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A Safe, Risky Bet

Billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has donated some $100 million to the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to fund research centers and individual investigators working at the cutting edge of science, as GenomeWeb has reported.

The executive director of the Frontier Group, Tom Skalak, says that the group embarked on a listening tour in which representatives spoke with more than a thousand scientists and policy makers. "We asked everyone the same question: What is the dark matter of bioscience?" Skalak tells ScienceInsider.

Still, as the Verge adds, these risky investments are going to well-established institutions and researchers.

For instance, two centers bearing the Allen name are being established at Stanford University and Tuft University. As GenomeWeb reports, these centers are to receive $20 million from the Frontier Group and $10 million from their host institution. The Stanford center is to focus on computer modeling of cellular interactions that occur as Salmonella infects white blood cells, and the Tufts center is to focus on tissue shape, growth, and regeneration as well as tumorigenesis.

At the same time, four researchers have also been selected to each receive $1.5 million over three years, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology's James Collins, who is taking a synthetic biology approach to engineer bacteria to combat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and the University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna, who will be looking into ways to edit cells using their RNA, rather than their DNA. The other recipients are University of California, San Diego's Ethan Bier and Bassem Hassan from the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière.

These initial recipients are "stocked with well-established scientists and centers," the Verge says. Skalak counters that even established researchers may pursue ideas that are too uncertain for traditional funding sources.

"It's a bet on a proven artist [to fund] their next masterpiece," he adds at ScienceInsider.

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