Elizabeth Johnson
Elizabeth Johnson
Associate Professor
Division of Nutritional Sciences

301/303 Biotechnology Building


Dr. Liz Johnson is an Associate Professor of Molecular Nutrition at Cornell University in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Freeman Hrabowski Scholar.  Her work focuses on understanding how metabolite production by the gut microbiome influences host phenotypes as well as how the lipid content of host diets affects the establishment of the microbiome.   She studied biology at Spelman College before pursuing a PhD investigating cell cycle transcriptomics at Princeton University.  Liz went on to study lipid dependent host-microbe interactions during her postdoctoral training in the lab of Ruth Ley before joining the faculty at Cornell in 2018.

The Johnson Lab has expertise in genomic, biochemical, lipidomic, and molecular biology based methods for understanding how bioactive lipids shape host-microbe interactions.  Currently projects in the lab focus on host-microbe molecule exchange and bioactive lipids in infant nutrition.  

Sphingolipids are potent bioactive signaling molecules that are produced by both mammals and some of the the beneficial microbes that colonize the mammalian gut.  Beneficial microbes are known to have an effect on host health but the mechanisms defining these processes are not well understood.  We are dedicated to understanding how sphingolipids contribute to host phenotypes that are defined by microbiome composition.

Research in the Johnson Lab is focused on understanding how bioactive lipids contribute to diet-microbiome and microbiome-host interactions.  We use techniques in molecular biology, mass spectrometry, microbial genetics, and genomics to understand the consequences of lipid transfer between host and the microbiome.  Specifically we are interested in how lipid-dependent host-microbe interactions define the initial colonization and development of the infant gut microbiome with the goal of supporting microbiome-conscious early-life nutrition.  


(*these authors contributed equally, †corresponding author, Johnson Lab members are underlined)

Publications from Independent Research Program 

  1. Tate BN, Van Guilder GP, Aly M, Spence LA, Diaz-Rubio ME, Le HH, Johnson EL, McFadden JW, Perry CA. Changes in Choline Metabolites and Ceramides in Response to a DASH-style Diet in Older Adults. Nutrients (2023).
  2. Sibinga NA, Lee MT, Buchon N, Johnson EL, Selvaraj V, Marquis H. Do antimicrobial peptide levels alter performance of insect-based aquaculture feeds - a study using genetic models of insect immune activation. Journal of Insects as Food and Feed (2023) 9, (7) 919 – 937.
  3. Le HH*, Lee MT*, Besler K, Comrie JMC, Johnson EL†. Characterization of the interaction of dietary cholesterol with the murine and human gut microbiome. Nature Microbiology (2022) 7, 1390 - 1403.
  4. Le HH*, Lee MT*, Besler K, Johnson EL†.  Host hepatic metabolism is modulated by gut microbiome derived sphingolipids.  Cell Host & Microbe (2022) 30, 798 – 808 e797.
  5. Heaver SL, Le HH, Teng P, Baslé A, Mirretta Barone C, Vu D, Waters J, Marles-Wright J, Johnson EL, Campopiano DJ, Ley RE. Characterization of inositol lipid metabolism in gut-associated Bacteroidetes. Nature Microbiology (2022) 7, 986 - 1000.
  6. Lee MT*, Le HH*, Besler K*, Johnson EL†.  Identification and characterization of 3-ketosphinganine reductase activity encoded at the BT_0972 locus in Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. Journal of Lipid Research (2022) 63, 100236.
  7. Sibinga NA, Lee MT, Johnson EL, Selvaraj V, Marquis H. Longitudinal samping of the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) microbiome reveals effects of dietary ceropin A and Yersinina ruckeri infection.  Frontiers in Marine Science (2022) 9.
  8. Lee MT, Le HH, and Johnson EL†. A BOSSS method for managing insights into diet-microbiome interactions.  Trends in Biochemical Sciences (2021) 46, 944 - 945.
  9. Lee MT, Le HH, and Johnson EL†. Dietary sphinganine is selectively assimilated by members of the mammalian gut microbiome. Journal of Lipid Research (2020) 62, 100034.
  10. Le HH and Johnson EL†. Going Keto? Say HB-ye Bye to Your Gut Bifidobacteria. Cell Host & Microbe (2020) 28, 3 - 5.

