Microsoft co-founder Allen names another science venture after himself – The Verge
Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has donated $100 million to launch The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. This new program is meant to push the boundaries of science through grants to centers and individual researchers.
The group has established two centers so far, one at Stanford and the other at Tufts. Both Centers will receive $10 million over the first four years, with up to $20 million more over the following four years.
Markus Covert of Stanford will lead a group using computer modeling to study the tens of thousands of cells that interact as Salmonella infects white blood cells. If successful, this technique could give us the ability to model almost any biological process, because most are built on thousands of interacting cells, said Tom Skalak, Frontiers Group executive director, in an interview.
Michael Levin of Tufts and researchers from Harvard and Princeton will study the biological signals that control tissue
“The prospects for modern bioscience are just enormous.”
shape, and how this knowledge could be used for tissue regrowth and tumor suppression. Levin is known for his work on limb regeneration in frogs, as well as an experiment to see if memories can live and move outside the body.
Four scientists will also receive $1.5 million each over three years, to pursue experimental research, the group said. Ethan Bier of University of California, San Diego, will try to answer the question, “Where do new physical traits come from?” James J. Collins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will turn bacteria against each other, programming safe strains to find and destroy drug-resistant bugs. Bassem Hassan of the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière, will work to discover a causal link between the way our brains develop and our personalities. And, from the University of California, Berkeley, Jennifer Doudna of CRISPR fame will turn her attention to RNA, seeking to develop a way of editing cells without changing their DNA.
Allen co-founded Microsoft and remained on the Board of Directors until 2000. He has since spread his Microsoft fortune between various investments, including technology, real estate, media, and Seattle sports teams. In 2003, he founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science to study the human brain. Among other projects, the group has created the Allen Human Brain Atlas, which maps gene expression in the brain. The Frontiers Group has given Allen an opportunity to put his name on other branches of science as well. The group will collaborate with and extend the work of his other two science focused ventures, the Allen Institutes for Brain Science and Cell Science.
“We live in an era of unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” Allen said today in an announcement at the National
The investment will help scientists “achieve breakthroughs” faster
Academy of Sciences. His initial 10-year investment in the Frontiers Group is to help the field’s leaders “follow their intuitions, explore big ideas and achieve breakthroughs at a faster pace.”
The study of living organisms is comparatively young, said Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, during the announcement. “So we’re going to see in the next 50 years great growth in our knowledge of living systems… the prospects for modern bioscience are just enormous.”
The stated purpose of Allen’s new science venture is to take gambles on risky work that more established funders might avoid. Despite a world “listening tour” to over 1,000 scientists and policy makers, the initial cohort is stocked with well-established scientists and centers. Skalak defended the strategy during today’s announcement by noting that established scientists also have ideas that may be too risky for “more traditional funding agencies or mission-directed agencies.” But these certainly aren’t gambles as large as the true frontiers of science, happening in labs without Stanford- and MIT-sized endowments.