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Robert Petersen

AAAS elects CMU prof as fellow

Ceremony honors College of Medicine’s Robert Petersen for cell biology research

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

Central Michigan University Professor Robert Petersen has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his contributions to cell biology research.

Petersen, chair of the College of Medicine’s foundations of medicine program, joins a group of renowned scientists that has included Thomas Edison; anthropologist Margaret Mead; and American biologist James Watson, who helped discover the structure of DNA. Five of 2017's Nobel laureates also were AAAS Fellows.

“I’m excited, and I feel incredibly humbled and honored,” Petersen said. “There are a lot of very talented people who are fellows. It’s humbling to be included in that group.”

The AAAS recognized Petersen for his contributions to cell biology through his two-fold research.

First, Petersen said that while many researchers look at the workings of the “brain” of a cell — the nucleus and the DNA — he has focused more on how its work gets translated into actual activity and life. His research targets protein synthesis and messenger RNA stability. Both steps are critical for ensuring information encoded by the DNA is translated in a useful way, he said.

Second, his efforts also seek to describe a genetic mechanism that contributes to phenotypic heterogeneity, or how the same mutation in one gene can sometimes give rise to different clinical manifestations.

The goal, he said, “is to understand at a basic level how cells work so that rational approaches can be designed to tackle disease and promote health.”

The AAAS will honor Petersen and award him a special rosette pin — the emblem of AAAS fellowship — on Feb. 17 during the association’s 2018 annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

Consideration for fellowship requires nomination by three current fellows.

The award was formally announced in the journal Science.

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