MU researcher makes science magazine list

Stem-cell researcher works on improving cows’ pregnancy rate.
Thursday, December 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:08 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

MU professor R. Michael Roberts was named one of the top 50 researchers, business and policy leaders in the world in Scientific American magazine’s December issue.

His work with stem cells has enabled future researchers to grow stem cells with greater reliability.

“I thought that there must have been some ghastly misunderstanding when a reader of Scientific American congratulated me,” Roberts said in a university news release. “Nevertheless, it is gratifying to be on the list.”

Roberts, who received Ph.D.s in plant physiology and biochemistry from Oxford University, is a curators’ professor of animal science as well as professor of biochemistry. He also heads one of the three largest research labs at MU’s Life Sciences Center.

“I was very privileged to work with him,” MU graduate student Padamalya Das said. “I can’t put into words how good of a researcher he is.”

Das was the second author of Robert’s paper for which he received the acknowledgement.

According to Roberts’ findings, mammalian embryo’s are able to thrive in less than 5 percent oxygen content, as they would naturally. Before his discovery, lab embryo’s were normally grown at oxygen concentrations of 20 percent.

The lower concentration, he hypothesized, would keep cells from undergoing spontaneous differentiation, thus developing into a specialized cell on their own. If the cells were kept from differentiating spontaneously, researchers could then direct their development through hormones and other stimuli. In this way, cells can be manipulated into nerves or tissues, allowing researchers to possibly understand and treat diseases such as sickle cell, diabetes and Parkinson’s and even paralyzation through the study and application of stem cell differentiation. His findings were verified through a series of experiments conducted by his fellow researcher, Toshi Ezashi.

Roberts continues to work on studies regarding how maternal diets could influence the sex of offspring in mice and pharmacologically improving pregnancy success in cows.

The stem-cell research community was tainted last week after a South Korean stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang was stripped of the magazine’s Research Leader of the Year title. The move came after he admitted to faking research evidence presented in a paper to the magazine earlier in the year.

Accompanying Roberts in the top 50 for stem cell research were Scottish based Stem Cell Sciences and Robert Klein, chairman of the $3 billion dollar strong California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The list also included Internet pioneers Larry Page and Sergey Brin, chosen as business leaders of the year for their ground-breaking and widely expanding search engine, Google.

The list was compiled by the Scientific American Board of Editors along with outside advisors, according to a university news release.

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