NIEHS colleagues of Dmitri Zaykin, Ph.D., mourned as one upon hearing of his death Dec. 28, 2020. The internationally recognized statistical geneticist joined NIEHS in 2004 and received tenure in 2015. Zaykin is survived by his wife, Svetlana, and their son, Roman.
Rick Woychik, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, offered sincere condolences to Zaykin’s family. “Dmitri was a respected scientist and wonderful colleague who made important scientific contributions in support of the mission of NIEHS,” said Woychik. “He will be sadly missed by all who knew and worked with him.”
Zaykin’s scientific interests included statistical genetics, population genetics, and genetic epidemiology, especially as applied to the genetics of human diseases and drug response, or pharmacogenetics. “He was a brilliant scientist, extremely dedicated to his work, and a wonderful person” said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D.
Scientist and mentor
Zaykin was a senior investigator in the NIEHS Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch (BCBB), led by Alison Motsinger-Reif, Ph.D. She said that some of his most important work focused on understanding and modeling the balance between false associations and real findings in high throughput genetic data, such as genome-wide association studies (GWAS).
He also focused on developing methods to analyze multidimensional genomic data and detect genetic associations with health-related outcomes. Zaykin’s most recent projects involved methods to infer potential gene-environment interactions in GWAS.
For many years, Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D., was Zaykin’s supervisor in BCBB. “I will always be grateful to have known Dmitri,” she said. “He was such a remarkable person — so brilliant and honest. I was in awe of his intellect. Yet he was never arrogant and was always willing to ask questions, even the naive ones.”
She added that he was greatly admired by his trainees. “In a branch meeting recently, a postdoc said, ‘He made me feel smart.’ That is perhaps the best thing that could be said of a mentor.”
Leping Li, Ph.D., the deputy chief of BCBB, also spoke fondly of Zaykin. “Dmitri was like a Russian brother to me,” Li said. “He had a one-of-a-kind intellect and heart. He was funny, gentle, and kind. I will miss him dearly.”
“Each of us not only grieves at the passing of a tremendous individual but also for his family’s loss,” said Motsinger-Reif.
A memorial service for Zaykin was held Jan. 10.