Paul Allen

Paul Allen is giving his money to five young scientists he thinks need a little cash to answer fundamental questions in biology.

The Paul G. Allen Foundation announced today $7.5 million in funding to the second round of the Allen Distinguished Investigators, a three-year grant program that supports scientists’ research.

The foundation says that these five researchers usually do not receive support from the typical funding sources because they are just starting out in their respective fields.

“I’ve always been drawn to the big open questions of science,” Allen said in a statement. “But the pioneering scientists working to answer them can’t promise quick discoveries and often find it difficult to get funding from traditional sources. 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.”

The foundation awarded $9.52 million to eight researchers for its first Distinguished Investigator Awards back in 2010.

Here’s the list of recipients:

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.

Previously on GeekWire: SpaceX and Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch part ways over rocket design changes

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