2016 Outstanding Career Achievement: Thomas E. Johnson

Tom Johnson

DSC_0564.JPG (Photo by Glenn J. Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Tom Johnson, the recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Career Achievement Award, is a Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Integrative Physiology. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Behavioral Genetics where he first affiliated in 1981.

Dr. Johnson received his BS at MIT, where he worked with David Baltimore and Harvey Lodish. He received his PhD at the University of Washington under Ben Hall and was a postdoc with Bill Wood at the University of Colorado. Dr. Johnson is a pioneer in the application of molecular and genetic analyses to the study of aging with his seminal work on the nematode C. elegans being published in 1982. He has been called the father of genetic research in aging. He has won most of the awards in the field of aging and gerosciences and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Johnson will focus on the nature of hormesis. Using the nematode C. elegans, he found a profound response to exposure to a range of toxins that include heat, heavy metals, paraquat, hydrogen peroxide, and other forms of oxidative stress. The age-1 mutation, for which he is largely credited, causes increased tolerance to a similar set of stressors. Most Age mutants modify this response to stress, demonstrating that extended longevity is directly associated with increased multi-focal stress resistance.

Johnson’s lab demonstrated a profound non-linear relationship between heat and other stressors: at low stressor levels, there is a consistent ~20% increase in stress resistance and longevity. This relationship has since been shown to be modulated by the insulin-like pathway that includes age-1. Dietary restriction (probably also a form of hormesis) has been studied in some detail in worms and in mice. The hormetic response occurs as soon as a worm is exposed to a moderate stress. He has extended these studies partly by establishing a stochastic model of response to stress. His current work utilizes an ingenious method for identifying novel drug targets for increased healthspans in a mouse model.

For further information see http://ibg.colorado.edu/tj-lab/ (Dr. Johnson would like to acknowledgeseminal funding from the Glenn Foundation, the Ellison Foundation, anonymous donors, as well as substantive support from the State of Colorado and especially the NIH and NSF.)