Xiaohan Yang

Senior Scientist

Dr. Xiaohan Yang is a Senior Scientist in the Synthetic Biology Group in Biosciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). He obtained his PhD degree (Horticulture/Plant Molecular Biology/Plant Breeding) from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. He is a co-editor-in-chief of BioDesign Research (https://spj.sciencemag.org/journals/bdr/). His research covers plant genome editing, plant metabolic pathway engineering, plant-based biosensor, synthetic biology tool development, secure biosystems design, and plant genomics, with a focus on bioenergy crops and plant-microbe interactions to solve renewable energy and environmental challenges. He won a R&D 100 Award in 2018.

Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) is a biological innovation that allows plants to thrive in water-limited environments such as arid deserts and areas with a pronounced seasonal drought. The water-use efficiency of CAM plants is much higher than that of C3 and C4 plants. Transferring CAM machinery into existing crops holds tremendous potential for sustainable production of food and biomass on semi-arid, marginal, or degraded agricultural lands. Dr. Yang leads a research team at ORNL to engineer CAM using Synthetic Biology approach for the purpose of improving water-use efficiency of bioenergy feedstocks. Besides CAM engineering, he is interested in engineering plants for bioenergy, bioeconomy (biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fine chemicals), and carbon sequestration.

Dr. Yang’s team develops new tools for synthetic biology research, such as assembly of DNA parts into genetic circuits, multi-gene engineering in plants, high-throughput manipulation of gene expression, high precision genome-editing, efficient transformation in non-model plant species, and application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in synthetic biology. He is very interested in automated Design-Build-Test-Learn pipeline for accelerating plant synthetic biology research.

Dr. Yang has extensive experience in plant genomics research. He leads the effort to sequence the genomes of two important CAM models (Agave and Kalanchoe) and performs studies on the plant small proteins and non-coding RNAs involved in the interactions with microbes. His lab is applying genome-editing technologies to plant functional genomics research and genetic improvement of crop plants.


2018 The R&D 100 Award (TNT Cloning System)
2008 Distinguished Achievement Award for Post-Graduate Research in Environmental Science (In recognition of outstanding early career productivity, ability to collaborate effectively in a team setting, and ability to integrate bioinformatics and molecular biology to gain novel insights into evolutionary genomics).
2000 Liu Memorial Award in recognition of his excellent progress and high potential for a successful academic career.


US Patent No.: 10,017,770 B2 (Issued: July 10, 2018) “TNT Cloning System”. Inventors:
Tuskan GA, Yang X, De Paoli HC.
U.S. patent No. US 10,227,601 B2 (Issued: March 12, 2019): “PtDUF266 Gene Regulating Cell Wall Biosynthesis and Recalcitrance in Populus”. Inventors: Jin-Gui Chen, Sara Jawdy, Xiaohan Yang, Gerald A. Tuskan, Yongil Yang, Lee E. Gunter
U.S. patent No. US 10,246,719 B2 (Issued: April 2, 2019): “Modulating Laccase Enzyme to Regulate Cell Wall Biosynthesis and Recalcitrance in Plants”. Inventors: Jin-Gui Chen, Lee E. Gunter, Sara S. Jawdy, Xiaohan Yang, Gerald A. Tuskan, Anthony C. Bryan