Yulin Jia was born in Xichang, Sichuan, China. He completed an undergraduate degree at Xichang College in 1984, his MS at the University of Florida in 1993, and his PhD at Purdue University in 1997. Before coming to the United States as an exchange agriculture trainee in 1989, Jia worked with rice farmers as an extension agronomist in Liangshan Prefecture Agriculture Bureau from 1984 to 1989. He worked on resistance genes in tomato to bacterial speck disease for his PhD research, and then returned to the study of rice diseases when he was a postdoctoral fellow with Barbara Valent at the DuPont Company in 1997. After 3 years of postdoctoral training, he began working as a research plant pathologist at USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 2000. Since then, Jia has been identifying emerging research frontiers, formulating innovative and interdisciplinary approaches, and executing research in order to help the U.S. rice industry remain competitive in the global marketplace by reducing yield loss from diseases and other stresses. As an USDA-ARS scientist, Jia has developed a strong regional, national, and international reputation as a leader in elucidating the molecular mechanisms of disease resistance and pointing out ways to control major rice diseases.
Jia's contributions to plant pathology have been described in more than 300 publications and proceedings, including 121 peer reviewed articles in journals such as Nature Genetics, Nature Communications, Plant Cell, PNAS, and Science. He has also contributed to 18 book chapters and made over 100 presentations at scientific meetings. His publications have been cited more than 6000 times. His PhD dissertation on analysis of the Pto gene family and Pto-mediated defense gene expression in tomato added fundamental knowledge for defense response mediated by major plant resistance genes. From there, Jia employed cutting-edge, novel techniques, resulting in scientific discoveries impacting basic science and generating new theories. Jia was the first to demonstrate that a major resistance QTL qShB9-2 can be used for improving resistance to another destructive fungal disease, sheath blight caused by Rhizoctonia solani, in rice. He also created and released five critical rice mapping populations and one large putative mutant population consisting of over 20,000 individuals in the public domain through the USDA-ARS Genetic stocks Oryza collection (GSOR).
Jia has made seminal contributions to the advancement of plant genetics, genomics and pathology, and to the development of effective control methods for rice diseases. He has also played a major role in promotion of international collaborations among plant pathologists. Among his most significant research achievements is the molecular analysis of the blast, Magnaporthe oryzae, resistance gene, Pi-ta. He was the first to demonstrate an important mechanism of blast disease resistance that is the result of the physical interaction between a product of a resistance gene and a product of the corresponding avirulence gene in the pathogen and that the resistance response is initiated when a protein (NBS-LRR) binds with an elicitor inside plant cells. He was also the first to demonstrate the complexity of plant adaptive immunity by cloning an atypical blast resistance gene Ptr that is predicted to encode a protein with four armadillo repeats, a genome structure not previously identified for disease resistance in plants. Jia led a team showing that Ptr is necessary for the resistance associated with Pi-ta and because Ptr is tightly linked to Pi-ta, it has been deployed unknowingly in rice cultivars having Pi-ta. Jia led a team to separate these two genes and, in the process, discovered that Ptr carries its own effective resistance to blast. The cloning of Ptr will aid in understanding the molecular basis of plant immunity and the development of broad-spectrum blast-resistant rice varieties. Jia employed a novel approach to design perfect markers linked with the Pi-ta blast resistance gene that are now being used in marker-assisted breeding worldwide. Jia was also the first to show that a transposon, frameshift, and deletion in a blast avirulence gene were the basis for overcoming resistance in a commercially important rice cultivar. He has since performed extensive population-wide analysis of avirulence gene composition in United States' blast pathogens to guide breeders in the most effective resistance gene combinations for U.S. rice varieties. Jia and a university colleague were also the first to demonstrate the application of DNA microarrays and serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) in a study of molecular interactions of a host with a necrotrophic pathogen, R. solani.
Jia served as co-chair for several APS subcommittees and as chair or co-chair of more than 10 symposia at APS national/international meetings. Jia and Guo-Liang Wang (Ohio State University), appointed by APS presidents, teamed up to chair the joint symposium of APS and the Chinese Society of Plant Pathology (CSPP). Jia's research is federally funded, and he has secured $2.5 million in extramural grants from federal agencies, including NSF and USDA-NIFA, and stakeholder foundations. He organized more than 50 cooperative studies with labs in ARS, academia, and international institutions. Jia is internationally sought out as a mentor and has trained 83 scientists/staff members including 18 postdocs and visiting scientists, and 57 students and technicians. Many of his former trainees are now leaders in research and education in the USA and world-wide. Jia was recognized by USDA-ARS as the Southern Plains Area Early Career Scientist of the Year (2006) and as the Southeast Area Senior Scientist of the Year (2019), and was a co-recipient of the Distinguished Rice Research Team Award by the Rice Technical Working Group (2020).
Jia is truly an outstanding and internationally known plant pathologist, geneticist, collaborator, and mentor. His research has led to enormous advances in understanding and controlling rice blast disease. His exemplary leadership has resulted in fundamental advances in plant adaptive immunity and host-pathogen interactions.