Xiaofeng Cao is a geneticist recognized for her work on epigenetic regulation in higher plants. She is known particularly for her studies on dynamic histone methylation, small RNA as well as arginine methylation controlling transposon activities govern genome stability and affecting genome-wide co-transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation during development.
Xiaofeng was born and grew up in Beijing, China. She has a bachelor’s in applied biochemistry from Peking University in 1988, a master’s in biochemistry from China Agricultural University in 1991, and a PhD from the College of Life Sciences, Peking University in 1997. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington State University and a research associate at the University of California, Los Angeles. She became a PI in 2003 at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). She has been led the Center for Genome Biology at IGDB and is the co-director of the Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Science, jointly established by CAS and the John Innes Centre (UK). She was elected CAS Academician, a TWAS Fellow, a member of IEAS, and International member of National Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the National Committee of CPPCC.

Research Interests

Xiaofeng Cao 's laboratory is interested in understanding epigenetic mechanisms in higher plants. They have identified a dozen key factors to uncover how histone methylation and demethylation, as well as small RNAs metabolism controlling transposon activities governing genome stability and plant development. They have identified the first histone H3K27 demethylase REF6 and demonstrated novel sequence-specific targeting mechanism of REF6 to counteract Polycomb-mediated gene silencing. They have discovered that Arabidopsis protein arginine methyltransferase 5 is required for the recruitment of NineTeen complex for spliceosome activation genome-wide pre-mRNA splicing, demonstrating how arginine methylation links chromatin regulation to transcript processing. Transposable elements (TEs) and repetitive sequences make up over 35% of the rice genome. TE mobilization can disrupt genome stability and most organisms have evolved diverse mechanisms to regulate TE activity. Using rice as a model, they have built a connection between proper epigenetic modifications with transposition of transposons with regard to their local chromatin niche, and further experimentally demonstrated the impact of transposon-derived small RNAs on nearby gene expression for controlling important agricultural traits. They have identified the first thermo-sensitive genic male sterility controlling gene, which is broadly utilized in hybrid rice breeding.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 25: Plant Biology