Dear Epigenetics Institute,
We were all deeply saddened to learn of David Allis’ passing in early January, at far too young an age of 71. David’s discoveries over nearly 30 years, launching with his groundbreaking 1996 Cell paper reporting the first nuclear histone acetyltransferase, GCN5, had enormous impacts on the fields of histone biology and epigenetics. His ideas and vision extended well beyond these fields, to broadly influence and propel research of nuclear processes in the context of chromatin. David was elected to scientific academies in the United States, and won numerous prestigious awards, including the Japan Prize, the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
I feel personal sadness as my lab group and I were very fortunate to have collaborated with David, and worked in parallel, in the early revelatory years of histone modifications. I was always amazed by his passion and wide-eyed excitement for new findings that, over the years, led to an ever-expanding reach of histone biology into every aspect of chromatin-based processes. The field and science as a whole have indeed lost a tremendous spokesman, as his lectures and conference talks were truly inspirational and, without a doubt, recruited many graduate students, postdocs, and medical fellows into the world of epigenetics.
David was an exceptional and universally admired scientist, but he was also an amazing mentor, as is clear from the testimonials below from his postdoctoral trainees Erica Korb, Richard Phillips and Liling Wan, now all, to our great delight, core faculty members of the Epigenetics Institute.
With deep sadness on this occasion,
Shelley Berger, PhD
Erica Korb, PhD
Dave was an incredible scientist, a wonderful mentor, and an incredibly kind and caring person. We’re all devastated by this loss and Dave will be missed by the many, many of us who passed through his lab and were lucky enough to know him and learn from him. One of the things that made him the happiest was seeing his lab members go off to start new labs and train a new generation of scientists. He was particularly thrilled that several of us had the opportunity to come to the Epigenetics Institute to pursue our science. He knew what an amazing place this was and how lucky we were to carry his training to such an incredible environment. Dave was also unfailingly humble and never stopped appreciating the beauty of a simple but elegant experiment. Even in the age of next generation sequencing, Dave’s favorite results were usually in the form of a simple western blot of histone modification. He taught us all that powerful science can come in many forms and we will remember him every time we see a particularly beautiful western blot of histone modifications, that helps to remind us of his favorite saying, ‘Every amino acid matters.’ While we miss him very much, it’s comforting to know that by carrying on his science and training others, we are honoring his memory every day.
Richard Phillips, PhD
Dave was a brilliant scientist. His contributions as a pioneer in chromatin biology are having wide reaching implications in biomedical science and medicine, yet they were borne out of a pure love for discovery and biochemistry which we as trainees witnessed on a regular basis. Dave was one of the most humble individuals you might encounter. Very open minded to new ideas yet deeply rigorous and incisive in his analysis. A unique talent in simplifying complex ideas and making them accessible for other scientists. But perhaps his most special quality was the care and enthusiasm he had for people. As his mentee you knew he cared about how you were doing outside of the lab. He would cherish news about personal milestones and he loved to decorate his lab with photos lab members shared with him, just one of the many things he did to create a ‘family’ environment. Dave supported, promoted and advised us all so enthusiastically in our scientific careers and he was so excited for his trainees to come to the Epigenetics institute and continue our work in this environment. I will miss Dave sorely but I feel privileged to have been able to learn from such a great man.
Liling Wan, PhD
With the passing of David Allis, the scientific community has lost one of its most inspirational leaders and brilliant minds. Besides his enormous impact on biomedical science and discovery, Dave had influenced many scientists inside (including Erica, Richard, and myself at the Epigenetics Institute) and outside his laboratory through his enthusiasm, kindness, generosity, and support. I have not seen anyone who loved science more than Dave. His genuine interest in science and other people’s work, coupled with his rare gift of simplifying complex ideas and making them accessible to non-experts, inspired and attracted many trainees and collaborators over the years to study chromatin and its role in diverse biological processes. Working in Dave’s lab was a delightful and rewarding experience. He mentored us with relentless positivity and encouragement. He always promoted our careers whenever possible during our training in his lab and continued to do so after we launched our independent careers. His care of people went beyond work. He celebrated trainee’s personal milestones with equal if not more joy as he did for scientific accomplishments. Like many of us in the extended Allis family, I am forever grateful for his mentorship and friendship and aspire to follow his footsteps to bring a positive impact on science and people. His legacy will live on.