This award recognizes outstanding contributions to plant pathology by APS members whose primary employment involves work outside the university and federal realms either for profit or nonprofit.
Chenglin Yao was born in Pucheng, China, and attended Northwest A&F University, receiving a B.S. degree in plant protection in 1983. He completed his M.S. degree in plant pathology from Nanjing Agricultural University in China in 1986. Chenglin came to the United States as a visiting scholar in 1988 and completed his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M in 1991. Following graduation, he pursued postdoctoral studies at Cornell University and USDA-ARS in Maryland. In 1998, he joined the Discovery Fungicide Biology group at Corteva Agriscience (formerly Dow AgroSciences) and has continued as a plant pathologist in crop protection discovery for 23 years.
Chenglin has had a highly successful career as a discovery scientist. He has contributed significantly to the discovery and development of several new fungicides as the biology project leader. He established a solid track record in leading fungicide projects to meet key milestones from initial active identification to final candidate molecule selection for development. His strategic thinking and planning, market knowledge, broad scientific expertise, and effective collaborations with other teams has ensured the success of multiple high-profile projects. With an in-depth understanding of plant disease development and epidemics, he has developed new assays to identify desired attributes of novel chemistries to optimize field performance. His work spans diverse research projects and several of the most economically important crop pathosystems.
Chenglin's most noteworthy contribution is his leadership in shepherding Corteva's picolinamide franchise of chemistry through the discovery process, resulting in multiple successful pipeline products. He co-led the team that stabilized the natural product UK-2A with a minor synthetic modification post-fermentation to create InatreqTM active (fenpicoxamid). Inatreq represents a new class of fungicide for true fungi with exceptional efficacy against Zymoseptoria tritici, the causal agent of Septoria leaf blotch, which is one of the most important cereal diseases. Introduction of Inatreq provides the first new target site of action (QiI) within the cereal fungicide segment in more than 15 years and comes at a critical time for European farmers as other active ingredients are being withdrawn from the market due to regulatory pressure and where resistance to existing fungicide solutions continues to worsen. Farmers spend over US$2.5 billion each year combating cereal plant diseases. Inatreq delivers excellent residual protection, allowing the crop to build yield long after application. Due to the natural origin of Inatreq, it also provides a more sustainable solution for farmers to better protect their crops. Inatreq product registrations were approved in Europe in 2020, allowing for uses in the 2021 growing season. Chenglin and the entire Inatreq active team were recognized with the Breakthrough Innovation Award in the first Corteva Worldwide Research Awards in 2018 for the development of this active ingredient.
Deconstruction of the natural product UK-2A leads to the identification of key structural elements of picolinamide chemistry required for broad-spectrum activity. Following sophisticated hypothesis-driven investigation and extensive structure activity relationship analysis, Chenglin and the team successfully developed a second-generation picolinamide broad-spectrum fungicide, AdaveltTM active (florylpicoxamid). Adavelt controls a wide range of plant diseases caused by fungi in Ascomycota and delivers effective protection for many crops, including cereals, vines, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Adavelt shares the same target site (QiI) as Inatreq and is slated to receive its first registrations in 2023, providing growers with a novel target site of action in the specialty crops markets. With an average of 10 plus years for a new active ingredient to be developed, it is obvious that Chenglin has been remarkably successful; he will see at least two molecules he supported through the discovery process come to market during his career. Although collaborations with many parts of the business were required to discover, optimize, characterize, and develop these molecules, Chenglin's project management skills, creativity, and effective coordination with other teams have contributed significantly to the success of these molecules. Inatreq and Adavelt will revolutionize Corteva's fungicide portfolio, providing innovative crop protection solutions to allow farmers to grow better crops in a better and sustainable way.
In addition to his technical and project management accomplishments in fungicide discovery, Chenglin has also been an avid contributor to activity delivery research at Corteva. He has developed strong formulation and adjuvant expertise and worked collaboratively with experts across R&D to maximize activity delivery and minimize off-target deposition of fungicide applications. A major challenge in developing a fungicide is to efficiently deliver the active ingredient to the desired target site to maximize performance against diseases in a safe, robust, and cost-effective formulation that is convenient for the farmer to use and that minimizes the impact on the environment. Corteva's patented i-Q4 technology for Inatreq active was a 2019 finalist for the Agribusiness Intelligence Crop Science Award for Best Formulation Innovation because it provides all of these key features. Chenglin supported the development of i-Q4 technology by providing robust and well-designed greenhouse efficacy studies. i-Q4 technology for Inatreq delivers increased biological performance to such an extent that it is possible to significantly reduce the use rate per hectare of formulated product, which, in turn, greatly decreases the potential environmental load of the formulation and reduces the manufacturing and distribution carbon footprint. Furthermore, Chenglin's extensive investigations of the impact of multiple formulations and adjuvants on Adavelt active retention and spray coverage on leaves and fruits provided important insights on the development of highly efficient delivery systems for Adavelt on different crop systems.
Chenglin is a very prolific scientist. He is an innovation leader and highly proactive in establishing strong patent protection for all chemistry- and biology-related proprietary findings and has 81 PCT patent applications (71 granted U.S. patents and 144 granted patents from other PCT countries, with more than 425 patent applications pending). In addition, he has published 18 peer-reviewed papers and 4 book chapters and has authored 30 external presentations and posters and 83 internal technical reports. His patents and publications have been cited more than 1,700 times since 2016, with a h-index of 25 (Google Scholar). He is a long-time APS member and currently serves as the vice chair elect for the Industry Committee.