It is with unbearable sadness and heavy hearts that we announce that Susan Abmayr, PhD, passed away suddenly on Thursday, July 18, 2019. For 16 years, we were privileged to count Susan as a valuable colleague and friend here at Stowers. Susan received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and Economics in 1978 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and her PhD in 1987 from Rockefeller University in New York, NY, under the mentorship of Robert G. Roeder, PhD. She then went on to do her postdoctoral training with Tom Maniatis, PhD, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where she identified transcription factors that determine muscle fate and patterning.
Susan’s contributions to the fields of transcription and myogenesis, and to the scientific community at large are numerous. Her love for the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster began in the laboratory of Sarah Elgin, PhD, where she worked as a research assistant before attending graduate school. Once in graduate school, Susan became intrigued with the mechanisms that drive gene transcription, an interest that persisted throughout her career. Susan is widely recognized as a leader in myogenesis, the process by which muscles are formed. For over 20 years, Susan’s laboratory explored critical developmental steps in the differentiation of myoblasts and the generation of muscle fibers. She identified key transcription factors regulating genes associated with muscle function such as the MADS-box containing Mef2 protein and a T-box transcription factor that specifies the unique developmental program of specific muscle fibers. Susan also discovered that the IgSF protein SNS and the Rac1 regulatory complex MBC/Ced12 are critical for the fusion of myoblasts into myotubes. Susan’s work provided fundamental insights into the transcriptional mechanisms that drive the differentiation of cells into muscles and the fusion of muscle cells to form muscle fibers.
With over 70 scientific publications, Susan was not only a productive scientist and principal investigator, but also a great mentor and advisor. Susan mentored nearly 30 graduate students and postdoctoral scientists in her own laboratory and dozens more as a member of the Advisory Board in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biological Sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Susan was instrumental in establishing and maintaining a program to train graduate students from the University of Kansas School of Medicine at our Institute, and her role in guiding and advising graduate students will be sorely missed by our entire community.
Susan never lost interest in the basic mechanisms of gene transcription she first studied in Bob Roeder’s lab as a graduate student. She sustained this interest for many years by maintaining a close collaboration with her husband, biochemist Jerry Workman, PhD. It is to her credit that she ultimately succeeded in bringing Drosophila genetics to Jerry’s lab to examine the biological requirements of each of the enzymatic activities codified by the SAGA protein complex, a multi-subunit histone modifying complex that is essential for gene transcription.
Susan was also a concerned, compassionate, and engaged citizen who was actively involved in making our community a better place. She participated in many charities, and for many years she volunteered after hours every week to deliver warm food and clothing to the homeless in Kansas City as part of Uplift, an all-volunteer group founded in 1990 that helps deliver meals, clothing, and necessities to the homeless.
Susan will be missed by her Stowers colleagues and all who knew her.