R. Michael Roberts
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Birth and education
R. Michael Roberts was born in 1940 in the United Kingdom. He graduated with a BA in Botany and PhD in Plant Physiology/Biochemistry from the University of Oxford.
After completing his PhD from Oxford University, he went to the United States and completed his post-doctorate at State University of New York-Buffalo. He was a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Florida from 1970-1985 and is currently a Curators' Professor of Animal Science at the University of Missouri. From 1998-2000 Roberts was Chief Scientist with the USDA’s Competitive Grants Program (the National Research Initiative). He also served on the National Research Council’s Committee that published recommendations to the Federal Drug Agency on concerns regarding the use of genetically modified animals for food (Animal Biotechnology: Science Based Concerns, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.) and chaired the NRC committee that investigated Animal Care & Management at the National Zoo.
In 2006-2007 R. Michael Roberts was investigated by The University of Missouri for research misconduct based on images that had been altered in a 2006 Science paper where he was the principal investigator. In brief, a postdoctoral fellow Dr. Kaushik Deb fabricated and falsified digital images that supported a paper published in Science. That paper was subsequently withdrawn, and the prescribed university procedures for a research misconduct investigation were followed. The Standing Committee on Research Responsibility concluded that Dr. Deb had committed the misconduct alone, and that the co-authors on the paper (Drs. R. M. Roberts, M. Sivaguru and H.Y. Yong) were in no way culpable. The Office of Research Integrity at the National Institutes of Health now formally agrees with that conclusion (ORI2006-09). The paper was officially retracted by Roberts and an apology to the scientific community was issued in the form of a published letter.
R. Michael Roberts is known for his contributions in clarifying the biological mystery of embryo-maternal signaling, that leads to the maintenance of pregnancy and to the survival of the embryo in livestock species.
It was known that chemical communication between embryo and mother was essential for a successful pregnancy in mammals. However, little was known about the details of the process, before R. Michael Roberts and Fuller W. Bazer began a collaboration to elucidate on these relationships. After a period of intensive joint efforts, lasting 16 years, each has continued over the past several years, to make important independent contributions, at Texas A&M University and at the University of Missouri.
Among his key discoveries, R. Michael Roberts determined that uteroferrin was identical to a class of tartrate-resistant acid phosphatases (TRAPs), subsequently purified, sequenced and cloned in humans. This research led to the screening of postmenopausal women for TRAP, elevated in association with osteoporosis.
He cloned, identified, and characterized the temporal expression of trophoblast interferon-t in sheep and cattle. His studies related to differential transcriptional regulation of interferon-t by ETS-2 and Oct-4 transcription factors, led to the identification of a putative developmental switch that may lead to the formation of trophectoderm in early embryo development. He has also identified at least 100 expressed genes for pregnancy-associated proteins in the aspartyl proteinase gene family, which has formed the basis of an accurate and sensitive pregnancy test for dairy cattle sold by IDEXX Corporation. His research on sexual dimorphism in embryos has led to the discovery that the mother’s diet, such as fat, close to the time of conception, may play a role in selecting the offspring’s sex. He made a major transition in research direction in 2003 and began to emphasize the use of pluripotent stem cells to study emergence and differentiation of trophoblast. His group has also made contributions to the culture of such cells, and particularly the importance of low oxygen atmospheres to control differentiation. His was among the first laboratories to describe the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells from an ungulate species, the pig, and has recently been generating iPS cell lines from human umbilical cords to study preeclampsia. His work is supported primarily through Federal Agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and also through Missouri State funds in support of agriculture.
Awards and honors
R. Michael Roberts has received several awards and honors for his research. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996, and has received several international awards, including the Milstein Prize for Research on Interferons and the Carl G. Hartman Award (2006) from the Society for the Study of Reproduction. In 2003, he was awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture along with Fuller W. Bazer "for discoveries of Interferon-t and other pregnancy-associated proteins, which clarified the biological mystery of signaling between embryo and mother to maintain pregnancy, with profound effects on the efficiency of animal production systems, as well as human health and well-being".