Professor Qian Ying-Qian, a renowned Chinese plant biologist and a member of the editorial board of Acta Botanica Sinica (predecessor of JIPB) 1989–1993, passed away in Beijing on April 20, 2010 at the age of 78. Professor Qian was a former Secretary-General (1978–1988), and Vice President of the Chinese Botanical Society (1988–1999). During his long and distinguished career, Professor Qian served as Director-General of the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Director-General of the Bureau of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, CAS, President of Guangxi Academy of Sciences, Chief Editor of Chinese Biodiversity (currently Biodiversity Science), Deputy Director of the Biodiversity Committee of CAS, Vice Chair of The State Review Committee on Nature Reserves, Deputy Director of the Endangered Species Scientific Commission, PRC, and Chair of the Chinese Committee of the International Union of Biological Sciences. For more than half a century, Professor Qian dedicated his life and career to the development of the plant science research community in China.
Born on December 28, 1932 in Cixi, Zhejiang Province, Professor Qian received his undergraduate degree in 1954 from the Biology Department, Fudan University. His outstanding academic performance earned him the right to pursue graduate studies, which at the time was extremely difficult to attain in China. He completed his graduate studies in 1957 from Nanjing University, and assumed an assistant professor position there immediately after receiving his graduate degree. In 1959, he joined the Institute of Botany, CAS. He had remained with CAS for the rest of his career.
Professor Qian was one of the scientists whose research established the foundation of modern plant cell biology research in China. As deputy head of the Cell Biology Laboratory in the early 1960's, Professor Qian established the electron microscopy platform at the Institute of Botany, CAS, which led to the transition of their research from light microscopy to ultrastructural studies. He was among a group of key plant cell biologists led by Professor Wu Su-Xuan that strongly advocated the importance of moving forward from morphological studies of the cell to the dynamic aspects of cell differentiation and development. Illustrating this foresight in scientific leadership was the fact that, despite the challenging environment unimaginable to many researchers nowadays in China, he initiated in the 1960's a “Plant Cellular Biochemistry team” in the Cell Biology Laboratory of the Institute of Botany, emphasizing methodologies employing protein, DNA and RNA analytical tools. Leading a project that made the earliest successful maize anther culture in China, he was one of the pioneers in microspore culture research, a field that inspired a generation of Chinese plant biotechnology researchers. Professor Qian was always keen in the practical application of plant research to crop improvement (Qian et al. 1981). In search of new cell technology for crop improvement, he enthusiastically embarked on protoplast culture and somatic hybridization technology. He reported the successful inter-genus protoplast fusion between tobacco and soybean, and provided chromosomal, isozymes and ultrastructural evidence to demonstrate the hybrid nature of the fusion product (Qian et al. 1982). Under his leadership, the Cell Biology Laboratory at the Institute of Botany, CAS, was in the forefront of protoplast culture technology for many years, achieving plant regeneration from protoplasts of numerous crop species including maize, rice and kiwifruit (Cai et al. 1978; Cai et al. 1987; Qian and Yu 1992).
In the latter part of his career, Professor Qian dedicated his efforts to Biodiversity research in China. With his endeavor, a working group on biodiversity was set up in the CAS in 1990. In 1992, the Biodiversity Committee of the CAS was established with Professor Qian as the first deputy director. This committee had significantly motivated the biodiversity research community in China and strongly supported biodiversity conservation activities. Professor Qian had organized and directly participated in research projects on assessment of biodiversity status and strategies in China. He also studied the principles and methodologies of biodiversity conservation in practice (Qian and Ma 1994). He co-authored several key reports on biodiversity, including the action plan of biodiversity conservation and the report on current situation of biodiversity in China. These documents provided solid scientific basis for achieving regulations on biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilization at the state level. Professor Qian was also the first scientist in China realizing the significant implication of biosafety issues to biodiversity. With the fast development of biotechnology, Professor Qian called attention on biosafety research of genetically modified organisms in China in 1992, and contributed numerous publications introducing biosafety research (e.g. Qian 1994; Qian and Ma 1995, 1998). With his leadership, the Institute of Botany, CAS, established a strong biosafety research platform with dynamic research programs on biodiversity.
Professor Qian was a tireless promoter of academic exchange between China and the international community. He was among the first wave of Chinese scientists going abroad for academic exchange. Many at the National Research Council Canada-Plant Biotechnology Institute where he conducted somatic hybridization research in the early 1980's fondly remember him as an exceedingly hard working scientist and remarkably productive in research. As happened many times in his career, he placed his organizational duty ahead of everything else: he had to cut short his research visit in Canada upon a call of return to lead the Institute of Botany of CAS. As Director-General of the Institute, he opened many channels of academic exchange for researchers and students.
Professor Qian was a scientific management leader, a scholar, scientist, mentor, colleague, and friend. More than his scientific contributions, Professor Qian will be remembered for mentoring more than 20 students. Those of us who had the privilege being his students have myriad tales to tell about his kindness and generosity. Although saddled with management duties, he always made sure to allocate time for discussion and often demonstrated directly to students cell biology techniques. After he took on the position of Director-General of the Bureau of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, the weekly meeting with students proceeded normally in his office at the headquarters of CAS, and the scientific discussion was often followed by a lunch treat. He encouraged independent thinking and was always open to seeking inputs from other scientists to student research projects.
It is important to recognize that the impact of a scientist, as that of any individual, can only be fully appreciated through a prism of his or her specific time and space. Plant science research in China for the last few decades has gone through a tremendous transformation. Entrusted with many challenging management positions during the early transition phase of this period, Professor Qian made incalculable contribution to what the Chinese Plant science research is today. Professor Qian will be sadly missed by countless ones whose career has been made better by his life and career.