Xinnian Dong received her B.S. degree in microbiology from Wuhan University in China in 1982 and came to the US to pursue her graduate degree in the same year. Xinnian Dong was awarded Ph.D. degree in molecular biology by Northwestern University in Chicago in 1988. She became interested in using Arabidopsis thaliana as model organism to study plant immune mechanisms when she was a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Fred Ausubel at Massachusetts General Hospital in Harvard Medical School. Xinnian Dong became an Assistant Professor at Duke University in 1992 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1999 and Full Professor in 2004. She is currently an Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Biology (since 2007).
The Dong laboratory identified NPR1, a master regulator of immune regulator in plants, and made several important discoveries on how NPR1 transduces the immune signal salicylic acid in conferring broad-spectrum disease resistance. In recent years, the Dong lab discovered surprising connections between plant defense with the circadian clock and with the DNA damage repair machinery. Moreover, they found that translational regulation is a critical step of immune induction and controlling translation of master immune regulators, such as NPR1, in a pathogen inducible manner can render broad-spectrum disease resistance to rice without any significant yield penalty normally associated with enhanced immunity.
Xinnian Dong became a HHMI investigator in 2011, elected as an AAAS fellow in 2011, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and an American Academy of Microbiology Fellow in 2013. She was also named as an outstanding alumna of Wuhan University in the same year.