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Allen Family Grants $5M for 'Omics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Three multidisciplinary research groups will receive around $5 million in new funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to use genomics, synthetic biology, and other approaches to study how neurons, hormones, and brains function at the molecular level.

The Allen Distinguished Investigator Awards, which has funded a total of seven new programs with $9.4 million in its inaugural round, funded three projects using 'omics at the California Institute of Technology and at the University of Washington.

The new awards program was created to advance neuroscience and cellular engineering research that complements other studies being conducted at Seattle's Allen Institute for Brain Science, which is developing a 3-D genetic map of the human brain, among other projects. The data from these studies will be made available to researchers free of cost, the Institute said.

"A year ago, I started searching for programs with potential for major breakthroughs but which had struggled to find funding through traditional sources," Paul Allen said. "The inaugural Distinguished Investigators are working on some of the most exciting research in biology and neurology and I'm proud to be able to help keep that work going."

The grants include $1.6 million to researchers at CalTech who will focus on genetic identification of attack neurons in the mouse; $2 million to UW researchers to conduct studies that will generate knowledge about the genetic and neural basis of behavior; and another $1.4 million to UW researchers for synthetic biology in plants studies.

David Anderson, a Seymour Benzer professor of biology and investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and at CalTech, will use the $1.6 million grant to employ genetic tools to identify specific classes of neurons that control emotional behaviors in mice. Identifying these neurons could help scientists understand how brain functioning is affected by genetic and environmental factors and how these affect emotional disorders.

Michael Dickinson, the Benjamin Hall Endowed Chair in Basic Life Sciences at UW, plans to use the $2 million grant to study fruit flies to develop new technologies for studying complex behaviors that are necessary to understand brain function at the genetic, cellular, and organismal levels, and which should provide insight into the processes involved in mental health disorders.

UW Assistant Professor Jennifer Nemhauser will use $1.4 million to lead research aimed at reverse-engineering a plant hormone that is involved many aspects of plant life and evolution – auxin – and to genetically engineer a single-celled organisms to exhibit multi-celled behavior.

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