Stephen J. O'Brien

Nova Southeastern University

Election Year: 2018
Primary Section: 61, Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Section: 41, Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology
Membership Type: Member


Dr. Stephen J. O'Brien is a world leading molecular biologist, population geneticist, genetic epidemiologist and dedicated conservationist whom uses molecular genetic and bioinformatics tools to help protect endangered species and to resolve genetic determinants of devastating complex diseases such as HIV-AIDS and cancers. He was born in Rochester, New York  and grew up in Rochester and in Bethesda, Maryland. He graduated with a BS degree in Biology from St. Francis College in Pennsylvania and from Cornell University with a PhD in Genetics in 1971. He joined the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health as a post-doctoral fellow in 1971 and there, served as Founder and Chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity from 1986-2012. In 2012, he founded the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics, St. Petersburg State University, Russia and today serves as the Chief Scientific Officer. His dedication and science influence was honored in 2016 by his election to the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2013 he was appointed Professor and Research Director at Nova Southeastern University in Ft Lauderdale, where he applies his experience to genome bioinformatics of marine vertebrate and invertebrate species. His research career, training emphasis and leadership helped establish the very  important disciplines of Genetic Epidemiology, Genome Wide Association Studies, Comparative Genomics, Emerging Infections Diseases, Genome Bioinformatics and Conservation Genetics of endangered and threatened species.

Research Interests

Stephen O’Brien’s wide ranging research interests and expertise span human and comparative genomics, genetic epidemiology, AIDS, cancers, retro-virology, bioinformatics, biodiversity and species conservation. Convinced of the utility of exploring diverse species to advance our understanding of the human genome, Dr. O’Brien and his team have collected over 62,000 animal and 424,000 human tissue/DNA specimens, facilitating wide-ranging studies of disease gene associations, species adaptation and natural history. O’Brien and his students are known for documenting the remarkable genetic uniformity of African cheetahs, resolving the mammalian tree of life, describing heretofore unrecognized species of orangutans, African forest elephants and Bornean clouded leopards. His NCI team  is credited with the discovery and characterization of CCR5-∆32, the first of ~50 human AIDS restriction genes, which imparts natural immunity to HIV, leading to novel AIDS therapies. He is the one of the founders of the Genome 10K initiative, has published over 850 research papers, written and edited multiple books and is adjunct professor in 12 leading universities. He authored a popular book of science adventure stories—“Tears of the Cheetah”—which has been adopted by a few dozen U.S. universities as required freshman reading, and translated to Chinese and other languages. He is considered a ‘National Treasure’ by many leading scientists in the U.S. O’Brien considers his most critical contribution and his most treasured asset his many students and fellows who carry on and extend the work that he loves.

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