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Robert A Martienssen

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Robert Martienssen


Doctoral advisor
David Baulcombe

Robert A. Martienssen wwwhhmiorgsitesdefaultfilesMartienssen345x2

Plant Biology and Molecular Biology

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Known for
Plant biology and epigenetics

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Alma mater
University of Cambridge

Robert Anthony Martienssen is a plant biologist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute–Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation investigator and Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States.



Martienssen received his PhD in 1986 from the University of Cambridge on the molecular genetics of alpha-amylase gene families in common wheat supervised by David Baulcombe.

Research and career

Martienssen has made major discoveries relating to the way plants control the expression of their genes. Working with maize, yeast and the weed Arabidopsis, he focuses on the chemical modifications to DNA that determine which genes are active — a process known as epigenetics.

Martienssen’s work explains the effect on plants of ‘jumping genes’, or DNA transposable elements, reported in 1951 by Barbara McClintock, whom he worked alongside early in his career. He discovered that small pieces of RNA, in association with proteins of the Argonaute family, silence transposons in seeds so that gene expression remains stable from one generation to the next.

His work was cited by the journal Science as part of its Breakthrough of the Year: 2002 feature on small RNAs. He has extended his epigenetic studies from seeds to pollen, and his discoveries have implications for plant breeding — including hybrid cloning — and the development of biofuels.

Honors and awards

Martienssen has received numerous awards and honors during his career including:

  • Blaise Pascal International Research Chair, Paris
  • Pasteur Fellow in Residence, Institut Pasteur, Paris
  • Newcomb-Cleveland Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003
  • Breakthrough of the Year, Science, 2002
  • Kumho Science International Award in Plant Molecular Biology
  • Demerec-Kaufmann-Holländer Fellow in Developmental Genetics
  • Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006
  • Elected a member of European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2010
  • References

    Robert A. Martienssen Wikipedia

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