Three grants of $1.5 million each were awarded to researchers working in the rapidly growing field of epigenetics, the study of changes in organisms caused by modifications in gene expression. Researchers believe epigenetics could become a valuable tool in identifying cures to many diseases, including cancer. In addition, two grants of $1.5 million each were awarded to researchers in the fields of aging and microbial evolution.
This year's cohort of ADI recipients includes Fei Chen (Broad Institute) and Jason Buenrostro (Broad Institute and Harvard University), who are working to develop a set of technologies that visualize the architecture of the genome and sequence individual regulatory elements within cells; Jan Ellenberg (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) and Ralf Jungmann (Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and LMU Munich), who are combining chemical biology and biophysics to develop a novel technology that uses barcoded fluorescent proteins to "paint" DNA sequences with specific epigenetic marks and, using super-resolution microscopy, visualize those painted sequences at the level of single genes; and Charles A. Gersbach (Duke University), who is working on a new technology that enables researchers to induce any epigenetic state in a cell type or tissue and generate specific cell types of neurons for the study of drug response, disease, and the impact of epigenetic regulation on learning and memory.
Grants also were awarded to Steve Horvath (University of California, Los Angeles), who is working to enhance an "epigenetic clock" that can measure the age of human tissue by looking at a combination of chemical changes to the underlying DNA; and Rachel Whitaker (University of Illinois), who is working to create and compare models of mobile genetic elements and their evolutionary roles within a human system against longitudinal data in order to capture and better understand how the elements move between cells, creating a sea of dramatic and unpredictable genetic changes.
"Each of these awards is given to researchers with the bold ideas and new perspectives we need to make the next big leap in bioscience," said Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group executive director Tom Skalak. "Epigenetics, aging, and evolution are all fields with great impact on human health and well-being but that currently face significant gaps in knowledge. With these awards, we hope to make strides toward the kind of breakthrough insights that can change the direction of an entire area of research."