management, overall HLB incidence in the tested region decreased from 19.7% in 2014 to 3.9% in 2019. A partial implementation of such a program without comprehensive inoculum removal at the regional level in Brazil resulted in an increase in HLB incidence from 1.89% in 2010 to 19.0% in 2019. A dynamic regression model analysis predicted that in a region-wide comprehensive implementation of such a program, HLB incidence would be controlled to a level of less than 1%.
Another important contribution of Wang is his latest finding that HLB is a pathogen-triggered immune disease analogous to human immune-mediated diseases. The immune system is critical for keeping humans, animals, and plants healthy from pathogens. Wang demonstrated that CLas infection of Citrus sinensis stimulates a systemic and chronic immune response in the phloem tissues including reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, and callose deposition that leads to phloem cell death. Wang showed phloem cell death is the key for HLB symptom development. His work represents a breakthrough toward understanding the mysterious nature of how CLas causes the HLB disease. Importantly, Wang's finding of citrus HLB as an immune-mediated disease helps guide the battle against this notorious disease by developing HLB-resistant/tolerant citrus varieties as well as using horticultural approaches that suppress oxidative stress. Wang's study also established that immune-mediated diseases happen in the Plantae Kingdom, a conceptual breakthrough in how immunity affects the outcome of plant-microbe interactions.
Wang has received considerable recognition for his research with well-funded extramural funding with over $10 million in the last 10 years. He was recently awarded a USDA NIFA CAP grant ($8.6 million) for development and delivery of HLB disease management approaches, which was also approved as a USDA NIFA Center of Excellence. He has given > 80 invited presentations at national and international meetings. He has published over 120 peer-reviewed publications, many in very high visibility journals such as Nature Communications, Nature, and PNAS. Wang was elected to be an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow in 2022 and named a Highly Cited Researcher by Web of Science in 2022. Wang also contributed substantial service to APS, currently serving as the Editor-in-Chief for Phytopathology and a member of the Board of Directors of the APS Foundation, and has previously served as a senior editor for Phytopathology and Plant Disease. He also has served as the Chair of the Bacteriology Committee. Wang has been a member of 37 graduate supervisory committees (33 Ph.D. and 4 M.S. students), chair of 15 Ph.D. graduate supervisory committees and three M.S. graduate supervisory committees, co-chair of 5 graduate supervisory committees, and have supervised over 20 postdoctoral research associates.