Gary Johnson, Director of the MU Canine Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Passes Away

Published 1/29/2024

Gary Steven Johnson
Gary Steven Johnson

Gary Steven Johnson, DVM, PhD, 80, of Ashland, Missouri, passed away on Jan. 25, 2024, in Columbia, Missouri. He was born on March 15, 1943, to Lois (Dalhgren) and Donald Johnson in Red Wing, Minnesota.

A lifelong love of fishing began early, with family summer vacations to the lakes of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. From an early age he was interested in nature and the science behind it. As a high school junior, his chemistry teacher saw potential and arranged for him to take a televised University of Minnesota course in organic chemistry. This laid the foundation that would later result in a doctorate in biochemistry. While in college, he met and married Marie Nygaard, who shared his love of fishing, education, and Irish terriers.

He received his bachelor’s degree at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Kansas State University. He then completed postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins University before joining the faculty at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 as an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology.

Dr. Johnson was world renowned for his research in canine genetics. As director of the Canine Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the University of Missouri, he pioneered the use of innovative techniques in molecular genetics to identify mutations responsible for numerous hereditary diseases in dogs. Based on these discoveries, he developed tests that are used in diagnostic testing and to screen dogs for disease mutations prior to breeding. The screening tests are enabling dog breeders to eliminate devastating diseases that have caused great suffering in dogs. One of his discoveries led to development of a successful treatment for a rare neurological disorder in children. Many of his other discoveries have provided insights into the mechanisms underlying diseases that will guide the development of effective therapeutic interventions for both dogs and people. Dr. Johnson was recently recognized for his lifetime contributions to the health of dogs with the 2023 Asa Mays, DVM, Excellence in Canine Health Research Award from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. In 2014 he received a Dean’s Impact Award from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

His legacy is not limited to benefits to canine and human health, but also includes the impact he had on his students and colleagues. He trained many undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students, and staff, whom he provided with the knowledge, skills, and inspiration to continue his work. recognition of his work, in November of 2022, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals made a $1.5 million gift to the University of Missouri to help fund a new director of the Canine Genetic Diseases Laboratory in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. This gift established the Dr. E. A. (Al) Corley OFA Endowed Program in Canine Molecular Genetics to help fulfill Dr. Johnson’s wish that the lab’s impactful work continue.

He was a loving and supportive father of his two daughters. As they were growing up, he could often be found cheering loudly at their sporting events. He also took immense pride in his daughter’s piano talents. He was an avid Kansas City Chiefs and Mizzou Tigers football fan and made a point to never miss a game.

He was preceded in death by his parents, as well as his wife of more than 30 years, Marie Nygaard Johnson. He is survived by a brother, David Johnson, sister, Terri Rusch, daughter Kari Johnson and her husband, Roney Edler Barroso Da Silva, and his children; daughter Marit Johnson, and grandson, Soren Sims. As he wished, Gary and Marie Johnson’s ashes will be scattered at one of their favorite lakes at a later date.

To help continue his legacy, donations in Dr. Johnson’s honor may be made to the Dr. Gary Johnson Memorial Fund for Canine Genetic Diseases Research. Please send checks to: Office of Gift Processing, 407 Reynolds Alumni Center, Columbia, MO 65211, or make an online donation at Specify donations are to go to the Dr. Gary Johnson Memorial Fund for Canine Genetic Diseases Research.