Newest Allen Distinguished Investigators Set Out to Unlock Fundamental Questions in Biology


Newest Allen Distinguished Investigators Set Out to Unlock Fundamental Questions in Biology


Paul G. Allen Family Foundation awards nearly $7.5 million to fund five cutting-edge research projects


Media Relations, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, 206-342-2526 or

Newest Allen Distinguished Investigators Set Out to Unlock Fundamental Questions in Biology

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation awards nearly $7.5 million to fund five cutting-edge research projects

SEATTLE, Wash. – February 28, 2013 – Fueled by nearly $7.5 million in exploratory grant funding, a carefully selected group of scientists will embark on five new pioneering research projects that aim to unlock fundamental questions in biology, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced today.

The Foundation has named its second cohort of Allen Distinguished Investigators, a competitive three-year grant program that supports a handful of scientists to pursue ambitious, creative research. It is a rare funding source that helps researchers gain momentum on projects that typically do not receive support from traditional sources.

“I’ve always been drawn to the big open questions of science. But the pioneering scientists working to answer them can’t promise quick discoveries and often find it difficult to get funding from traditional sources,” said Paul G. Allen. “For us to make progress, we must take risks and invest now in this early-stage, cutting-edge research. Backing these scientists is essential to achieving world-changing breakthroughs.”

This cohort will work to make progress in the areas of cellular decision making and modeling dynamic biological systems. The grants are awarded to the institutions where the researchers work, and will be paid out over three years.

The new round of award recipients and projects includes:

• Jeff Gore, Assistant Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($1.5 million)
Project Title: “Microbial studies of cellular decision-making: game theory and the evolutionary origins of cooperation.” Dr. Gore will use single-celled yeast to explore how ideas from game theory can provide insight into cellular decision making.

• Markus Covert, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, Stanford University ($1.5 million)
Project Title: “Towards whole-cell models of higher organisms.” Dr. Covert will develop some of the most critical technological advances required to model cells of increasing complexity, including human cells.

• Suckjoon Jun, Assistant Professor of Physics and Molecular Biology, University of California-San Diego ($1.6 million)
Project Title: “Cell-size control and its evolution at the single-cell level.” Dr. Jun will develop methods to perform long-term directed evolution experiments at the single-cell level, to be combined with on-chip single-cell manipulation, single-cell sequencing, and mathematical modeling.

• Hana El-Samad, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, University of California-San Francisco ($1.43 million)
Project title: “Untangling the wires: an integrated framework for probing signal encoding and decoding in cellular circuits.” Dr. El-Samad’s research aims to elucidate the algorithms cells use to compute and implement responses that enable them to survive and thrive in complex, ever-changing environments.

• Team of Thierry Emonet (principal investigator), Associate Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology & Physics, Yale University; Thomas S. Shimizu (co-investigator), Group Leader at FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics; Steven Zucker (co-investigator), Professor of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Yale University ($1.44 million)
Project title: “Crowd computing with bacteria: Balancing phenotypic diversity and coordinated behavior.” This team will combine approaches from microbiology, physics, and applied mathematics to study the computational principles that enable even the simplest biological systems, such as bacteria, to engage in coordinated behavior while exploiting rather than suppressing individuality.

“It’s easy to say you want to fund innovation – it’s difficult to break out of a culture that leans toward supporting a safe initiative or a tried and true approach,” said Susan M. Coliton, Vice President of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “We want to take risks and, in doing so, empower these ambitious investigators to do the critical detective work that leads to discovery.”

In recent years, innovative scientific research has been a major focus of Allen’s philanthropy. Last year, Allen pledged $300 million to expand the programs at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which conducts leading-edge brain research. The Allen Distinguished Investigators are taking on foundational research that will be complementary to the work being done at the Institute, and is expected to have wide applications for other fields as well.

The first Allen Distinguished Investigator Awards, announced in 2010, totaled $9.52 million in grants to fund the work of eight researchers at universities and laboratories in Washington, California, Massachusetts and New York.

Learn more about the Allen Distinguished Investigators awards at