J. M. Robson

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John Michael ‘Rab’ Robson
Born 1900
Died 1982
Nationality Russian
Fields Medicine
Institutions University of Edinburgh
Guy’s Hospital Medical School
National Research Council of Canada
Alma mater University of Leeds
Known for Mutagenesis
Neutron Beta decay

John Michael 'Rab' Rabinovich, later known as J. M. Robson (1900–1982) was a geneticist and physicist who co-founded the science of mutagenesis by mutations in fruit flies exposed to mustard gas, and who first observed neutron beta decay.


Born in Belgium to a Russian Jewish family, Rabinovich came prior to World War I to England, he attended school in Leeds and graduated from Leeds University in medicine in 1925. There were no posts available in physiological research that he had begun at Leeds so he accepted an appointment at the Institute of Animal Breeding in Edinburgh in 1930. He changed his name to Robson, when appointed assistant to B. P. Wiesner at the Institute of Animal Genetics in the University of Edinburgh. In 1932 he was appointed lecturer at the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh, and thereafter pharmacology became his specialism, though he maintained a strong interest in hormone research. In addition to studies of the effects of hormones on the human uterus, he also worked on toxicology and chemotherapy.

Along with Charlotte Auerbach and A.J. Clark, Robson discovered in 1940 that mustard gas could cause mutations in fruit flies, founding the science of mutagenesis.[1][2] He continued earlier research on sex hormones[3] when he moved to the Pharmacology Department at London’s Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1946, but grew more interested in the similar effects of exposure to mustard gas with exposure to X-rays.[4] J.M. Robson's pharmacological research paved the way for the development of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s. Whilst there he undertook research on the effects of gonadotrophins in pregnancy, and also supervised the Pregnancy Diagnosis Station that had been founded by the Institute's director Professor Francis Crew. In 1946 he was appointed Reader in Pharmacology at Guy's Hospital Medical School, and was Professor of Pharmacology there from 1950–1968, when he retired.

Held numerous appointments and honours amongst these are: 1932: Awarded D.Sc, University of Edinburgh 1968: Appointed Professor Emeritus, Guy's Hospital Medical School

Personal life[edit]

John M Robson married Sarah Benjamin in September 1930 in Leeds.


  1. ^ Charlotte Auerbach, J. M. Robson, & J. G. Carr, Chemical Production of Mutations, Science 105:243-247 (Mar 1947).
  2. ^ Geoffrey Beale, The Discovery of Mustard Gas Mutagenesis by Auerbach and Robson in 1941, Genetics, V134, pp. 393-399 (Jun 1993).
  3. ^ J. M. Robson and B. P. Wiesner, The Causation of Mucification and Cornification in the Vagina of the Mouse, Q. J. Exp. Physiol., V21, pp. 217 (1931).
  4. ^ J. M. Robson, Rev. Sci. Inst., V19, p. 865 (1948).