Publications from Postdoctoral Work

  1. Pinto Y, Frishman S, Turjeman S, Eshel A, Nuriel-Ohayon M, Ziv O, Walters W, Parsonnet J, Ley C, Johnson EL, Schweitzer R, Khatib S, Magzal F, Tamir S, Gavish KT, Rautava S, Salminen S, Isolauri E, Yariv O, Peled Y, Poran E, Pardo J, Chen R, Hod M, Ley RE, Schwartz B, Hadar E, Louzoun Y, Koren O. Gestational diabetes is driven by microbiota-induced inflammation months before diagnosis. Gut (2021).
  2. Di Rienzi SC, Johnson EL, Waters JL, Kennedy EA, Jacobson J, Lawrence P, Wang DH, Worgall TS, Brenna JT, Ley RE. The microbiome affects liver sphingolipids and plasma fatty acids in a murine model of the Western diet based on soybean oil. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (2021) 97, 108808.
  3. Johnson EL, Heaver SL, Waters JL, Kim BI, Bretin A, Goodman A, Gewirtz A, Worgall T, Ley RE.  Sphingolipids produced by gut bacteria enter host metabolic pathways impacting ceramide levels.  Nature Communications (2020) 11, 2471.
  4. Heaver SL, Johnson EL, Ley RE. Sphingolipids in host-microbial interactions. Current Opinion in Microbiology (2018) 43, 92 - 99.
  5. Johnson EL, Heaver SL, Walters WA, Ley RE. Microbiome and metabolic disease: revisiting the bacterial phylum Bacteroidetes. Journal of Molecular Medicine (2017) 95, 1 - 8.

Publications from Graduate Work

  1. Mitra M, Johnson EL, Swamy VS, Nersesian LE, Corney DC, Robinson DG, Taylor DG, Ambrus AM, Jelinek D, Wang W et al. Alternative polyadenylation factors link cell cycle to migration. Genome Biology (2018) 19, 176.
  2. Lee HN, Mitra M, Bosompra O, Corney DC, Johnson EL, Rashed N, Ho LD, Coller HA. RECK isoforms have opposing effects on cell migration. Molecular Biology of the Cell (2018) 29, 1825 - 1838.
  3. Johnson EL, Robinson DG, Coller HA. Widespread changes in mRNA stability contribute to quiescence-specific gene expression patterns in a fibroblast model of quiescence. BMC Genomics (2017) 18, 123.
  4. Suh EJ, Remillard MY, Legesse-Miller A, Johnson EL, Lemons JMS, Chapman TR, Forman JJ, Kojima M, Silberman ES, Coller HA. A microRNA network regulates proliferative timing and extracellular matrix synthesis during cellular quiescence in fibroblasts. Genome Biology (2012) 13, 12.
  5. Wang DJ, Legesse-Miller A, Johnson EL, Coller HA. Regulation of the let-7a-3 Promoter by NF-kappa B. PLoS One (2012) 7, e31240.
  6. Johnson EL, Suh EJ, Chapman TR, Coller HA: Identifying Functional miRNA Targets Using Overexpression and Knockdown Methods. In: Regulatory RNAs: Basics, Methods and Applications. Edited by Mallick B, Ghosh Z. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg; (2012) 295 - 317.
  7. Legesse-Miller A, Raitman I, Haley EM, Liao A, Sun LL, Wang DJ, Krishnan N, Lemons JMS, Suh EJ, Johnson EL et al. Quiescent fibroblasts are protected from proteasome inhibition-mediated toxicity. Molecular Biology of the Cell (2012) 23, 3566 - 3581.
  8. Lemons JMS, Feng XJ, Bennett BD, Legesse-Miller A, Johnson EL, Raitman I, Pollina EA, Rabitz HA, Rabinowitz JD, Coller HA. Quiescent Fibroblasts Exhibit High Metabolic Activity. PLoS Biology (2010) 8, e1000514.

Publications from Undergraduate Work

  1. Johnson EL, Cunningham TW, Marriner SM, Kovacs JL, Hunt BG, Bhakta DB, Goodisman MAD. Resource allocation in a social wasp: effects of breeding system and life cycle on reproductive decisions. Molecular Ecology (2009) 18(13):2908 - 2920.

2014, Ph.D. , Molecular Biology, Princeton University

2008, Biology, Spelman College

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