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James Collins appointed 2016 Allen Distinguished Investigator

Award will support the engineering of safe, frequently consumed bacteria to detect and kill dangerous bacteria such as those causing drug-resistant infections.
James Collins
James Collins
Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science at the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, professor of biological engineering at MIT, institute member of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, and core founding faculty at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has been appointed as a 2016 Allen Distinguished Investigator for his work on synthetic biology approaches to antimicrobial resistance.

The rise of antibiotic resistance has become a public health crisis. Collins will use principles of synthetic biology to engineer safe, frequently consumed bacteria to detect and kill dangerous bacteria such as those that cause MRSA infections, the most frequently identified drug-resistant pathogen in United States hospitals. His novel strategy of rapidly re-designing beneficial changes in bacterial genomes could usher in a new era of design-based medicine. This frontier research will also enable scientists to understand the root causes of antibiotic resistance and the mechanisms by which traditional antibiotics work to target disease.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join the Allen Frontiers Group,” Collins says. “Support from the Allen Foundation will enable us to significantly advance our program on using synthetic biology to develop novel antibacterial therapies and expand our understanding of how antibiotics act and resistance emerges.”

The Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) program supports early-stage research with the potential to reinvent entire fields. Allen Distinguished Investigators are passionate thought-leaders, explorers, and innovators who seek world-changing breakthroughs. With grants typically between $1 million and $1.5 million each, the Frontiers Group provides these scientists with support to produce new directions in their respective fields.

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