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News & Press: Obituaries

Stephen L. Johnson, 1960 - 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017   (1 Comments)
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Stephen Johnson, a pioneering geneticist, genomicist, and neural crest and regeneration biologist in the zebrafish field, died December 15, 2017, from a rare health condition that he had been contending with for several years. Steve grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and attended Vanderbilt University from 1979-1983 where he obtained his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Molecular Biology. He then moved to Seattle for his graduate studies in yeast genetics at the University of Washington where he received his Ph.D. in Genetics in 1991. He then entered the very new (at the time) zebrafish field for his postdoctoral studies, working largely with James Weston, Charles Kimmel, and John Postlethwait at the University of Oregon, the birthplace of the zebrafish field. There he was a major contributor to generating the first genetic maps in the zebrafish, and where he began studying zebrafish pigment patterning and initiated his pioneering studies in tissue regeneration.

In 1996 he began his independent career as an Assistant Professor in the Genetics Department at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He then joined forces with the Washington University genome sequencing center, which sequenced thousands of zebrafish ESTs (expressed sequence tags) bringing high-throughput genomic tools and gene mapping to the zebrafish field, providing multitudes of physical entry points to the zebrafish genome, at a time when even the human genome sequence had not yet emerged. These were the arduous days of positional cloning, and these genomic entry points and gene-mapping data were instrumental in moving the nascent zebrafish field forward.

Steve was also unique in his sharp-witted character, smart and creative mind, while at the same time he was kind hearted and generous. He was a strong advocate for the zebrafish field broadly and amazingly collaborative, as evidenced in his ~100 publications. He was always bringing others together in collaborations, he had such a wonderful spirit. He was an amazing mentor to so many graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduates. He was exemplary as a scientist in his rigorous experimental analysis, his high standards, and his scientific impact in so many ways. He was a dear friend to many in the field and will be greatly missed.

A longer tribute to Steve will be forthcoming in the next IZFS Splash Newsletter. This page has been established for you to share your thoughts and remembrances of Steve. If you would like to leave a comment, please email and we would be happy to post the comment on your behalf.


Mary Mullins

Photo credit: 

Anand Chandrasekhar


Brant Weinstein says...
Posted Friday, December 22, 2017
I first met Steve years ago when I was a postdoc in Mark Fishman’s lab at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I had travelled to the University of Oregon to learn blastomere transplantation from “the experts,” and Steve and his cats generously let me stay in their house during my visit to Eugene. My brief stay with Steve was long enough for me to discover that he was (1) extremely opinionated, (2) extremely smart, and (3) extremely generous and considerate. We shared some common background, having both come from yeast labs as graduate students and with a strong interest in genetics. We remained friends in the years after, and if I needed someone to have a high-level genetics discussion with, Steve was my go-to guy. Steve, you'll be missed! - Brant Weinstein

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