A Tribute to Dr Bill Jordan 1962-2011

Bill JordanSenior Research Fellow
Theme Leader (Genetic Variation, Fitness & Adaptability)

Sometimes the most important steps forward in biology come from looking at a biological phenomenon from a new perspective. The work of Dr William Jordan, who passed away in May 2011, has made significant advances in our understanding of the genetic architecture of Atlantic salmon populations and, at the time of his death, was furthering our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning phenotypic plasticity.

His favourite model organism was the Atlantic salmon; over two decades his work on this species produced some of his most distinctive contributions to the literature. In addition, Bill investigated fundamental biological questions using a variety of other animals including bees, fruit flies, lava lizards, giant otters, petrels, zebra fish, red squirrels and corncrakes. His collaborative works on the evolution of Drosophila genes and genomes and social parasitism in bees were published as letters to Nature.

Bill completed his PhD, "Gene flow among Atlantic salmon populations in Scotland", from Queen’s University of Belfast in 1990, carrying out most of the fieldwork at the Girnock Burn in Aberdeenshire, a place that he would always retain sentimentality for. Following his PhD, he was awarded several fellowships taking him to the University of Aberdeen, Queen's University, Belfast, University of Louisiana and the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Crete. In 1995, he joined the Institute of Zoology, London as a Research Fellow in the Genetics, Fitness and Adaptability theme. From 2001, he became a Senior Research Fellow and Head of Research Theme.

Bill was responsible for guiding many students to achieve their PhDs at IoZ, in the roles of supervisor and Post-Graduate Tutor. He was absolutely unfailing in his support and encouragement of, and belief in, the students and staff he managed. Always extremely generous and giving of his time; Bill could be counted on to help with a problem, scientific or otherwise, often over a drink at the ZSL Social Club (which he would invariably buy).

In his role as Head of Research Theme, Bill made massive and lasting contributions to the Genetics Group at IoZ. His incisive intellect, astute scientific instincts, and his enthusiasm to learn new things made him an excellent scientist. He maintained fruitful collaborations with other scientists at organisations across Europe and North America. In recent years, he had become particularly interested in genomic plasticity, developing research into the genomic basis of life history transitions of Atlantic salmon, for which he was awarded several large grants by BBSRC and NERC. His careful management of the lab, simultaneously frugal and forward-thinking, has left IoZ with an impressive suite of genuinely state of the art facilities.

Bill was self-effacing and charmingly modest about his talents, but possessed a quick, dry wit that could bring levity to any situation. He was extremely close to his family back home in Ballymena and is survived by his parents, sisters, nieces and nephew. ZSL lost not only a great scientist with the passing of William Jordan, but also a great man. He will be fondly remembered, but terribly missed.

by Dr Kate Ciborowksi, Institute of Zoology.