Edward M. De Robertis
Edward M. De Robertis
Edward Michael De Robertis (born June 6, 1947) is an American embryologist and Professor at University of California, Los Angeles, whose work has contributed to the discovery of conserved molecular mechanisms of embryonic inductions that cause tissue differentiations during animal development.
Edward De Robertis (a.k.a. Eddy) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 6, 1947, while his father, Eduardo de Robertis, was a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. He was raised in Uruguay since age three, where he completed MD studies by age 24. This was followed by a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
His postdoctoral training was in Cambridge, England with Sir John Gurdon. Following three years as staff member at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in 1980 De Robertis was appointed full Professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
De Robertis has been the Norman Sprague Jr. Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles since 1985, where he also is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1994.
De Robertis carried out his postdoctoral training (1974–1977) with Sir John Gurdon, the distinguished developmental biologist, at the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom. By transplanting Xenopus kidney cell nuclei into oocytes of a different amphibian species, they demonstrated that nuclear reprogramming of protein-coding genes was caused by oocyte cytoplasm. In 1978 he became staff scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, working on the nucleo-cytoplasmic transport of macromolecules.
In 1984, De Robertis, together with the laboratory of his colleague Walter Gehring, isolated the first vertebrate development-controlling gene, now called Hox-C6. Hox genes determine anterior (head) to posterior (tail) differentiation. The discovery that Hox genes were conserved between vertebrates and fruit flies marked the beginning of the young scientific discipline of Evolution and Development, Evo-Devo.
In the 1990s De Robertis' research laboratory carried out the systematic dissection of the molecular mechanisms that mediate embryonic induction. In 1924 Hans Spemann and Hilde Mangold identified a region of the amphibian embryo that was able to induce the formation of Siamese twins after transplantation. De Robertis isolated genes expressed in this region, starting with a homeobox gene called Goosecoid. Together with his colleagues, he discovered Chordin, a protein secreted by dorsal cells that binds Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) growth factors facilitating their transport to the ventral side of the embryo, where Chordin is digested by a protease called Tolloid, so that BMPs can signal again. This flow of growth factors determines dorsal (back) to ventral (belly) cell and tissue differentiations in many bilateral animals, such as fruit flies, spiders, early chordates and mammals. The Chordin/BMP/Tolloid biochemical pathway is regulated by feedback inhibitors and cross-talk with other signaling pathways. Recently his laboratory has discovered a close relationship between the canonical Wnt pathway, multivesicular endosomes and protein degradation.
De Robertis has been active in international scientific affairs. He served as president of the International Society of Developmental Biologists (ISDB) from 2002 to 2006. During this period, ISDB sponsored the formation of the Latin American Society of Developmental Biology and the Asian-Pacific Network of Developmental Biologists. He has also served on the scientific board of the Pew Charitable Trusts Latin American Fellows program for almost two decades. Recently, De Robertis was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Benedict XVI.
In summary, Eddy De Robertis has been a pioneer in the remarkable current realization that the development of all animals is regulated by an ancestral genetic tool-kit. This use of conserved gene networks during embryonic development has channeled the outcomes of evolution by natural selection arising from Urbilateria, the last common ancestor of vertebrates and invertebrates.
Honors and awards
- Member, National Academy of Sciences, 2013.
- Doctor Honoris Causa, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, 2013.
- Academician, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican, 2009.
- Ross Harrison Prize in Developmental Biology, 2009.
- Membre Honoré, Societé de Biologie, Paris, France, 2008.
- Corresponding Member, Latin American Academy of Sciences, 2002.
- Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2000.
- Public lecture series and Medal of the Collège de France, Paris, 1997.
- Member, European Molecular Biology Organization, 1982.
- Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund postdoctoral fellow, 1976-1977.
- De Robertis, E.M. and Gurdon, J.B. (1977). Gene Activation in somatic nuclei after injection into amphibian oocytes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 74, 2470-2474. PMID 267940
- Carrasco, A.E., McGinnis, W., Gehring, W.J. and De Robertis, E.M. (1984). Cloning of a Xenopus laevis gene expressed during early embryogenesis that codes for a peptide region homologous to Drosophila homeotic genes: implications for vertebrate development. Cell 37, 409-414.PMID 6327066
- De Robertis, E.M. (2008). Evo-Devo: Variations on Ancestral themes. Cell 132, 185-195.PMID 18243095
- De Robertis, E.M. (2006). Spemann’s organizer and self-regulation in amphibian embryos. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 7, 296-302. PMID 16482093
- Cho, K.W.Y, Blumberg, B., Steinbeisser, H. and De Robertis, E.M. (1991). Molecular Nature of Spemann's Organizer: the Role of the Xenopus Homeobox Gene goosecoid. Cell 67, 1111-1120. PMID 1352187
- Sasai, Y., Lu, B., Steinbeisser, H., Geissert, D., Gont, L.K. and De Robertis, E.M. (1994). Xenopus chordin: a novel dorsalizing factor activated by organizer-specific homeobox genes. Cell 79, 779-790. PMID 8001117
- Piccolo, S., Sasai, Y., Lu, B. and De Robertis, E.M. (1996). Dorsoventral patterning in Xenopus: Inhibition of ventral signals by direct binding of Chordin to BMP-4. Cell 86, 589-598. PMID 8752213
- Piccolo, S., Agius, E., Lu, B., Goodman, S., Dale, L. and De Robertis, E.M. (1997). Cleavage of Chordin by the Xolloid metalloprotease suggests a role for proteolytic processing in the regulation of Spemann organizer activity. Cell 91, 407-416. PMID 9363949
- De Robertis, E.M. (2009). Spemann’s organizer and the self-regulation of embryonic fields. Mech. Dev. 126, 925-941. PMID 19733655
- Lee, H.X., Ambrosio, A.L., Reversade, B. and De Robertis, E.M. (2006). Embryonic dorsal-ventral signaling: secreted Frizzled-related proteins as inhibitors of Tolloid proteinases. Cell 124, 147-159. PMID 16413488
- Fuentealba, L.C., Eivers, E., Ikeda, A., Hurtado, C., Kuroda, H., Pera, E.M., and De Robertis, E.M. (2007). Integrating patterning signals: Wnt/GSK3 regulates the duration of the BMP/Smad1 signal. Cell 131, 980-993. PMID 18511557
- Taleman, V.F., Dobrowolski, R., Plouhinec, J.L., Fuentealba, L.C., Vorwald, P.P., Gumper, I., Sabatini, D.D. and De Robertis, E.M. (2010). Cell 143, 1136-1148. PMID 21183076
- Dobrowolski, R., Vick, P., Ploper, D., Gumper, I., Snitkin, H., Sabatini, D.D. and De Robertis, E.M. (2012). Presenilin deficiency or lysosomal inhibition enhances Wnt signaling through relocalization of GSK3 to the late-endosomal compartment. Cell Rep. 2, 1316-1328. PMID 23122960
- De Robertis, E.M. and Sasai, Y. (1996). A common plan for dorso-ventral patterning in Bilateria. Nature 380, 37-40. PMID 8598900