January 30, 2009

Moscona, biology professor, dead at 87

Aron Arthur Moscona, a pioneer in developmental biology and a professor emeritus at the University, died on January 14 of heart failure in Manhattan.

Moscona, who served as a member of the University faculty from 1958 to 1992 and as a member of the U. S. National Academy of Science, is widely recognized for his work in pathology and the study of molecular cell structure.

“It is abundantly clear that Aron Moscona’s efforts over the past 40 years have been extraordinarily imaginative, wide ranging in scope, and truly of seminal significance,” Professor Donald Steiner said at the 1992 symposium in honor for Moscana's retirement.

Moscana grew up in Haifa, Israel. He graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem before moving to Cambridge, England, in 1952 to complete his postdoctoral research at Strangeways Laboratory. He worked at universities in Jerusalem, New York, and Massachusetts before he and his wife, a respected researcher in her own right, moved to Chicago to further pursue their academic careers.

According to Anne Moscona, their daughter and a professor of medicine at Cornell University, the University of Chicago was supportive of the married couple working together in a laboratory. Her father saw working at the University as “an opportunity to do creative research that could address fundamental questions in science,” she said.

The Moscona team dedicated themselves to the study of biological functions, such as the interactions between cell membranes. Their experiments focused on how cells in developing embryos divide and collect themselves to form specific parts of the body. Using techniques developed by Moscona, they found that even when embryonic tissues were broken up, they would reform into their original structures. However, this ability to reform weakened as the embryo matured and completely disappeared once it grew into a fully-formed child.

“Cells dissociated from adult animals usually do not recohere at all,” Moscana wrote in a 1961 Scientific American article.

While his wife would eventually turn her focus to teaching undergraduates, Moscona continued with research and graduate studies.

It was their “love of science” that drove them, Anne Moscona said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Moscona is survived by two grandchildren.