Robert J. Robbins is a biologist, an educator, a science administrator, a publisher, an information technologist, and an IT leader and manager who specializes in advancing biomedical knowledge and supporting education through the application of information technology. More About: RJR | OUR TEAM | OUR SERVICES | THIS WEBSITE
At Michigan State I did research on deermice (Peromyscus) and this required maintaining a breeding colony of those mice. With a large enough breeding colony, the possibility of seeing the occasional new mutation or developmental abnormality is reasonably high.
Once a pup was produced with a distinctly atypical appearance: it had six legs.
The mouse grew to a happy adulthood, but was never bred, so the possibility of a genetic basis for this phenotype was never tested. On the other hand, no other such defects occurred, suggesting a non-genetic developmental anomaly.
The most interesting thing about the defect is what it suggested about the mechanism that produces white ventral fur on deermice. Since melanocytes (the cells that produce color) are neural-crest derivatives, at least two possible models for the ventral-white pattern can be generated: (1) something limits the migration of melanocytes from the neural crest so that regions of skin distant from the neural crest become white for lack of melanocytes, or (2) once tissue starts to differentiate as legs, the fur on that tissue will be white, regardless of the distance from the original neural crest.
Since these extra legs are located precisely on top of the location for the embryonic neural crest, it is clear that a simple limited-migration model cannot explain the white fur color on the extra legs.
RJR Experience and Expertise
Robbins holds BS, MS, and PhD degrees in the life sciences. He served as a tenured faculty member in the Zoology and Biological Science departments at Michigan State University. He is currently exploring the intersection between genomics, microbial ecology, and biodiversity — an area that promises to transform our understanding of the biosphere.
Robbins has extensive experience in college-level education: At MSU he taught introductory biology, genetics, and population genetics. At JHU, he was an instructor for a special course on biological database design. At FHCRC, he team-taught a graduate-level course on the history of genetics. At Bellevue College he taught medical informatics.
Robbins has been involved in science administration at both the federal and the institutional levels. At NSF he was a program officer for database activities in the life sciences, at DOE he was a program officer for information infrastructure in the human genome project. At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he served as a vice president for fifteen years.
Robbins has been involved with information technology since writing his first Fortran program as a college student. At NSF he was the first program officer for database activities in the life sciences. At JHU he held an appointment in the CS department and served as director of the informatics core for the Genome Data Base. At the FHCRC he was VP for Information Technology.
While still at Michigan State, Robbins started his first publishing venture, founding a small company that addressed the short-run publishing needs of instructors in very large undergraduate classes. For more than 20 years, Robbins has been operating The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, a web site dedicated to the digital publishing of critical works in science, especially classical genetics.
Robbins is well-known for his speaking abilities and is often called upon to provide keynote or plenary addresses at international meetings. For example, in July, 2012, he gave a well-received keynote address at the Global Biodiversity Informatics Congress, sponsored by GBIF and held in Copenhagen. The slides from that talk can be seen HERE.
Robbins is a skilled meeting facilitator. He prefers a participatory approach, with part of the meeting involving dynamic breakout groups, created by the participants in real time: (1) individuals propose breakout groups; (2) everyone signs up for one (or more) groups; (3) the groups with the most interested parties then meet, with reports from each group presented and discussed in a subsequent plenary session.
Robbins has been engaged with photography and design since the 1960s, when he worked for a professional photography laboratory. He now prefers digital photography and tools for their precision and reproducibility. He designed his first web site more than 20 years ago and he personally designed and implemented this web site. He engages in graphic design as a hobby.
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