ForeverMissed
Bob Tabita was a prolific biochemist, microbiologist, professor, mentor, and champion of the scientific community. As a budding synthetic organic chemist at St. John's University (1961-1967), Bob made the epiphany that the best biochemists (by far) are microbes. Inspired by pioneer biochemists, Melvin Calvin, Andrew A. Benson, and James A. Bassham, Bob endeavored to discover the underpinnings of microbial metabolism.  Per Bob, "as the most fundamental of synthetic processes, learning more about CO2 reduction seemed a good way to indulge one’s interests in biosynthesis, especially if one could develop systems where the process could be controlled."

Bob's scientific career encompassed graduate research in the lab of Donald. G Lundgren at Syracuse University (1967-1971), an NIH postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Bruce A. McFadden at Washington State University (1971-1973), and his own research programs as a professor and Ohio Eminent Scholar at the University of Texas, Austin (1973-1989) and Ohio State University (1989-2021). Bob's seminal works contributed to our understanding of:
  • carbon cycling, RubisCO catalysis, and regulation of CO2 fixation in bacteria
  • maintenance and regulation of cellular redox balance by the Calvin cycle
  • regulation of nitrogen fixation genes and nitrogenase protection from oxygen
  • new sulfur cycling pathways catalyzed by RubisCO, RubisCO-like ezymes, and Nitrogenase-like enzymes. 
Bob's legacy is celebrated in his 250 peer-reviewed publications (and counting) on microbial metabolism; in the 49 graduate students, 47 postdoctoral researchers and over 100 undergraduate students advised in his lab; and the countless committees, scientific conferences, and University programs that he served and chaired. 

Posted by Drew Dangel on February 21, 2021
I worked in Bob's lab for 14.5 years at OSU. I picked up the habit from Bob of coming into lab hours earlier than anyone else in the morning, which was a big advantage because you could get much uninterrupted work done.

I also have "borrowed" two great quotes from Bob:
1) Bob would asked me if i was "beating back the frontiers of ignorance" which is one of my favorite lines.
2) Bob would say about research, "don't contaminate clean thoughts with dirty experiments".

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Posted by Drew Dangel on February 21, 2021
I worked in Bob's lab for 14.5 years at OSU. I picked up the habit from Bob of coming into lab hours earlier than anyone else in the morning, which was a big advantage because you could get much uninterrupted work done.

I also have "borrowed" two great quotes from Bob:
1) Bob would asked me if i was "beating back the frontiers of ignorance" which is one of my favorite lines.
2) Bob would say about research, "don't contaminate clean thoughts with dirty experiments".
his Life

In Memoriam

Fred Robert Tabita, Ohio Eminent Scholar, professor of microbiology at The Ohio State University, a key figure in the Microbial One-Carbon Metabolism community, a 54-year member of the American Society for Microbiology, and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, died on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at the age of 77.

In his own words, F. Robert — or simply Bob — Tabita, was always fascinated by the “dark side of photosynthesis,” the “magic” conversion of inorganic carbon by photosynthetic microorganisms, and in particular by Alphaproteobacteria. After a PhD in 1971 with Don Lundgren at Syracuse University, he joined the laboratory of Bruce McFadden (Photo, right) at Washington State University as a postdoc. There, Bob got his first encounter with ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO), the key enzyme of the Calvin-Benson-Bassham cycle, through which most of CO2 on Earth is converted. This love would keep him busy for the rest of his very successful and productive career, first at the University of Texas (1973-1988) and later at Ohio State as Ohio Eminent Scholar of Industrial and Agricultural Microbiology (1988-2021), resulting in more than 250 publications.

Long before the time of genome sequencing, Bob Tabita was among the first to realize that microorganisms harbor many more, very diverse forms of RubisCO than those found in higher plants. In fact, Bob’s seminal studies revealed a fascinating biochemically and evolutionary diverse universe of nature’s most abundant and keystone enzyme. He discovered type II RubisCOs in Proteobacteria, type III RubisCOs in Archaea and later even RubisCO-like proteins, termed type IV RubisCOs, demonstrating that this enzyme has a rich evolutionary history that dates back long before the beginning of photosynthesis.

Being a trained biochemist, Bob Tabita was not afraid to adopt the methods of molecular biology, which allowed him to decipher the complex regulatory network controlling the expression and regulation of RubisCO in purple non-sulfur bacteria, leading to the discovery of the role of the CBB cycle in redox-balancing and the formation of hydrogen gas by nitrogenase in the absence of RubisCO [8]. He also established heterologous expression systems that enabled the community to study the catalytic properties of different RubisCOs, just to learn that the great phylogenetic diversity of RubisCOs is paralleled by an unexpected biochemical diversity.

In his later years, Bob’s focus shifted to understanding the function and role of RubisCO and engineering the enzyme for increased activity and selectivity, a holy grail for improving agricultural productivity. His studies on type IV RubisCOs opened up completely novel research directions into the microbial metabolism of sulfur-containing compounds which culminated in a landmark paper, just published a couple of months ago in Science, describing a novel pathway for the release of ethylene and methane by Alphaproteobacteria.

During his career, Bob was a ceaseless supporter of young talents and served both the local and international scientific community. For ten years, he was director of the Ohio State Plant Molecular Biology/Biotechnology Program, the Plant Biotechnology Center, as well as the Plant-Microbe Genomics Facility. He also chaired the first Gordon Research Conference on Microbial One-Carbon Metabolism in 1998.

Besides being an outstanding scientist, Bob was also a keen sports enthusiast. He served on the Ohio State Athletic Council, was an avid Buckeyes supporter, and a born and raised New Yorker whose heart beat for the Yankees. We might want to use Yogi Berra’s wisdom to conclude: “It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” What we know for sure, however, is that Bob’s seminal discoveries will live on and inspire the next generation of Rubiscologists to hopefully take the same “fork in the road” that he has taken.

Written by Tobias Erb with contributions from Birgit Alber and Justin North
Recent stories
Shared by Vanessa Varaljay on February 28, 2021
From just an email, Bob was extremely open and willing to take me on as a postdoc in his lab from 2012-2015. Bob gets the credit for getting me hooked on functional metagenomics and instilling confidence and skills to get me to where I am at in my career today. He never doubted that we would get our environmental Rubsico selection strategy to work even though it was a challenging project initially. He afforded me opportunities and encouraged me to collaborate and present my research at a number of conferences, including the 2014 C1 Gordon Conference. I was glad we were able to publish our success into a great paper in the end. Bob looked out for my research interests and advocated on my behalf. It was always nice to be able to go down to his office and talk Rubisco and even hear some great stories about the lab. I will remember his love for Rubisco and the Buckeyes. I was sorry to hear of his passing but he had a positive influence on everyone he mentored. My thoughts go out to his friends and family during this difficult time.
Shared by Peter Robison on February 23, 2021
Sorry to hear the sad news, I was a postdoc in Bob's lab at UT Austin from 1978 to 1981 and am in the CO2 picture that was shared.  That was in Bob's hayday as a softball player when he would regularly hit his trademark bombs over the leftfield fence.
Shared by Drew Dangel on February 21, 2021
I worked in Bob's lab for 14.5 years at OSU. I picked up the habit from Bob of coming into lab hours earlier than anyone else in the morning, which was a big advantage because you could get much uninterrupted work done.

I also have "borrowed" two great quotes from Bob:
1) Bob would asked me if i was "beating back the frontiers of ignorance" which is one of my favorite lines.
2) Bob would say about research, "don't contaminate clean thoughts with dirty experiments".