Testimonials for Pioneer Member Shang Fa Yang

Douglas O. Adams – I learned the practice of science in Shang Fa Yang’s laboratory, I learned the ethics of science, by example, from the man himself. I learned that success in research is the result of curiosity that borders on obsession, and the willingness to work hard. I can’t imagine how my life and career would have been without the opportunity he gave me. At the time in my life when I first recognized science as a way of life, I valued his kindness and friendship as much as the instruction I received.

Yet-Ran Chen – Ethylene is crucial in regulating plant growth, senescence, and diverse stress responses. However, the ethylene biosynthesis pathway in plants was elusive for many decades after the first discovery of this phytohormone in the early 20th century. Professor Shang-Fa Yang started to devote his research efforts to the biogenesis of ethylene in plants when he joined the University of California, Davis, in 1966. Based on his broad knowledge in analytical chemistry and biochemistry and abilitiy to establish research platforms, he discovered 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) as the final precursor of ethylene and the enzyme that converts S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) to ACC. This discovery further enabled him to elucidate the pathway that recycles the methylthio group in the SAM after the release of ACC. The recycle pathway undoubtedly explains why plants can maintain the rate of ethylene biosynthesis with a low methionine pool, the process well known as the Yang Cycle. These legendary discoveries by Prof. Yang established his role in pioneering plant ethylene biology and are models for future scientists to address critical scientific problems.

Wilhelm Gruissem – Shang Fa Yang was an outstanding plant chemist and a pioneer in the ethylene hormone field. His discovery of the ethylene biosynthesis pathway, also known as the “Yang Cycle”, is now legendary textbook knowledge. Shang Fa was among the UC Davis professors and colleagues who I greatly admired as a role model when I was a young professor at UC Berkeley. Later, I enjoyed working with Shang Fa on various advisory boards for several years. His broad expertise, deep knowledge and insightful comments were memorable and taught me to become a better scientist as well.

Cheng-Ruei Lee – Dr. Shang Fa Yang was a pioneer and an inspiration for all Taiwanese plant scientists. His work on ethylene is of great importance, not only for the field of plant physiology, but also for agricultural applications. The Shang-Fa Yang Memorial Foundation was established to commemorate Dr. Yang’s contributions. It was my great honor to be the 2021 recipient of the Outstanding Young Scholars in Agricultural Science Award from this Foundation. While my research field of genomics and population genetics is different from Dr. Yang’s, we share the common goal of using the results from our basic research to benefit agriculture, improve the future of humans, and make this world better.

Ning Li – Among numerous discoveries on the ethylene biosynthesis, ranging from the precursor molecule SAM to the final hormone ethylene, the discovery of ACC, the key intermediate molecule fo ethylene biosynthesis, was the most challenging and it was wildly pursued by many plant biochemists around the world at that time. In the end, the champion was Dr Yang’s lab, who was the first to publish the finding of ACC as the precursor of ethylene production in terrestrial plants. Given the tremendous impact of this work in plant biology in general, there is no question that Dr Yang shangfa should be considered as the pioneer in plant biology research.

Ming-Jung Liu – Shang Fa Yang’s research achievements on the ethylene biosynthetic pathway affect research in any area of plant development and fruit maturation, and encouraged me to pursue my scientific passions with curiosity and courage.

Tzu-Yin Theresa Liu – After working on elucidating vacuolar phosphate transporters for many years as a postdoctoral fellow in Academia Sinica, I was grateful to be one of the awardees of the 2016 Shang-Fa Yang Outstanding Young Scientists Award . The Shang-Fa Yang Memorial Lecture is held yearly to honor Professor Yang, a world-renowned scientist and a native of Taiwan. He was a world-class scientist and made significant contributions to elucidating the biogenesis of the plant hormone, ethylene. He also facilitated its development and application to agricultural biotechnology. In addition to sponsoring a Lectureship by an influential world-class scholar who has impacted agricultural science, the Foundation also rewards promising young scientists in memory of Professor Yang’s spirit.

Since I became a professor at National Tsing Hua University, I know how important it is to educate and nurture young plant scientists when they are still undergraduate or graduate students. Their first taste of plant science in lectures or working in a plant science lab provides them a window on exciting things they can explore in the plant world. This honor was accorded me and provided the opportunity to attract passionate and talented students to work with me at the university, which was great support when I started my own lab.

Ming-Che Shih – Life History of Shang Fa Yang:  Dr. Yang was born in 1932 in Tainan, Taiwan. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in agricultural chemistry at the National Taiwan University. After completing his Master’s degree, he went to the United States and completed his doctoral degree in plant biochemistry at Utah State University. After completing his PhD, he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California, Davis, New York Medical School, and University of California, San Diego. After completing his postdoctoral research, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis in 1966.

Yang was known for his research that unlocked the key to prolonging freshness in fruits and flowers. His work focused on how plants produce ethylene, which is important in regulating a host of plant functions, ranging from seed germination to fruit ripening. He studied the pathway of ethylene biosynthesis and proved unequivocally the central role of methionine as a precursor of ethylene. He discoverd that this synthesis process is cyclic, and therefore received the name “Yang Cycle”. Ethylene represents one of the five major hormones affecting plant development and maturation.

Yang was the first scientist to report S-adenosylmethionine is an intermediate in the conversion of methionine to ethylene. Then, in 1979, he showed aminocylopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) is an intermediate. His discovery of ACC-synthase opened the way to understanding the regulatory process of ethylene biosynthesis. He received several awards and honors for his research. In 1990 and 1992, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, USA and to the Academia Sinica, Taiwan, respectively. In 1991, he was awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture “for his remarkable contributions to the understanding of the mechanism of biosynthesis, mode of action and applications of the plant hormone, ethylene.” In 1992, he was awarded the American Society of Horticultural Science Outstanding Research Award.