Professor R.H. (Bob) Michell BSc, PhD, DSc, FRS, FMedSci, FRSB

Professor R.H. (Bob) Michell

School of Biosciences
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry
formerly Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Birmingham

Contact details

W124, School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Since the 1960s Bob Michell has been one of the pioneers in revealing the diverse biological functions of inositol lipids in eukaryote cells, with major roles in establishing: a) that receptor-controlled phospholipase C hydrolysis of PtdIns(4,5)P2 is a signalling reaction; and b) that PtdIns(3,5)P2 is a endolysosomal regulator of intracellular trafficking processes. His main current interest is in trying to understand why dietary inositol supplements are beneficial in several metabolic diseases, notably those in which insulin resistance is a major feature.


  • BSc (Bham, Medical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, 1962)
  • PhD (Bham, Medical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, 1965)
  • DSc (University of Birmingham , Biochemistry, 1978)


He undertook his PhD and a brief postdoctoral fellowship with Dr J N (Tim) Hawthorne from 1962-1965 in the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Birmingham.  After two years in Prof Manfred L Karnovsky’s lab at Harvard Medical School (1966-1968), he returned to Birmingham as a research fellow with Dr Roger Coleman from 1968-1970.

He then became Lecturer (1970-81), Senior Lecturer (1981-4), Reader in Biochemistry (1984-6), Professor of Biochemistry (1986-2006) and Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry (2006-present) in the School of Biosciences (and its predecessor Department of Biochemistry), University of Birmingham. He was also Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Birmingham  from 1987-2006.

Bob was elected FRS (1986), a member of EMBO (1991), FMedSci (2002), an honorary member of the Biochemical Society (2010) and FRSB (2013).

He was awarded the Biochemical Society’s CIBA Medal and Prize in 1988 and was their Morton Lecturer in 2002, and in 1994 he was the Royal Society’s UK-Canada Rutherford lecturer.

In 2018, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Dundee, on the occasion of the retirement of their Principal, Sir Pete Downes, who was awarded his PhD in Birmingham in 1981.




Bob’s PhD work with Tim Hawthorne placed the biosynthesis of phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate (PtdIns4P, then known as diphosphoinositide or DPI) at the plasma membrane. This went against dogma of the time, and so identified PtdIns4P as a lipid with unusual properties.

During the 1970s, Bob – with colleagues (Eduardo Lapetina, Shamshad Jafferji/Cockcroft, David Allan, Motassim Billah, Chris Kirk, etc.) – promulgated and gathered evidence in support of the idea that receptor-controlled hydrolysis of a phosphoinositide by phospholipase C is a signalling reaction that initiates a Ca2+ rise in stimulated cells. In 1981, his laboratory’s discovery – by Judith Creba and Pete Downes – that PtdIns(4,5)P2 is the substrate of the receptor-stimulated phospholipase C opened the way for discovery that Ins(1,4,5)P3 is a Ca2+-mobilising second messenger. During the next decade or so, the Michell/Kirk laboratory – through work by Steve Shears, Chris Barker, Chris Bunce, Nai Sum Wong  and others – defined some key aspects of inositol polyphosphate metabolism. 

From the mid-1990s, with Stephen Dove, his laboratory described the novel phosphoinositide PtdIns(3,5)P2 and started to define its metabolism and functions, particularly in intracellular endolysosomal trafficking processes. He has also sustained a long-term collaboration with Geoff Brown’s group in Immunology that investigates haematopoietic diversification and maturation.

Most recently, he has focussed on trying to understand: a) how inositol derivatives might have acquired their many key roles in eukaryotic cell regulation during evolution; and b) how inositol dietary supplements ameliorate some insulin-resistant metabolic maladies.

Robert H Michell:

Research website:


Recent publications

PIKfyve/Fab1 is required for efficient V-ATPase and hydrolase delivery to phagosomes, phagosomal killing, and restriction of Legionella infection. C M Buckley, V L Heath, A Guelho, SK Dove, R H Michell, R Meier, H Hilbi, T Soldati, R H Insall & J S King (2018) PLOS Pathogens, 15: e1007551. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007551.

Do inositol supplements enhance phosphatidylinositol supply and thus support endoplasmic reticulum function? R H Michell (2018) British Journal of Nutrition 120, 301-316.   

The gradual recognition that inositol lipids do many things for eukaryotic cells. R H Michell (2016) Messenger, 5, 3-23.

Drug redeployment to kill leukaemia and lymphoma kills cells by disrupting SCD1-mediated synthesis of monounsaturated fatty acids. A D Southam, F L Khanim, RE Hayden, J K Constantinou, K M Koczula, R H Michell, M R Viant, M T Drayson & C M Bunce (2015) Cancer Research 75, 2530-2540.

Inositol lipids – from an Archaeal origin to phosphatidylinositol 3,5-bisphosphate faults in human disease. R H Michell (2013) FEBS Journal, 280,6281-6294.

Phosphatidylinositol 3,5-bisphosphate and Fab1p/ PIKfyve underPPIn endo-lysosome function. S K Dove, K Dong, T Kobayashi, F K Williams & R H Michell (2009) Biochemical Journal  419, 1-13

Inositol derivatives: evolution and functions. R H Michell (2008) Nature Reviews in Molecular Cell Biology 9, 151-161.

Phosphatidylinositol 3,5-bisphosphate: metabolism and cellular functions. R H Michell, V Heath, M Lemmon & S K Dove (2006) Trends in Biochemical Sciences 31, 52-63 (plus online material)

Earlier historically significant contributions

Osmotic stress activates phosphatidylinositol 3,5-trisphosphate synthesis. S K Dove, F Cooke, M R Douglas, P Parker & R H Michell (1997) Nature, 390, 187-192.

Rapid breakdown of phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate and phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate in rat hepatocytes stimulated by vasopressin and other Ca2+-mobilising hormones. J A Creba, C P Downes, P T Hawkins, G Brewster, R H Michell & C J Kirk (1983) Biochem. J. 212, 733-747.

The stimulation of inositol lipid metabolism that accompanies calcium mobilization in stimulated cells: defined characteristics and unanswered questions. R H Michell, C J Kirk, L M Jones, C P Downes & J A Creba (1981) Philosophical. Transaction of the Royal Society of London. Series B. 296, 123-133.

Inositol phospholipids and cell surface receptor function. R H Michell (1975) Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 415, 81-147.

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