Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Roberts, R. Michael
Location University of Missouri-Columbia
Primary Field Animal, Nutritional and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Field Medical Physiology and Metabolism
 Election Citation
Roberts' major contributions are to understanding embryo-maternal communication during early pregnancy and the role uterine secretions play in supporting the conceptus. The discovery that the early placenta produces a new interferon which mediates maternal recognition of the embryo in cattle and sheep transformed current thinking about maintenance of pregnancy.
 Research Interests
The development of a pluripotent stem cell model to study the specification and development of human trophoblast: In 2002, my group was looking for a cellular model in which to examine transcription factors that were responsible for controlling the expression of signature gene products of the placenta, e.g. CG subunits in human and IFNT in ruminant species. Our hypothesis was the same transcription factors might also be involved in specifying trophoblast. Our work made use of an observation from Jamie Thomson?s that BMP4 caused human embryonic stem cells to differentiate along several lineages including trophoblast. In our initial work with these cells we demonstrated that the spontaneous differentiation that occurs when culturing ESC can be minimized by using a low O2 atmosphere. Also, differentiation to trophoblast could be maximized if FGF2 was removed from the culture medium. The ESC in absence of FGF2 and presence of BMP4 differentiate to both extravillous trophoblast and syncytiotrophoblast. The laboratory is currently using this model to examine the differentiation of induced pluripotent stem cells derived from primary mesenchymal cells from umbilical cords of babies born to mothers who experienced severe, early-onset preeclampsia. The goal is to re-create placental cells from the earlier pregnancy and determine whether there are abnormalities associated with the disease. These cells are also being studied to understand the susceptibility of the primitive placenta of the implanting human conceptus to virus, including the Zika virus and COVID19.

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